The concept of the browser-based intranet as most people know it is a relic of the 20th century: You may as well dress it down in flannel and send it off to a Pearl Jam concert. A seldom elegant mashup of communication channels, application functionality, document collaboration and now enterprise social, the intranet at its heart is an idea from the days before mobile and BYOD that, much like the Cadillac Escalade and the British aristocracy, continues to hang on long past its expiration date. And yet it’s not going anywhere any time soon.
Why, in the face of mobile apps and the still burgeoning smartphone culture, do companies continue to spend millions of dollars every year re-platforming, re-designing and upgrading their intranets? It’s a simple question with a simple answer: Like the gas-guzzling Escalade and the distinctly undemocratic House of Lords, a sizable number of people with even more sizable monetary resources have a vested interest in keeping it going.
Even so, eventually things will change. The responsive designs of today get the job done, but when you’re used to using simple, easy-to-interact-with apps for everything from buying a car to learning the guitar to (finally!) creating a PowerPoint deck, calling up a browser and scrolling … and scrolling … and scrolling or typing in search terms will eventually seem like one step too many. The responsive, mobile intranet of today might be good enough for now, but in the not-too-distant future we’ll reach a tipping point where users have become so inured to the mobile app experience that anything more complex is nothing but an excuse to go find (or build) an app for that.
After all, apps already exist for news publishing (communication channels), social networks (enterprise social), creating and editing documents (document collaboration) and just about everything else (application functionality). The intranet at best isn’t far from being nothing but a branded launchpad for all of these things.
There’s an App For Everything
From a change perspective, it’s largely accepted wisdom to identify the mobile experience as a primary factor affecting the design of next-generation intranets. Note that we've said the mobile experience, as opposed to mobile devices outright. That experience includes not just form factor and pinch-and-zoom touchscreens -- the means by which we interact with software -- but the software itself.