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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.

About the author

Nancy Goebel - DWG's Managing Director for Member & Benchmarking ServicesNancy Goebel is the Digital Workplace Group’s Managing Director, Member Services & Strategic Partnerships.

During her tenure with DWG, Nancy has been involved in account management, benchmarking, research, blogging and executive producing Digital Workplace Live and DW 24.

Prior to joining the Digital Workplace Group, Nancy was a accomplished executive at JPMorgan Chase where she built and led a global team in desigining and implementing an award-winning intranet. She also led digital enablement and business re-engineering initiatives.

Outside work, Nancy is a wine maker, fundraiser, meditator, wife and mother of two.

Connect with Nancy on Twitter: @nancyatdwg or on Google +.

4 Comments

  1. I am very suspicious of anyone who says that intranets will be integrated & centralised.
    IBM’s w3 was a great resource when I was there but also a highly anarchic environment. I would pick out three issues from your list of five:
    1. The extent to which the intranet, work applications & email are integrated will be critical. At the moment, most intranets are not somewhere you work most of the time.
    2. Web 2.0 will eventually inflitrate most existing intranets in unexpected ways.
    3. Mobility will be an issue – but again this will be linked to apps usage. Not everyone is a road warrior.
    3D? That’s a gimmick. If I want 3D, I look up from my computer monitor & there is it.

    Reply
  2. I agree with what you say Matt. I would just that add that advanced intranets work with a creative tension through a mixture of central governance and policy alongside a drive to empower and liberate users. This merging of opposing forces seems to push intranets into the day to day life of some major organisations. On the 3D intranets I am both skeptical about their broad value but believe they will have uses for e-learning and some other specifc applications.

    Reply
  3. The idea of browsing the intranet will die replaced by persistent search and attention services that will keep you updated with relevant information based on your presence. Info will be delivered to a variety of access points using intelligent feed readers for the web, mobile, IM, and email clients – all synchronized. The relevant intranet content you want and need will be delivered intelligently (automatically prioiritized, shared and discovered) through web feeds built on AttentionStreams.

    Reply
  4. You are probably correct Scott…the shift is happening already from an intranet you direct yourself around to one that actively generates what you need based on your role, location etc via RSS. Our web experience generally is becoming one that drives us rather than visa versa already – due to knowledge of who we are due to what we have subscribed to….interesting viewpont you have and one that made me think.

    Reply

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