Real intranet managers: Christy Season’s race with rapid intranet evolution
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Christy at a glance
- Name: Christy Season Punch
- Hometown: Birmingham, AL
- On Twitter: @ChristySeason
- Company: SCANA
- Headquarters: Cayce, South Carolina (across the bridge from Columbia)
- Role / job title: Senior Intranet Strategist
- Name of intranet: The Edge – a play on SCANA’s logo
- Date of most recent overhaul: May 2009
- Date of first intranet at company: circa 1998 (very bare bones, experimental)
- Technology stack: SharePoint; just recently upgraded to 2010; 2009 redesign was done with SharePoint 2007
- Size of intranet: About 1000 pages (not including team sites)
Christy Season “speaks IT”
The charming southern twang of Christy’s voice belies her intense determination. She’s a dedicated intranet manager, a Gen Y social media maven, a programmer and a problem solver with an MBA and a Nielsen Norman Intranet Design award under her belt.
It’s a treat to talk with Christy, who calls herself an “Intranet Chick” and thinks of herself as an “IT translator.” At SCANA, a large power company based in South Carolina, she’s come to fill a critical space between the IT Department and business units. She “speaks IT” as she puts it and also knows how to listen to employees and communicate in business terms that executives find meaningful.
Christy is a strong proponent of work-life balance, but not in the traditional sense. For her it doesn’t mean drawing clear lines between work and personal time and getting home by 5:30pm every night. Instead she thinks in terms of flexibility and results. She’s “most productive during weird hours” and can do lot of her work from home. When she’s working all day in the office she wants the flexibility to take a long lunch break for a yoga class. But she’ll also respond to work emails on her Blackberry while out with friends late on a Friday night.
Christy is a successful example of the new crop of knowledge workers who are mobile-enabled and demand a lot from employers. But in return she delivers.
Problem solver, intranet builder
Christy took on intranet responsibilities in 2007, back when SCANA first started planning to rebuild their intranet. Nobody else from the team seemed interested in the intranet project, but Christy stood up in the meeting and said, “this is going to require a full-time commitment and I want to take it on.”
That’s how Christy works. She loves to find big problems, take them on and see them through from conception to completion. While she studied computer programming as an undergrad, she got an MBA after realizing she enjoyed the problem solving much more than the coding.
Earlier at SCANA she led a project to move an emergency on-call scheduling process from a paper-based workflow to the intranet. She managed the project from start to finish and helped the team go from a clunky, paper-based system where scheduling changes were slow, to a sophisticated intranet application that helped the team operate with much greater agility. Christy met with and studied extensively the employees who used the system. She created the requirements, built the workflow diagrams and helped the IT team understand what employees needed.
After a project like that, managing a complete intranet redesign sounded like the perfect challenge.
Winner of 2010 Nielsen Intranet Design award
Christy and the SCANA intranet team won a Nielsen Norman Intranet Design award in 2010, for which they’re all very proud. The Nielsen team was impressed with the high quality, easy-to-use intranet Christy delivered with virtually no budget and a small intranet team, using SharePoint.
“It doesn’t look like SharePoint.” Someone said that to Christy after she presented at an intranet conference in Copenhagen and she thinks it’s one of the nicest things anyone’s said about the SCANA intranet. SharePoint is not an easy beast to tame, but her team has nailed it.
Surprisingly, though, Christy and her team never expected to win the Nielsen award. They submitted their application simply for the experience of it and her manager told Christy to “not spend too much time on the application.” But the Nielsen team recognized just how great of an accomplishment SCANA’s user-friendly SharePoint intranet was, especially with such limited resources.
Just one year later, however, Christy is not satisfied with her past success and is driving forward to meet the new expectations for intranets, which seem to evolve so quickly.
Falling behind as social intranets become the new norm
Looking at the Nielsen Intranet Design award winners this year, Christy feels a sense of urgency to catch up. Only a year after winning, the standards and expectations for intranets seem to have lept forward. Today social and collaborative tools seem the norm.
Christy and the SCANA intranet team had tried to implement some light social features in their 2009 intranet re-launch. Christy’s team understood SCANA’s conservative company culture and knew they couldn’t dive head first into the social media deep end. They started by trying to take baby steps, but their initial efforts to make the intranet more social hit an impasse.
When asked what she would have done differently, Christy says:
“During the redesign we should have had more senior level manager involvement throughout the process. We had high level management involved and got sign-off at the beginning from executives, but we didn’t necessarily keep them in the loop and didn’t get their sign-off during various stages. We had several social tools that we were planning to launch with the new redesign and a month or two before launch our management took the final product up to the senior managers who ended up nixing the social functionality. We probably shouldn’t have gone so far in the process before we took it up there.”
Today Christy is finalizing a formal business case for the social media features. They’ve been testing the waters with minimal social functionality on some areas of the intranet, measuring the results and using them to make the business case that much stronger. Soon enough Christy will be leading her team to implement those changes, but until then she feels behind the curve.
Social intranets have crossed the chasm
A lot of intranet managers can relate to feeling behind the curve and we’ve seen first-hand the rapid changes that keep Christy on her toes.
In 2008, any company with a social intranet had taken an innovative step out in front of the crowd. But in 2009 and 2010 we saw the social intranet market shifting from “early adopters” to those in the “early majority,” indicating the classic progression of the technology adoption lifecycle, which Geoffrey Moore popularized in his book Crossing the Chasm.
Today a new intranet that isn’t fundamentally social feels awkwardly out-of-date, like mobile flip phones that don’t have touch screens, internet access and QWERTY keyboards. What was still innovative in the intranet world two years ago is simply expected today and intranet managers are struggling to keep up.
You can’t stop an “intranet chick”
But we’re not worried about Christy falling far behind. Within her company she’s known for her social media prowess and she “couldn’t imagine life without Twitter.”
Christy knows what strategic, social intranets are capable of and carries the same type of passionate vision we’ve noted in other intranet managers from this interview series. Back in 2009 when Christy and the intranet team first tried to implement social features on the intranet they were ahead of the pack. Today they may be playing a little bit of catch-up, but there’s very little that can stop a determined “intranet chick.”
Keep your eyes peeled for Christy’s name on the speaker lineup for intranet conferences and connect with her on Twitter. This is one intranet manager who’s going full steam (hydrogen power?) ahead.