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In a nutshell, we merged IBF and DWF into one service and changed our name to "Digital Workplace Group." The new name represents the broader set of services we've grown to offer, beyond an original focus on just intranets. We also changed the name of our monthly webinar from "IBF Live" to "Digital Workplace Live."
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Every year needs its hyped topic of choice. In the field of intranets and portals, the fashion for 2007 seems to have been decided. It’s the 3-D intranet, or, more specifically, some version of Second Life (the virtual digital environment gaining popularity among large corporations) designed for employees.
IBM is pouring large sums of money into investigating what a 3-D intranet might look like, and some intranet managers and directors in large organisations seem to be taking note.
Others are equally adamant that the whole concept is a distant ‘unreality’, far removed from the experience and needs of intranet users in their companies.
So when we look ahead a few years, say to 2010, will the IBM vision prevail or are we heading towards a different future?
Based on current advanced practice, I’d say that while the notion of a 3-D intranet may stimulate our thinking – and have some as yet unknown value for companies – the medium-term forecast for intranets and portals runs along different, and more pragmatic, lines.
To predict what a well-functioning intranet might look like in 2010, we merely need to extrapolate from high-performing intranets in operation today. The future is here, now, and it has five primary streams:
- High-level process and work flow
Intranets will be (and already are in some organisations) far more than communication and information channels. They will be digital environments where a wide range of daily business tasks are carried out, from filing expenses and booking meeting rooms to HR self-service and call centre management.
- Universal access from anywhere
Many people in most large organisations struggle to access their intranet and other electronic services while they are on the road or at home. This will change as online services become increasingly available from any location over mobile PCs or small mobile devices (phones, PDAs, mp3 players, etc). In addition, services will become more and more personalised through systems that recognise who you are, wherever you are.
- Better user experiences and adaptability for disabled staff
From being clunky and fragmented, intranets will offer more user-centred design and navigation, providing a pleasing experience and high levels of usability. Disabled staff who, due to sight, motor skills, age or other impairments, are not currently able to use a ‘standard’ intranet design will enjoy much higher levels of accessibility.
- Primary culture and brand experience for employees
Who would have thought that intranets would become the ‘glue’ that binds an organisation together? For IBM’s 400,000 staff who work from home, mobile locations or client offices, logging into W3, the company’s intranet, is the central reminder that they are actually part of IBM. Navigate through the Vodafone phone system intranet and you derive a powerful brand value experience. So by 2010, when you use a major intranet, you will know you are part of that company. The brand and culture of the organisation will wash over you while you go about the mundane business of finding a colleague’s whereabouts.
- Content upgrade via collaboration and community
The aftermath of social software will be a lavishly richer content experience, as peer-to-peer communication and connections within organisations generate content that an internal comms team could only dream about. Dresdner Bank already uses social software to run the company’s entire intranet, while the BBC makes extensive use of social tagging, blogging and podcasting. This empowerment of staff to generate content easily and flexibly will extend the searchable content for all users. Communication which began as top-down and bottom–up will become lateral – capable of being governed but not controlled.
So to sum up, when we try to look at 2010, it is in some ways more of the same, but it is also more of the best, just diffused and integrated. If you want to see the medium-term intranet future, just look hard at best practices in the intranet of 2007.