The morning of the second day of any conference is always a difficult one, and not just because of all the socializing the night before. The Advanced Intranet+ Portal conference in Amsterdam was no exception, largely due to the questions raised on the future of the Intranet.

Clearly, no one has all the answers on this one, but what is clear is that the future will be dominated by many of the issues that cropped-up on day one: mobile, collaboration and social intranets.

Not very original perhaps, but there is a general consensus that the future of enterprise intranets is going to be all these things.

Content In Context

However, in a session lead by Sriram Chakravarthy, Senior Director of Products at Tibco, another element of the future intranet was discussed -- context.

It is context, Chakravarthy said, that will distinguish future intranets from the intranets of the past. While content may have been king in the 20th century, context will be king in the 21st century.

It’s a catchy soundbite, and one that has a lot of virtue; but content -- and knowledge -- is still the core element in any business so it is probably more accurate to say that content in context will be king.

It's a perspective that will undoubtedly come up over the coming years as enterprises become increasingly mobile, but essentially what Chakravarthy is saying -- and he summed it up quite nicely in a three phrase mantra -- is that the future will be dominated by ‘the right information, to the right person, in the right context’.

Workforce Technology Adoption

Citing Forrester’s State of Workforce Technology Adoption 2011 report (read a review of that report), he outlined the five principal things workers are looking for from their intranet. They included in order of importance:

  1. Find staff in large enterprises
  2. Finding policy documents on anything
  3. Access to knowledge--  or finding expertise across the enterprise
  4. Explaining employee benefits
  5. Organizational news

The 2009 version of the report, he says, listed the same five priorities, but in a different order. What has changed now is the way we interact with information and it is this that is going to shape intranets in the coming years.

Future Intranets

Those changes can be summed up under three main headings:

1. Distributed teams

Teams are becoming more distributed; no one is in the same office anymore with large companies working in many different time zones and cultures. No department or group can hold meetings where everyone is able to physically attend.

2. Mobile

Everyone is mobile and we expect to be able to get all our content on our mobile devices anywhere and at any time. As a reflection of how access is changing: in India, in April this year, the number of people accessing content through mobile devices overtook the number of people accessing it through desktops.

3. User experience

We now expect to access and use our intranets with the same ease-of-use as we do our social applications like Facebook, Google Apps or Foursquare. Unfortunately, Chakravarthy says, many enterprise intranets have not evolved and workers are struggling with static intranets built on top of stale content repositories.

It is time, he says, that enterprises re-look at this -- that they re-imagine the intranet.

Re-imagining The Intranet

There are a number of steps that a company can take to ensure that content remains in context in intranets today, and that workers are comfortable and even happy to use them.

Intranets need to display the following characteristics:

1. Keep it simple

It has to be fast, accessible anywhere and anytime (and on any device), with easy to use applications. It must be cost efficient for diverse business needs. And it needs to be easy and quick to install -- six month deployment schedules no longer an option.

2. Mobile

While it needs to be mobile, it needs to be more than merely mobile. Users want their information based on where they are, or where they are located geographically at any given moment (that's part of the context).

3. Context

We’ve said it before, but here it is again. In the 21st century context will be king. It must be relevant to what the business user is doing at a given moment. There needs to be better ways of classifying content.

4. Integrated

It needs to be integrated into business processes, which means it needs to be fully integrated into other business applications so that users can access whatever content they need in a single location.

5. IT and Governance

Keep IT happy by ensuring that governance is in place around data. Content needs to be compliant by making sure the underlying platform is kept compliant through the application of enterprise-grade security.