The world is changing fast; even the nature of change itself has changed, says futurist Thornton May. Many corporate systems are holdovers from a time when things changed less frequently, everything was more predictable, and content was created by a few and consumed by many. Corporate intranet gets a bad rap; but it’s just a perfectly good tool designed yesterday and being used by today’s jobs. You wouldn’t check out a book at a library to respond to a tweet from a customer, would you?
The library is a magical place, it’s just not right for today’s jobs. I remember my time in the library as a kid in Moscow. As the snow rustled under my feet, my mittens clutching my library card, I looked forward to being transported to faraway worlds. But first, I had to wander the halls of the dimly lit library, choose a book that wasn’t already checked out, wait for the homely librarian to scribble something on my library card, and do it all over for the next book. I had all the time in the world to repeat this process every time I wanted a new book, and books didn’t change that much.
Fast forward a few years: my entire job depends on my ability to quickly access information and people — internally and externally — to help create and recombine content, helping people find each other and solve problems. I don’t have time to check out a book, I can’t depend on obsolete information, and I can’t sit by the phone and wait for someone to call me with an answer.
The Current State of Intranet Affairs
Corporate intranet portals started out as static repositories of information, and over time, became more collaborative. In the past decade, however, business has moved from a content-centric to people-centric model, and intranets have largely not adapted to this transition.
Forrester’s Q2 2011 US Workforce Technology And Engagement Online Survey says that although 59 percent of workers access their intranet portal at least once a day, “use is still fairly limited to early-stage activities around information retrieval and employee self-service.” In short, people use it for compliance tools like HR paperwork, time and expense, which employees have to use in order to get paid.
While intranet portals remain critical to push information resources, the missed opportunity remains around engaging employees in a participatory environment, where they can proactively pull and contribute information and resources. As we know, engaged employees are worth their weight in gold — so why wouldn’t you want that? The Forrester report "Intranet Portals: Workforce Technology Adoption 2011" corroborates this story by saying that users of collaboration tools are more likely to innovate and advocate (8.4 vs. 7.2 advocacy score).
What engages us? It’s the ability to connect to others in meaningful ways, to create something together, to get done the things that add up to our legacy. Social media in its purest form is the engine that helps us access the people, resources and information, to turn knowledge into insights and actions, make better decisions faster and move at the speed of business today.
The Changing Nature of our Work
Conventional intranet portals significantly slow down information exchange, because their restrictive approaches to content authoring and content management don’t map to today’s world, where news travels fast, everything changes, knowledge is democratized and everything is transparent. Thornton May says that the biggest risk in dealing with change is falling out of sync because we adapt to change at different speeds. Being out of sync also contributes to content sprawl and duplicated work — in fact, 38 percent of time is often lost duplicating work and searching for information across a business’s systems.
Furthermore, according to Aragon Research, a limitation of intranet is “the amount of technical involvement needed to make them function, and to add new capabilities; this has tended to keep them out of sync with dynamically changing needs.”
The Work Hub
The real opportunity lies in merging the reach and authoritativeness of the intranet with dynamic and collaborative qualities of an enterprise social network – thus creating a social work hub. This requires that we update our thinking about both enterprise social networks and intranet portals.