There was a painfully accurate portrayal of the rise and fall of Ogilvy’s Intranet Truffles at eConsultancy. If you are interested in some more background to its rise and fall - read on!


A little more background

As Catherine describes the story begins in 1997 when Reimer Thedens gave me (I was employed by Ogilvy at the time) the task of ensuring the company’s new processes and procedures were at everyone’s fingertips or to quote: “make this electronic” as he handed me a giant tome. I extended the brief slightly to include people profiles, forums and case studies. And so, following a naming competition “Truffles” was born on Lotus Notes no less!

To everyone’s surprise, the take-up was bigger and better than we had anticipated and so a year or two later we created the first web version.

In conjunction with the new technology we also put in place some knowledge management resources and disciplines. A full-time position of “Global Knowledge Manager” was created who would be responsible for managing Local Knowledge Managers. Importantly the profile of the latter was someone who was enthusiastic, had the respect of their peers and understood enough about the business to identify when a story was worth sharing. They also had fulltime client facing jobs – their LCM role was allowed to take up 5% - 20% of their time.

Again, take-up and usage exceeded all expectations as described in this case study from the last millenium! Meanwhile Ogilvy & Mather, the traditional Ad Agency were getting a little jealous of their upstart sister agency’s digital success story. In response to OgilvyOne’s clients asking for similar solutions I led a spin-off company which ultimately became the wholly independent SmallWorlders.

So once again I was tasked with creating a new Truffles, this time for all 12,000 employees of Ogilvy – this time as an outside vendor. Working with the awesome @Patou_N and @cat_glover we created the new Truffles and launched it with great fanfare in January 2003. You can read a little about the launch here. Catherine then outlines its rise and fall in her interview.

So what went wrong?

Truffles’ highpoint was 2003 – 2007. It was the envy of the industry. Indeed we highlight some of the success in our case study. So what went wrong?

The very thing that made Truffles a rare knowledge management success also ultimately led to its downfall. No content could be created by end users directly – everything had to go through the local knowledge managers. The LKMs had been trained on how to write a good story, a meaningful summary and how to tag and categorise the content so it could be easily retrieved. Sometimes a designer might also be involved to work on the layout. The content was great – perhaps even too good. Ogilvy had set the content quality bar very high. But this quality and the publishing process became a barrier to contribution.

Around the same time the rise of web 2.0 meant that users expected to be able to post content directly like they did on wikis and blogs. And then Facebook rewrote the rulebook, changing the focus from content to people. However Ogilvy found it difficult to move from the disciplined approach that had served them so well for the previous 10 years.

Meanwhile there was an intranet leadership vacuum (remember this period coincided with the start of the credit crunch). While previously the intranet was very much business led, in the absence of this the IT team began to steer the intranet strategy. And without any business direction, IT were more focused on the choice of technologies then why or how those technologies should be applied. Being a Microsoft based solution Sandbox was no longer the preferred choice. As part of the refresh a smorgasbord of features were introduced – wikis, blogs, widgets and presented alongside the now aging knowledge management based Truffles. SmallWorlders and Ogilvy parted ways at the end of 2009, soon after this refresh.

Having been responsible for the delivery and management of Truffles from its first incarnation in 1997 and each of its subsequent iterations prior to the revamp in 2008 I am saddened by its demise and even more saddened that Ogilvy don’t appear to have recreated its success. I am however grateful for the lessons I learnt from its rise and fall which provided much of the inspiration behind our eBook Why your marketing intranet fails

I'm also grateful for having had the opportunity to work with some very talented people over the 10 years or so that I was involved notably Reimer Thedens of course and Patou Nuytemans, Catherine Glover, Patty LyonKen Romano, Mara Sebastian, Eric Clermontet, Shaila Manyam and others (if I've forgotten someone let me know & I'll add you to this hall of fame!)