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PHOTO: Travis Wise

It’s great to see the wave of upgrades and innovation washing through corporate intranets right now. With a greater sense of ambition, and better technologies, businesses are delivering hugely improved intranets for all their staff.

So it comes as no surprise that businesses are trying to differentiate their brand new intranets from the clunky, old-fashioned, unloved previous sites they're replacing with new branding. The branding must reflect a forward-looking agenda, setting the scene for progressive delivery of new functionality over time. 

With so much discussion around the “digital workplace,” including from the product vendors, the obvious answer is to call the new intranet the “new digital workplace.” That would be a big mistake.

Reason 1: The Intranet and Digital Workplace Are Different Things

Digital workplaces are much bigger than any one platform, tool or solution. The broad definition of digital workplaces reflects this:

“A digital workplace consists of the set of tools, platforms and environments for work.”

Under this definition, all organizations already have digital workplaces, and have had them since the advent of email and Word. Instead, the more interesting question is what makes a great digital workplace, and this is about the attributes and experiences:

“A great digital workplace consists of a holistic set of tools, platforms and environments for work, delivered in a coherent, usable and productive way.”

Intranets are one solution that sits within these broader digital workplaces. And rather than fading away, modern intranets are playing even more important roles.

As solutions in their own right, they provide functionality and capability across five intranet purposes: content, communication, culture, collaboration and activity. A new intranet should provide benefits in each of these areas, such as targeted news, updated content or a more engaging design.

Intranets also play a crucial role as an enterprise front door into the wider digital workplace. They provide jumping off points into the broader digital workplace, as well as surfacing activity and giving visibility to everything is happening.

So in short, great intranets and great digital workplaces are different things — and you need both!

Related Article: What Employees Always Want From Their Intranet

Reason 2: Intranets Benefit From Having a Strong Identity

No topic is guaranteed to generate more heated discussion than: should you give your intranet a name?

Those arguing for naming claim it gives the intranet something more memorable for staff to latch onto, e.g. “you’ll find that on Austin” rather than “look that up on the intranet.” The name can also reflect or be derived from the nature of the organization itself, e.g. “The Wire” for an energy company.

The arguments against highlight that many names are bland — or worse — e.g. the most common intranet name in the world is “The Hub.” Naming competitions can also go wrong, disengaging staff rather than engaging them. What do you do when the most common name suggested is “Intranet McIntranet Face”?

Either way, intranets do need to have a strong identity. Whether this is done via a name or distinctive design — or both — it helps to distinguish the intranet from other solutions.

This can give continuity across changes in technology platform, as well as fostering a degree of joy when the intranet homepage is opened each day.

So the intranet needs an identity, but it shouldn’t be “the digital workplace.”

Related Article: Are You Getting the Most Out of Your Intranet?

Reason 3: You’ll Paint Yourself into a Corner

We’ve seen a number of clients unintentionally paint themselves into a corner by calling their intranets the digital workplace. 

The intranets they’ve delivered are much, much better than the previous ones. They provide more functionality, they’re beautifully designed, and more engaging. So far so good.

Now they want to take the next step, establishing an overall digital strategy for their businesses as a whole, and establishing broader governance in the process.

This broader thinking encompasses the rich set of collaboration tools now available, such as Office 365 and Workplace by Facebook. The strategies also consider the streamlining of business processes, as the delivery of new capabilities to mobile devices.

In other words, they’re moving on to determine a digital workplace strategy and to establish digital workplace governance. “Wait … there’s a problem … we’ve already used the term digital workplace and we’ve used it for the intranet!”

This is the trap that organizations – and vendors for that matter — can fall into. By latching onto digital workplace as a buzzword, they’re cutting themselves off from using it in more strategic ways down the track.

So don’t use “digital workplace” unless that’s what you’re actually doing — because if you do a great job, it’s the next thing you’ll be tackling once the new intranet has been delivered.

Related Article: Why the Digital Workplace Causes Confusion

Terminology Matters

Ask a hundred vendors, consultants and organizations about their definition of intranets and digital workplaces and you’ll get back a hundred answers (or more). Terminology can also be used very loosely, particularly when it’s to support marketing by vendors, or internal promotion by project teams.

Despite all that, words matter. Take the long-term view, and don’t call your new intranet the digital workplace. Then build on your successes to tackle the big — digital workplace — needs that staff still have.