The moral of my medieval fable ( #intranet #digitalworkplace )

Following my last post, several people asked me to explain further what I meant by my Medieval Fable … some even seemed a little upset (<- sorry about that) … so, here goes!

Evolution of the intranet

Simple diagram on the left

In May 2011, I published the simple diagram on the left asking the question about the relationship between the intranet as we then knew it and this new-fangled Digital Workplace thingy which people were beginning to talk about (if you have time to read through the comments on the original post, they make quite interesting reading).

You see the ‘graph’ on the right of the simple diagram on the left … er … well, that’s the moral of my fable.

WHAT, you need MORE explanation??? Seriously, what’s not to get???

OK … I’m going to go out-on-a-limb here and make some assumptions (<– I realise that this is tantamount to sticking a ‘Kick Me’ sign on my own back, but here goes …!)

Assumption 1: Any company worth its salt has an intranet of some description.

Assumption 2: An intranet is an environment/platform/whatever where content is published (<- I know the word published is a bit 1990s, but it still pretty-much covers what has to happen to stuff for it to become visible to other people on an intranet).

Assumption 3: Most – maybe all (?) – intranets have an Intranet Manager of some description.

Assumption 4: Intranet Managers are appointed because they know something about intranets (even those who don’t could pick up the basics from half-a-day’s reading of a handful of great intranet blogs). Intranet Managers know stuff like: good governance is essential; intranet strategy needs to support the business objectives; put users at the centre; business- not technology-led; blah blah; etc. etc.

Assumption 5: Given all the above, being an Intranet Manager is not rocket science (<- that doesn’t make it easy by the way!).

Assumption 7: Intranet Managers can’t count (<- just checking you’re still paying attention).

Assumption 6: As a company’s intranet matures, the list of stuff in Assumption 4 becomes business-as-usual and things start to run themselves to some extent.

Assumption 7: lots/many companies have probably got to Assumption 6 in their maturity cycle (<- OUCH … who kicked me!?).

Assumption 8: So, the more effective we are as Intranet Managers, the more invisible we are to users and, ironically, to senior management who only really take an interest when something goes wrong and they are looking for someone to blame (<- that probably came across a little more cynically than I intended but you know what I mean!).

… and then, along comes the Digital Workplace Monster. As my simple diagram on the left shows, the Digital Workplace Monster gobbles up the intranet. By gobbles up, I mean the intranet as we now know it, suddenly becomes a (small?) component of a bigger ecosystem known as the Digital Workplace.

To put it another way, the intranet becomes the utility cupboard under the sink in the Digital Workplace kitchen … the place where stuff (content) gets put so you can grab it when you need it. The stuff in the cupboard under the sink is important if you need to unblock the plug-hole, descale the kettle or clean the sink etc. … but, frankly, it’s not very exciting. It’s reliable … always there … and useful when you need it.

So, here’s the thing … six months ago you were the Intranet Manager – the go-to-guy (or guyette) guiding your organisation digitally into the twenty-second century. Today … you manage the cupboard under the kitchen sink.

It’s worth thinking about … that’s all I’m saying!



  1. Richard,

    Lovely post and in-line with my own thinking. I have always felt that putting the intranet at the centre of the digital workplace didn’t quite fit with how peripheral it can be with many organisations. I was going down the same path as you here (during research for DWF) why should it remain different, special, bizarrely unlike anything else within organisations – a sore thumb.

    My realisation is that the intranet is the only place where the user experience is malleable enough to truly submit to the requirements of the organisation – it can be designed. None of the other components can be – email, Yammer, Lync, many out-of-the-box products. You are at the mercies of the vendor.

    The intranet is the only space when an organisation’s character and brand can be expressed, where the user experience can be just-so, where stuff is given STRUCTURE. It is the only place you can fix a problem that is wholly yours and it is the place where you fix problems you find in all those digital workplace products you can’t fix. Sticking plasters. Swiss army knives. Polyfilla. Crazy glue. Gaffa tape.

    That is why it will remain different for the foreseeable future, that is unless organisations don’t allow the intranet to become too commoditised, and too out-of-the-box.

    Then it is under the sink for us all.

  2. Thanks Chris – all good points! I am being a bit mischievous 🙂 To some extent it’s about terminology and what words mean what to whom.

    A proper DW is incredibly complex when you throw in stuff like physical working environment; work-styles; devices; BYOD; etc. … I have a slight concern that ‘intranet’ in terms of what that word means to employees could become a niche thing which isn’t very exciting and therefore gets slide-lined … of course, you could go to the other extreme and just say that the whole DW is your intranet … i.e. the words are interchangeable and mean the same thing.

    Exciting times!

  3. Pingback: Intranet Lounge
  4. Your diagram says it all Richard. Intranets are an essential part of the wider digital workplace. That is not bad or good – just factually accurate. The digital workplace is seen as dynamic, mobile and new (because a lot that it includes – mobile services to retail staff and frontline manufacturing or advanced unified communications or fluid collaborative spaces used by knowledge workers are actually innovative and enabling access to the previously digitally disenfranchised). People often say to me that intranets are “hygiene” and I say “true and hygiene is very important in life”. One intranet manager I know was “saved” while the whole marketing team was culled because he was “business critical”. Your point that intranets are not sexy is just accurate but that does not mean they are not vital. Intranet – Digital Workplace is neither either/or but both and there are several other major digital services that are just as critical as intranet within the wider digital workplace – for me enhanced audio and video and real time communication is an area experiencing and set for huge growth. I like your fable btw!

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