The title of this column is also the title of a very good new report from Stephan Schillerwein, Director of Research, Infocentric Research AG. My last column on the probable death of the intranet provoked a lot of comment both on and off this site, which is exactly the purpose of writing this column. This time, I again want to gaze into the future and consider what a digital workplace might look like.

Most of my consulting assignments involve the development of 3 or even 5-year intranet and information management strategies for organizations, which means that in 2012 I am going to have to look out towards 2017. This year, my most interesting assignment was for an international engineering company that scoped out the project from the beginning as the achievement of a digital workplace over a five year period, and not just "an intranet strategy."

The Mist Clears

Digital workplaces have certainly emerged from the shadows in 2011 thanks to the work by the Intranet Benchmarking Forum on a digital workplace maturity model, the realignment of the Global Intranet Trends survey of NetStrategy/JMC into the Digital Workplace Trends report, and now the report from Infocentric Research. The concept was first promoted in 2000 by Jeffrey Bier of eRoom Technology Inc., and both Gartner and Forrester have been publishing research reports on digital workplaces for a number of years. Now we are starting to see companies offer digital workplace applications. For example, the Finnish systems integration company Tieto now offers an outsourced digital workplace:

Our objective is to create a Digital workplace where the user has the required hardware, standard productivity and the office software and role-based business application combined into one package. This Digital workplace can be then operated from the office, home or when traveling, providing the digitalized working environment anywhere at any time. We use a lifecycle management approach that covers the entire range of services required for both desk-based and mobile environments. By using standardization techniques, self-service initiatives, remote management, automated software distribution and desktop management best practices, we believe there is a possibility to achieve up to 55% cost savings from average desktop management operations.”

Designs for Digital Workplaces

I think it is about time that we started to think in more detail about the technology of the digital workplace and about the cultural changes that will need to be addressed. A few things are fairly certain. The digital workplace will need to support mobile devices, though given the changes we have seen over the last two years it would be unwise to think they will just be smarter smartphones.

The latest Gartner forecast is that by 2016, 50% of enterprises will rely primarily on a browser, tablet or mobile client for both email and collaboration services. As a result, the number of native projects targeting smartphones and tablets will outnumber PC projects by a ratio of 4:1.

Another trend is the blurring of the lines between "unstructured" and "structured" information, helped by some significant advances not only in enterprise search (a term that hopefully will wither away in the next couple of years!) but also in new database technologies. NoSQL is a good example, but there are many more. The Accenture report entitled "Information 2015 – Reforming the paradigm" makes for interesting reading for anyone seeking to visualize what will be commonplace in a few years’ time.

To go back to the Infocentric report, it highlights the value of a proactive digital workplace:

As you look at your activities for the next day, you notice that the tasks scheduled will use up more time than you have available. The Digital Workplace instantly presents you with a proposal of tasks that can be delayed or delegated with the least effects upon all respective projects and stakeholders involved.”

The Infocentric report provides some interesting frameworks for a digital workplace which certainly move the discussion forward, especially about the role of the intranet. I’d like to see some design patterns for digital workplaces; if you know of any please use the comment box below so that all CMSWire readers will benefit. I was quite surprised how few results I found on Google for digital workplaces, and most of the recent results were sourced from the work of Paul Miller and his colleagues at the Intranet Benchmarking Forum.

Now is the Time to Start Planning

We are still some way off from a fully integrated digital workspace, but my sense is that the release of Microsoft SharePoint 15 will be a major step in the journey. Remember that Nokia knows more about mobile working environments than any other company in the world. Have a look at what they came up with in 2005 and imagine what they might help Microsoft create in 2015. What might your digital workplace look like, and what are the options available to build it?

May you have an interesting and enjoyable 2012, and thank you for reading my columns.

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