In June of this year, Facebook announced that the number of active users on the site had jumped by 60 million monthly active users since March 2017 to 2.01 billion. If, as expected, Facebook grows by 20 million active users per month, by the end of the year, it will have over 2 billion active users.

Of course, for the digital workplace Facebook also has Workplace by Facebook while Microsoft has Teams, and Slack is adding functionality at an astonishing rate. What links these, and all the other social networks for the enterprise, is that it is now possible to communicate, work and collaborate with anyone in the enterprise no matter where they are located.

Future Intranets: Using What Works

In this new digital workplace, is there a role for intranets? Stephen Gibson, the founder  of San Francisco-based PR company Vyteo says that while there are situations where intranets are needed, in general however, social networks are starting to replace them. “Most companies no longer need to build an intranet system. Unless you have specific security or legal concerns there are many options which are specifically designed to replace them. Slack, Microsoft Teams, Whaller, and numerous other systems all provide internal communication tools,” he said.

That said, before making any decisions on whether enterprises need to rethink their intranet strategies they need to look at what employees are using to get work done. The most important thing is that people use the systems that enterprises have in place. Sometimes various teams will each adopt their preferred method for communication leading to disjointed organizations.

Peter Carson, President of Ontario-based Extranet User Manager, however, says that with the emergence of digital workplaces there are new possibilities and roles for intranets and extranets. He believes that intranets are an important tool that can maximize an organizations’ communications potential. It gives workers access to documents without having to use third-party products that have a monthly or yearly subscription. It also helps speed the process of document sharing and access that saves a lot of time in the long run.

Setting up an extranet, on the other hand, offers all the same benefits, but allows outside sources, like clients, access as well. If your business must share documents with clients and vice-versa, an extranet is a powerful tool for cutting the waiting time needed to send and receive critical information needed from a client.  

So, what should extranets and intranets consist of? “An effective intranet should have much of the same capabilities as an extranet. It should be compatible with Microsoft software, have only one log in phase when going through different programs, while maintaining your digital security, be mobile friendly, be user-friendly for your management staff without needing help from the IT department,” Carson said. They should also be easily customizable to individuals in your organizations as well as follow your corporate branding guidelines.

Digital Workplace Intranets

What many organizations overlook is that intranets are the gateway to the wider digital workplace and as such, play a key role in any organization that is in the process of implementing a digital transformation strategy, or those that have already built digital workplaces Sean Winter, vice president of solutions strategy at Palo Alto, Calif.-based Jive Software told CMSWire. “An interactive intranet should serve as the gateway to the rest of a digital workplace. It should help organizations reach and align their increasingly disperse, diverse workforces so employees can collaborate and find information quickly and easily. With that in mind, leaders should first ask what does the organization need to do to become a highly engaged, efficient and productive workplace?” he said.

As a result, enterprises that are building intranets need to prioritize communication, information discovery and collaboration. Companies can do this by implementing an interactive intranet that seamlessly and intuitively connects with all other systems and platforms in the digital workplace. As a result, employees will spend time getting work done rather than searching through emails or files.

Winter added that it is important to understand an organization's desired business outcomes, and ensure that the digital workplace is designed to support and drive them. Rather than focusing solely on features or capabilities, be sure to spend time on the change management required to deliver on these outcomes.

Mike Hicks, Ontario-based Igloo's VP of Marketing and Strategy, agrees. “First and foremost, what we’re really talking about is a digital workplace platform, which is the next generation of the intranet and it addresses all the challenges and shortfalls of the traditional intranet” he said. When building out a digital workplace, enterprises need to be clear as to what business challenge are they trying to solve. Once an organization can define their business challenge, then they can begin to address it with a purpose-built digital workplace platform that supports the right solutions.

Learning Opportunities

Delivering a solution to a very specific problem, rather than deploying an off-the-shelf generic intranet, is a smart way to create value and reduce employee frustration.  When something works well, it’s easier for employees to see the value and adopt the new way of working.

The user experience is also key. Not everyone has the time, patience, or ability to learn how to interact with a digital workplace solutions that require advanced technological skills. These solutions should be intuitive and so easy to use that employees don’t need to think about it. They should be able to easily locate experts and information they need to do their jobs quickly and efficiently, while sharing their success stories and chiming in on the latest office chatter.

Ultimately, a digital workplace shouldn’t disrupt or change your culture; rather, it should supplement the experience to highlight what’s working and fix what isn’t.

 “Organizations need to look at how solutions fit into the way employees already work and the tools they are familiar with. A digital workplace platform should be able to integrate all of the best personal productivity apps and enterprise systems into purpose-built solutions, putting information into the context of the work being done or the problem being solved,” Hicks said.

 Ian McClarty CEO and president of Phoenix, Ariz.-based PhoenixNAP Global IT Services adds that intranets need to be flexible. “Flexibility is critical when building an intranet. Identify which business sectors will use the intranet, from which location and what kind of device they will be connecting from,” he said.

Finally, a reliable intranet needs to be able to deal intelligently with permission and have an ability to modify those permissions on the fly. Organizations should also be able to entirely remove permissions for a specific employee

 Finland-based Arcusys’ President Mika Kuikka sums it up as follows: “The key to building an effective intranet is the accessibility of useful data. When it is easy to extrapolate data from mass data, users stay engaged longer and productivity is higher. Employee engagement is crucial in building an intranet."