“Chief Privacy Officer.” “Chief Customer Officer.” “Director of ERP Operations.” Considering the tide of staff reductions that is sweeping throughout the tech sector and even beyond, the last thing many people want to hear about is another “new economy”-reared job description. However, considering the damaging effects of these lean economic times on company operations, senior managers are eager to discover ways of boosting enterprise efficiency, even if it means creating new spots on the payroll.

At first glance, it may seem too paradoxical—creating a position while eliminating others. But in the case of appointing an employee dedicated to managing your company’s intranet operations, there are enterprise-wide benefits worth consideration. This article features the case for a dedicated intranet staff and its potential benefits to the firm.

The importance of intranets
Although intranet content differs from company to company, in most cases, the fundamental reason for building it in the first place revolves around one issue: leveraging human assets. Martin White, managing director of the Horsham, U.K., consultancy Intranet Focus Limited, claims that in today’s organizations, employees often contribute to the organization in ways that extend beyond their designated department or role.

“Up until now, people thought that only people in marketing knew about marketing, and only people in technology knew about technology. But [now], there could be a guy in technology that knows a new business prospect and says, ‘I know the best way to approach them.’”

Fundamentally, the intranet is a way to channel individual knowledge and expertise across the organization. In a sense, it’s a forum for collaboration, but it facilitates a much more expedient, rapid exchange of knowledge than standard workplace interaction.

“In pursuit of a new prospect,” said White, “one must find all the relative documents, memos, and e-mails and track down all the people that might know something about the issue to make the right decision. The intranet speeds up the process and response.”

Leveraging for leaner staff
Clearly, White believes that intranets can consolidate information and employee knowledge into an easily accessible repository and exchange. While the benefits of that collaboration should be apparent, the efficiency is even more attractive when firms are faced with downsizing their workforces.

“As people leave the organization…you might not be able to afford replacements for some time,” said White. “You’ve therefore got to make the best use of the resources you had or still have across all parts of the company: people.”

A need for supervision
Intranets may be important tools in the enterprise, but do they really need a dedicated person or staff to maintain them? According to White, most definitely. During his past four years as a consultant focusing on intranet development, White has found that many firms began their intranet projects as part-time undertakings with little to no investment.

“Initially, companies said to themselves, ‘We’ve got Microsoft information software. We’ve got FrontPage. That’s all we need.’”

However, White has found that most firms are faced with implementing content-management solutions and knowledge-management packages to maintain access and input of content—investments that could cost more than $500,000. When costs of that caliber sink into the project, companies “are almost forced to find someone who is actually managing the intranet because it’s no longer a part-time exercise.”

The fitting candidate
If a company’s IT budget and staff are too thin to support a new technical management post, that shouldn’t be a problem. According to White, intranet managers don’t necessarily need technology skills because they already exist in the IT department. Intranet managers can come from sales, marketing, business development, or anywhere else as long as they have a clear understanding of business drivers and the decision-making that takes place in the company.

Additionally, intranet managers should have strong communication skills and the ability to get along with people across the entire organization. White suggests that there may be some team building involved in the role as well. Finally, entrepreneurial skills may be essential if the company is “going to give him or her a canvas to just go forth and work.”

Who is in charge of your intranet?

Does your firm have employees specifically appointed to handle the intranet? Are there specific skills that make these people adept for the job? Start a discussion and share your thoughts.