Wondering about intranet evolution …

Following a lively conversation on the Thought Farmer blog, I was wondering about the relationship between the thing we call the intranet and the digital workplace. Which model below looks right to you?

Digital workplace evolution

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20 comments

  1. I would say the 2nd model, where the Intranet is part (a small part? not sure) of the global digital workplace. The working place will need an environment where web-design and usability are the keys to “present” the right content, aggregated content, corporate content, etc.

  2. Thanks Claudio … I guess I was wondering if the word ‘intranet’ is a bit last season – whether or not it’s still meaningful to young people joining corporations today. Or if the word is still valid and we just need to update our ideas about what it means?

  3. I wonder if the (somewhat contradictory) challenge of intranet professionals is to do as much as they can to make the intranet disappear from the point of view of the user.

    If the ultimate measure of the success of an intranet is that it helps users do their jobs better and not get in their way, then is the perfect intranet the one that is completely indiscernable from each user’s workflow?

    Then, just to take the thought on even further, do we need the “digital” in digital workplace? Surely, many workplaces are significantly digital, and very few of the most analogue wouldn’t still benefit from greater digital integration.

    These are thoughts that I’m trying to deal with and, as of yet, don’t yet know where to take them.

  4. Simon – interesting … my heart is with you in that all a user cares about is that the world they experience through their screens (of whatever size and device) supports them professionally … and dare I say ‘emotionally’ … whenever they need it.

    However, my intranet-manager-head is screaming out things like: what if users do commercially confidential stuff in non-secure places in the cloud, rather than on corporate systems where we can secure and manage it, because they don’t know where the ‘intranet’ ends and the cloud begins? What about issues around information retention? etc.

    I’m guessing that we’re going to need to settle for some middle ground where we have liberalised access to the internet but clear guidance about ‘appropriate’ usage – maybe through the UI??

  5. Not suprisingly Richard I would firmly say Model 2 – and I like your simple visual. When intranets evolve, they deepen and grow in their own right but also they exist within a growing digital workplace world. Terms are both essential and not important – depending on the audience. For those managing at senior levels terms matter – but as you say the user could not care less. By the way some people may find the free IBF report called “Digital Workplace Maturity Model” helpful http://www.ibforum.com/ibf-shop/free-report-the-digital-workplace-maturity-model/

  6. Thanks Paul … I think you hit the nail on the head: “Terms are both essential and not important – depending on the audience”.

    Weirdly enough, I found a printed copy of the report you’ve highlighted in your comment under a pile of paper on my desk this morning … I think I’ll read it :-)

  7. The digital workplace is both a metaphor and a tangible reality. As a metaphor it refers to both virtual work (especially the interaction of content with content in meaningful and useful ways) and also the physical workplace where this involves digital interfaces (e.g. as you say, through the screen).

    When I am sending an email I am in the physical workplace. I believe human beings are nearly always in the physical workplace, working with processes and content that IS in the digital workplace.

    When I am replying on a forum I am in the physical workplace but the metaphor of “forum” inspires my imagination a little more and I will tend to imagine my “avatar” (more or less) as “in” the forum.

    By the time we have several metaphors such as “second life” and “second life personum” etc, there is a possibility that I have imagined an aspect of my self that is a rendition of my self INTO a digital space. Here I exist in the physical workplace and in an imagined/projected “other” space.

    In the Matrix, this complete projection involves a forgetting of the physical space, at least for a time – a full projection or transference.

    In my view, the large disappointment of virtual spaces such as Second Life lies in the fact that human beings are essentially clumsy physical beings. We don’t render well in digital spaces where processes can be much less clumsy than we ourselves.

    So, the digital workplace is two fold in my own ideal view of it. It is a physical place where we engage with digital content, process and technology. And it is an ab-human place, where the citizens are content, and processes help content to interact, mapping genomes, working through decision models, behaving in artificially intelligent ways, and interfaces allow human beings, as “farmers”, to plant, tend and harvest what is there.

  8. Paul (rationalmadness), oooh … some nice ideas! I wonder if intranet/digital workplace managers should be trying to shift their users’ centre of consciousness out of the physical and into the virtual space … (that would have to be one of the coolest objectives ever written into a performance management system! :-) ).

    Transporting users into the virtual realm is what good movies and games do so well (and books even!). I’m sure there must be loads of lessons to be learnt from these media …

    I think the reason humans come across as clumsy in virtual spaces is because we insist on recreating virtual versions of ourselves in human shape and form exactly as we are in the physical realm – complete lack of imagination in my view – if you were re-inventing humans from scratch, would you seriously keep us exactly as we are!??

  9. Hi Richard, As the person who triggered the “new word for the intranet” discussion 2 years ago, I’m happy to see the conversations and debates that have emerged. I fully agree with you that the intranet is part of the larger digital workplace, and love the simplicity of your diagram.
    My Digital Workplace Snapshot diagrams attempt to show the progression: http://netjmc.com/intranet-strategy/digital-workplace/snapshot-of-the-digital-workplace
    My original post in April 2009 triggered a lot of discussion and other posts by other people (http://netjmc.com/intranet-strategy/extended-enterprise/web-workplace-a-new-word-for-intranet) so let’s keep the conversation going, just making sure we still focus on making intranets better and don’t get lost in the words!

  10. I agree on the 2nd one (indeed you could leave the intranet where it is and draw Digital Workplace as a bigger bubble around it ;-)

    Jane links to a great post on how organisations might evolve into a bigger DW approach – I like that fact that she places other non-intranet components in there.

    Perhaps as intranet managers we shouldn’t just plot ‘intranet’ as the only thing on the landscape at the starting point but put in all the other components that are currently isolated – web conferencing, microblogging, CRM etc. and think about how we can deliver a more coherent service for employees?

  11. What a conversation!

    @Jane Your snapshot of a DW reminds me of a social intranet where stable content rests within a social context and sits in a collaborative environment.

    The digital workplace is an environment – a digital environment. Having concrete “places” in the environment is a natural need for us “clumsy” human beings. Rather than have no intranet, we should strive to have a single intranet where many digital tools are integrated. We don’t want to eliminate the intranet from the employee experience because then there is just the DW ether, but no actual place. Instead, solidify the many tools that make up the DW environment into a place – the social intranet.

    @RationalMadness Clumsy? The billions of neurons in my brain find that a silly word to describe humans (or any organisms).

  12. Jane – I should have known you would be at the heart of this debate! :-) I love the diagrams …

    Ephraim – I think we need to treat users’ needs holistically – understanding their wider needs (intranet as we used to define it and all the extra stuff coming on-stream) and providing as seamless a ‘doorway’ into that environment as we can. And, of course, we need to factor in the organisation’s needs in terms of the information/applications that they want their employees to read/find/use.

  13. Interesting question and models. For me, barriers are gradually coming down and the stark differences we once had between inside and outside, company and customer etc are blurring. I would think about taking it a step up so that you simply have workplace, which in time may become ‘marketplace’ or simple ‘place’ ‘platform’ etc. And on/in this place or platform our different networks, connected relationships, distinct entities we call ‘work’ or ‘play’ come together. We set the boundaries, but they are movable. However, little I am making sense, I would say that the intranet is a ‘subset’ of something bigger, whatever that ‘bigger’ might be (whether defined by the organisation or the individual).

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