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Leadership lessons: overcoming digital workplace growing pains with Informa

Informa is a leading business intelligence, academic publishing, knowledge and events business with a growing portfolio including everything from market analysts Datamonitor, the academic publishers Taylor Francis, Monaco Yacht Show event organisers, to owners of the historic maritime intelligence publication Lloyd's List. They operate in 43 countries and are run by 7,500 staff.

Leadership lessons: overcoming digital workplace growing pains with Informa

Having such a diverse global business made for an interesting story of how they manage all of their business internally via their new Unily-powered digital workplace called Portal. Hence it was great to speak with Portal's chief architect Joe Dilieto, Informa's Digital Communications Manager. I went to speak with him at their London Victoria's headquarters.

Improving colleagues’ relationship with Informa’s overall brand

Dilieto began by outlining what made them first consider creating a digital workplace. The impetus came about because they were in the midst of rolling out a large Office 365 infrastructure program for all of their staff. It meant they could seize the moment and piggyback off of that work and use the opportunity to unify their internal communications too.

Dilieto explained that the issue was how all staff, no matter which division they work in, should have a better relationship with Informa's overall brand. "It’s having once place that everybody could go to get global news, not just division news, because we are made up of five fairly large divisions all doing their own thing, all very different cultures, and geographically different as well."

He also wanted to encourage staff to be more collaborative, providing them with an accessible space "...where people could share knowledge, ask questions and just have a space they feel confident that if they engage with that, other people will respond, no matter where they were in the business, what division, what country they were in."

Six months later feels like one month

So those were his goals, I wanted to know whether he had achieved them now that Portal is six months old. He quickly retorted that "six months feels like one month." That was because just after launch, he had to contend with integrating a newly acquired part of the business. "Another 1,200 employees came online a month ago. So as soon as we launched Unily, we were focusing on launching to another part of the business. There was a good three months planning to integrate that part of the business."

Only now that is over has he had a proper chance to breathe and reflect. "It is only now that we are starting to have that initial launch hangover and what you get from that." Progress, he said, being refreshingly honest, has been both positive and slower in some ways.

An example of an improvement is that staff tend to trust Portal's content much more than they did in their old intranet. The reason, he explained, was a simple one and down to the effort he and his team went through during its design. Everything that was published on the new platform had to go through a cleansing process. Therefore staff are more assured of its quality knowing that they are working with the latest, best content.

People need a prompt to get engaged

However, he is less satisfied on improving collaboration between staff. It hasn't happened as rapidly as he would have liked. As he told me, the technology is in place and staff between them have created around 100 communities. But on closer inspection, some are more active than others. He put the reason down to the fact that "people are still working out how it can work for them." Continuing that "they need to have a prompt to get engaged... that's an area we'd like to focus on."

Dilieto put the problem down to getting the balance right between the local needs of staff who work in a division or brand, with providing centrally provisioned resources that they may not own or manage. He told me "it’s great to get buy-in from division owners... you need to make them feel part of the process" but, the challenge is also about making them understand that along with their own division-based needs, they need to be cognizant of "group-wide, or global-wide content" too.This is a difficult problem to crack. Dilieto was characteristically forthcoming in how he intends to tackle it. First and foremost, he said, it’s about being absolutely clear what the digital workplace is for: helping every member of staff able to work smarter. "I actually want to get down to the layer below that that makes every individual within our business work more effectively and work smarter." He explained that his starting point was to find the right way to connect with each division's uniqueness too, continuing "Because we have such varied role types and within different divisions we have different cultures, different languages."

Communicate the intranet’s benefits with success stories

One of the ways he is going to communicate its benefits is by simply building up a collection of successful examples of where it has helped staff in their work. "We're trying to look at case studies at the moment where we've seen a person or a team use Unily and the digital workplace tools available to them, how they've used something and had a positive effect. It’s either made something a bit quicker, a bit smarter, they've learnt something that they maybe wouldn't have learned before."So while it’s important to make sure that each division does feel inclusive, Dilieto also wanted to draw together other examples that are equally applicable to staff no matter what division or brand they belong to, helping to reinforce the value of it being a universal platform too. Dilieto told me he's already got a number of good examples demonstrating its value, from its productivity saving potential to how it can help staff quickly find colleagues by their skills. "Somebody who went home was working from home the next day and realised they had left their work computer at work. They had their home PC and they managed to do a full day’s work completely effectively by starting their life in Unily. They managed to log on, had access to all their apps like OneDrive, Office 365 and did a full day’s work without any issues at all."Another example is someone who needed to quickly find a Portuguese speaker. "We've had someone in another division looking for a Portuguese speaker to support with an invoice. The person who resolved it was a receptionist within one of our companies and managed, within an hour, to phone and deal with the end user and resolve the issue."

Helping Informa to work more dynamically

He ended our conversation by reminding me of his goal of helping Informa work more dynamically, by giving staff "more control of their digital assets and information" through the Portal digital workplace. These examples, as he explained, will really help Informa's many intranet managers in each division communicate its benefits among their teams. "The more of these stories we can get out there, the more people will understand that they can use some of these technologies to make daily life better, working smarter and more effectively."

To see more on the Informa story, watch the recording of our session at the Gartner Digital Workplace Summit. You can also download the complete case study here.

Martyn Perks Head of Customer Insight

Martyn is a business consultant with wide ranging experience in both public and private sectors. His expertise is in helping world-wide and small organisations improve how they communicate, share knowledge and innovate internally — aiding their growth and competitiveness. He works with senior leadership to front-line staff advising and mentoring them with compelling insights, recommendations, prototypes and business cases. Because his background is in design, he uses these skills whenever possible to help make complex ideas simple, in tandem with tangible and insightful analysis.

In addition to his consultancy work, Martyn regularly speaks, produces debates, and writes about a wide variety of topics including about privacy, big data, social media, innovation, design, 3D printing, behaviour change, usability, architecture, and artificial intelligence. Publications he has written for include The Independent, International Business Times, Telegraph business, the Guardian, Big Issue, Core77, Design Week, Netimperative, spiked, Web Designer Depot and CMS Wire. He co-authored Winners and Losers in a Troubled Economy: How to Engage Customers Online to Gain Competitive Advantage (2008), contributed a chapter on online communities to The Future of Community: reports of a death greatly exaggerated (2008); founded the Big Potatoes: The London Manifesto for Innovation; and conveyed the Big Potatoes: Manifesto for Design group.

He has spoken at debates across Europe and in America including at the Cheltenham Science Festival, Battle of Ideas festival, Design Exchange at the London Design Festival, Anglo Israeli Association in Jerusalem, Zurich Salon, Dublin Salon, Hellenic American Union in Athens, London College of Fashion, and at the private members club Home House. He has appeared on R4’s PM radio news programme debating whether blue-skies thinking is a management fad with FT’s Lucy Kellaway, and more recently debated whether artificially intelligent machines will take over humanity on SkyNews’ lunchtime #SkyDebate. Thankfully, he said they are still lightyear’s away from being as smart as us!

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