The intranet vs. The digital workplace

In November I was in Stockholm for Intranätdagarna 2011:2 (The Intranet Days 2011:2) and during my two-day visit to the Swedish capital, I had the pleasure of talking to Paul Miller from Intranet Benchmarking Forum. Among other things we spent some time talking about the proclaimed death of intranets which I believe is greatly exaggerated.

Since then I have started at my third intranet related job at a new company and this has given me an opportunity to get a closer look behind the scenes of an intranet that has remained largely unchanged for an impressive 10 years. This also allows for a rather unique perspective on how the very traditional intranet fits in the online landscape of 2012.

In 2002 online was equal to websites and maybe also an intranet if your company had realized that there was a need for an internal website. This was for communication, information, forms, and selected documents. Self-contained with no integrations since there was nothing to integrate!

Somewhere along the way other systems came about and slowly they started to nudge into the online realm offering more and more advanced portal functionality and taking over functionality from the intranet. Big investments were made and in some companies this was at the expense of the intranet because it did a great job at publishing news and forms. This means that we now have a landscape of many portals or portal-like functions. Many of which would fit snugly on the intranet and this poses the question: What to use where and when?

The process leading up to this has been that of evolution. The solutions have developed in relative isolation, but the needs that they serve are largely the same and this is where the notion of the digital workplace comes into play. We have a landscape of monoliths where some are grouped closer together than others and if the intranet does nothing that publish news and provide a phonebook, it doesn’t take much imagination to declare the death of intranets and that the remaining

This puts the intranet in a quite unique position: You can argue that the intranet doesn’t serve a business purpose and that it should die, but you can also argue that the intranet is the independent alternative that can form the mortar between all the monoliths out there and this is the big challenge for intranets and intranet managers of today: How do you bridge these gaps between the components of the digital workplace?

Evolve or die!
Intranets and their managers are faced with an exciting challenge regardless whether you use state-of-the-art portals or of you have a homegrown HTML site: How do you connect all these vital pillars of the digital workplace to form a strong intranet that serves as a single point of access?

The notion of creating an intranet that contains everything is that of 2002. Today’s intranet will be a thin layer on top of a number of other highly specialized tools to form a ‘Patchwork Intranet‘ or ‘Heterogeneous Intranet‘. This layer may provide some core functions like news, and possibly the social dimension, but most importantly it is a layer that gives you access to what you need while hiding the underlying complexity.

“Digital workplace” and “Intranet” are not interchangeable and also not contradictions. The intranet is an integral – possibly the most important – part of the digital workplace of the future. The intranet is not dead, but if you fail to realize this potential, you’d better brush up on your life saving skills


9 thoughts on “The intranet vs. The digital workplace

  1. Pingback: Intranet Lounge
  2. I agree that the intranet should be the “glue” that binds the many enterprise systems and channels together. But good intranets have been doing that for a long time, so that’s not news! 🙂

    Where I disagree: even when intranets are ignored or event hated, they will never actually die. There will always have to be a place to “publish stuff” and to “tell people things”, and so even at the bottom of the cycle, intranets will struggle on.

    Of course, we all want enterprise information solutions to do more than struggle! So I’m 100% with reimagining what intranets, the digital workplace, etc are all about.

    Cheers, James

    1. I agree, James. Proclaiming the death of the intranet is way too early, and I also believe that there is a place for a central hub and this hub will be about sharing information and/or knowledge.

      …but what if your document management system (portal?) includes a feature for ‘publishing stuff’, does the DMS then become your intranet by default…? 🙂

  3. There will always be a place for an intranet, but the evolution and the future of the internet will, I believe, start to influence how we operate at the office (if we even go to the office at all).

    I found this article very insightful, thanks for sharing. All the best.

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