Will digital kill the intranet? Will social kill the intranet? Will the two together kill off the intranet? To all three questions, the answer is probably not, according to intranet guru Jane McConnell who was leading a question and answer on these issues at today’s Advanced Intranet Portal conference in Amsterdam.

Not very useful, you might think. However, we have seen in the past, in relation to any IT question, asking the right questions is key to developing the right strategy and, certainly judging by the responses from the audience to what McConnell was postulating, the questions were the right ones.

Just as an aside, she also denies categorically that she is an intranet guru, stating simply that she works with companies, albeit companies all over the world, and that her reasoning is based on the questions and responses that she is getting from enterprises.

It’s not all questions though, and it is clear that she has already done considerable research in the area that provides some interesting ideas that we hope to explore later.

Shifting Digital Workplace

However, to start with, she points out that there are number of shifts happening in the digital workplace. The current digital workplace is one that is authoritative, managed and stable. But it is also one that is shifting.

Structured collaboration managed by hierarchies in stable enterprises, for example, are becoming social collaborative workplaces with a lot more information coming from a lot more people across the enterprise.

The traditional workplace, because of new technologies, is moving to the outside too, so that work is done inside and outside the workplace with little distinction between the two.

Communications with the outside world is no longer being controlled by the traditional controllers of the enterprise message. Because of the changing toolset, everyone can contribute to the message resulting in a message from many different voices.

Content Management

Questions then, in light of these changes, that need to be asked by enterprise leaders include:

  • How can obligatory content and messages be transmitted?
  • How to prevent content fragmentation and the creation of thousands of information silos?
  • How to get the balance between structure and freedom for all workers to create a message?

The problem that enterprises need to address is ''who owns the content"? In principle, the enterprise does, but much content is being created outside the structured, enterprise content channels, so what then?

In this respect, she cities recent research she carried out where she surveyed 456 companies on a number of issues and asked them how many of them had a digital board -- or a board that is in charge of digital use and content in the enterprise.

Only 17% said they had, with the other 83% giving a variety of commitments to the idea, which ranged from not having considered it all to being in the process of establishing one.

The result is that in those 83% of enterprises, where do you go when you need to create or develop a digital project? Again, another question without an answer for the companies involved, and one that needs to be answered.

Other Digital Issues

There were other issues that McConnell touched on that we are familiar with here and see nearly every day. Among them:

Role of communicators

Who is responsible for traditional publishing in the enterprise now that social media and collaboration tools are omnipresent, and what should the role of the communications team be? Previously they were responsible for gathering and publishing the messages that the enterprise leaders felt should be communicated.

With social media, such as blogs and wikis,or bulletin boards -- although there was some discussion around the terminology here -- the traditional communicator becomes curator rather than creator; monitoring and controlling the content rather than being the person who creates it.

Mobile

Mobile again made an appearance here and McConnell pointed out that in her research, her experience has been that without mobility, social networks in a given enterprise are not going to catch on; they won’t be used.

And mobile, or mobility, she said, is still being driven by IT rather than what business users want. In this respect, in response to questions around what workers actually want, the results depended on whether the worker was office-based or on the road.

Those who were in the office hoped mobile would offer better communication flows, while those on the road hoped it would improve and facilitate customer service.

Social collaboration

One of the main issues around social collaboration is that management understands what social collaboration does in the enterprise. Social usage is going to grow whether the enterprise wants it or not, so what is management to do about it?

With management that understands social collaboration, it can be integrated into the business and business processes and adds value to the enterprise digital economy.

Email and the role of email was also touched upon, with a number of contributors suggesting that while social media and collaboration have the potential to reduce the number of email messages landing in inboxes, this is aspirational rather than reality. A more realistic aspiration would be to implement better control rather than the elimination of email altogether.