Ernst Décsey (UNICEF): Rethinking Intranet in Office 365

Ernst Décsey is Communication Specialist (Digital Workplace) at UNICEF Private Fundraising and Partnerships Division in Geneva (Switzerland), Ernst has over 15 years of professional experience leading and rethinking Intranets for international organizations and significant experience in internal communication, information architecture, collaboration solutions, and enterprise social networks.

During the last 16 months, he was in charge of the Internal Communication team where he successfully lead the launch of a redesigned Intranet on SharePoint online.

Active on Twitter, Ernst is passionate about the Digital Workplace (he runs his own personal blog on the subject) and is an active participant in international expert networks for Intranet and Digital Workplace.


Ernst – you will be speaking about your Intranet relaunch at the upcoming IOM SUMMIT / Tech Edition in Cologne. What are the three tags that characterize the content of your talk best?

I am looking forward to talking at the IOM SUMMIT in Cologne about our Intranet rethink journey which led us to move our ‘dinosaur’ Intranet to the cloud and to position it as the entry door to our Digital Workplace. Our journey involved many hours of workshops and research spent with users and stakeholders, including asking our users to build their perfect Intranet using lego blocks. It resulted in big shifts in our information architecture, visual design and mindset. The three ‘twitter’ tags that would characterize my talk are: #intranet #digitalworkplace #office365.

What was the key motivation to rethink your old intranet strategy? What was wrong? What has been missed?

I work for the UNICEF Private Fundraising and Partnerships Division in Geneva. Providing UNICEF’s National Committees and Country Offices with the information they need to maximize their fundraising, advocacy and communication activities lie at the heart of our work.

The Intranet plays a central role in this endeavor. On-line since 2008, the old Intranet was mostly a one way communication channel and document repository with an information architecture that was based solely on the organizational structure of the Division. This resulted in information silos with different look & feels and no common navigation. There was no search engine and the technology on which the Intranet was running was no longer supported internally… Our audiences act in very competitive markets and need easy access to up-to-date information about UNICEF’s work in order to continue to successfully raise funds or advocate for the organization’s work.

A complete rethink of the Intranet was needed to align it with the pace of development in the outside world and to improve its functionality, user experience and the ‘findability’ of information.

What has become the result of the rethinking process? What was the objective to achieve?

We launched the new Intranet on 30 September 2016 with a focus on helping our audience stay informed upfront, browse information at a glance, share and connect more easily as well as search more efficiently. The rethink process has led us to an Intranet that is the starting place to find information or access platforms that support every aspect of our work. Information is no longer structured according to the way we are structured internally but rather according to the our users’ information seeking behaviors.

The new Intranet provides a unified user experience and consistent visual design. Developed on SharePoint 2013 online / Office 365, it delivers what our audiences need at any time, wherever they are located.

The experts from the DWG are seeing Office 365 as “invitation to explore and experiment with key digital workplace capabilities as agile phased rollouts”. How far can you resonate on this?

The article from the DWG makes some very good points, especially when arguing that organizations adopting Office 365 while having no digital strategy or Intranet roadmap can end up exploring and experimenting key digital workplace capabilities. Yes, this is true and, in a sense, can be a good thing. It might lead to internal innovation and send the message that the organization has alternatives for what is being offered in the consumer world. However, what might appear positive can actually be dangerous.

The rollout of Office 365 solutions without any strategy and positioning within the existing organizational Digital Workplace landscape (all organizations already have a Digital Workplace, whether they recognize it formally or not) includes the risks of seeing end users overwhelmed with the offering and confused as to which tool to use when. And this is even more true with a cloud solution that evolves and changes very frequently.

As the saying goes, if the start is not good… Hence the need for an incremental and well managed (from a change management point of view) rollout strategy. And to start the process, a good option is to pilot solutions with a group of champions and business stakeholders to see whether they meet the needs of employees, then to rollout more globally.

What are the key challenges in migrating to Office 365 as overall digital workplace solution?

Office 365 includes what the majority of knowledge workers need to do their job and Microsoft is working hard to continue enlarging their solution. But, and this might very well be due to the nature of this fast changing industry, Office 365 unfortunately doesn’t yet offer a unified user experience journey. Some of its parts appear disjointed.

Take for example what should be the backbone of any unified Digital Workplace – people’s profile. Wouldn’t it make sense to have a single profile for all Office 365 solutions? (currently not the case with Yammer). Another challenge is the continuous changes in the user interface which makes it hard to create user guides or training materials.

Finally, and this is both an advantage and a challenge, new Office 365 solutions are offered on regular basis. While it is great to benefit from new solutions that are often influenced by the commercial consumer world (e.g. Planner as a response to Trello), it is equally challenging to plan your own Digital Workplace landscape.

Take for example the Video channel. It is a great addition to Office 365. But what if you didn’t know it was coming and you had invested in the creation of your own internal video channel?

Digital Workplace managers going to the cloud will have to handle this new dimension, i.e. to keep a close eye on what is on the roadmap of their cloud platform.

What are your expectations for the IOM SUMMIT?

It will be my first time at an IOM SUMMIT and am looking forward to seeing examples of what other organizations have done, networking and learning from peers and other practitioners.

Thank your very much, Ernst.

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Ellen Trude
Ellen Trude, nach 28 Jahren Tätigkeit in Aus- und betrieblicher Weiterbildung der Bayer AG mit stets neuen und meist innovativen Projekten und Aufgaben nunmehr in einer gesunden Mischung aus Vorruhestand und Aktivitäten rund um Workplace (Arbeiten 4.0 / Digitalisierung) und Lernen (Lernen 4.0 / Social Learning) unterwegs - meist digital.

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