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Fasten your seat belts for 2011!  Set to be the most important year yet for intranets and the digital workplace.

In making my top ten predictions for the intranet and digital workplace industry, I have managed to scare myself a little. I have just looked back at what I predicted previously for 2008, 2009 and 2010 and am shocked to see much of what I forecast actually has happened (rather more slowly and not in full necessarily I should add!) but the main points have been shown to be pretty accurate.

In previous years I predicted; optimized employee directories, deeper conflict between opening-up the firewall and managing risk, generation Y technology indifference, emphasis on dedicated search resource and more – so what can we expect in 2011?

Trend 1: Intranets will increasingly become absorbed into the “digital workplace “ – the wider world of workplace technology

Work and technology are extending and deepening their reach into working life. In 2011 intranets will not simply evaporate but they will increasingly intersect with other online services such as HR self-service, live communications including audio and video, social media inside and outside the firewall and remote and mobile devices.

The term “intranet”, often forecast to disappear, will persist as a still useful “catch all” term for the wider set of workplace technologies. However, the trend to renaming intranet and online teams into “digital workplace” units will also continue steadily, allowing what were once intranet-only teams to capture a broader range of workplace technology services.

Trend 2: Intranets and other digital services will be managed at more senior and more strategic levels – no longer in communications, technology etc – but at the operational heart of the organization

As intranet environments have grown and their impact on the daily life of the organisation increased, so those at more senior levels have struggled to work out where to place the resource managing these services. The trend to move the resourcing and ownership from communications, IT or HR will continue and digital and online services will find a home closer to the operational centres. There will always be the need for shared strategic management through steering groups and the like but responsibility will sit within digital and online areas reporting ultimately into the Chief Information Officer or Chief Operating Officer.

Trend 3: People will start buying technologies other than the default standards of SharePoint and Yammer as organizations realize that viable, strong alternatives do exist and are growing

2010 was a year when the only game in town seemed to be Microsoft SharePoint and – on a lesser level Yammer (the enterprise micro-blogging tool) – but 2011 will see this trend shift. There are viable alternatives to SharePoint from the likes of IBM, Oracle, Open Source and other smaller vendors and the same is true for Yammer in the form of Socialcast among others. These durable alternatives will have their day in the sun as CIOs require a broader market scan before committing to large investments.

Yammer is the first of the “plug and play” light apps being used within organizations but in 2011 more will follow this highly successful model that allows solid services to be added to the intranet environment without the blessing of the IT folks. I expect to see some serious innovation and improvement in the options for what is called “unified communications” which covers audio, video and live person to person connections.

Trend 4: Organisations will need strong workplace technology environments to attract the best new staff and also to retain those staff

Great firms will keep losing new hires because the digital workplace is poor. All that money spent presenting a great face to the new recruits, counts for nothing when the technical reality hits home. New hires fire up the web browser and make instant assessments of the intranet and related services they find because they know what good already looks like. They have seen thousands of websites, make persistent use of social networks and generally the results are not great when they contrast the world inside the firewall with that outside. At the end of the day firewalls are there for a reason, just visit to fnd out what that is.

And in the increasingly “always-on, instant access” online world news spreads fast. The best companies to work for will not look that great if their intranet services fall flat. New hires may still remain with you for the steady pay check and other career upsides but they will cultivate other networks and their loyalties and overall value contribution will deteriorate. Individuals are now part of multiple networks of their own choosing, and the workplace network is just one of them, so the digital workplace has to perform and compete for attention and engagement. 

Trend 5: We will stop talking about social media, enterprise 2.0 and just talk of collaboration as the catch-all term inside and outside the organizational firewall

Collaboration is the term that will persist inside the working world for “social media and 2.0”. Collaboration focuses on deliverables rather than the tools. This term will replace the other terms because it has a sense of business value and also is vague enough to include new enhancements to the area. It is about connecting people and enabling them to work together. Enterprise 2.0 will become a historical term and social media will remain the reference point for 2.0 services and beyond on the external web.

Trend 6: Intranets and the digital workplace will boom in terms of investment as if the financial downturn had never happened – it’s already happening

I can’t recall a time when so much has been invested in the intranet and digital workplace field by major organisations globally. But the investment is more in tools and technologies rather than people. This trend towards substantial upgrades to the digital workplaces will continue it seems, as many companies set upon creating richer online services.

The drivers will continue to be a mixture of huge SharePoint upgrades, shifts to remote and flexible working due to cost, staff demand and persistent travel disruptions – plus the belief that such investments are core requirements for modern advanced organisations in 2011. That said, 2011 still looks to be a year of workforce reduction. Question is how to make the Digital Workplace delivery compensate for workforce changes.

Trend 7: Organizations will start shaping and designing digital workplace strategies through to 2015 just as they have designed “physical workplace” strategies in the past

Intranets have tended to grow rather tactically in recent years with new services added – social media, enhanced employee directories and mobile applications for example. But with the heavy investment in intranet and digital workplace platforms there will be more strategic thinking through to 2015. What will the digital workplace in your organisation look like in 2015 and what are the steps along the journey? There will be added focus on providing a strategic focus on improved user experience across the digital workplace.  Just as we have shaped and designed the physical workplaces where work has historically happened, the attention will turn increasingly to the digital workplace – it’s not where you work, it’s how you work. 

Trend 8: Search and findability will keep surfacing as a frustration point for staff and contractors and organizations will keep adding dedicated resource to enterprise search

It hasn’t gone away. Search and findability, the less glamorous parts of the intranet world has not been solved or gone away. It matters ever more as the density of information and data increases. So much airtime is spent ruminating on the fine points of 2.0 practice and so little on the ever tough but utterly essential issue of enterprise search. Progress has been made but the trend towards dedicated in-house resource will continue just as the quality of search results rises through technical investment.

Trend 9: Increased frequency of travel chaos will keep adding weight to the need for ever stronger, more resilient and deeper digital workplace environments – pushing higher the numbers engaged with remote and flexible working

Who knows what travel calamities will confront us globally in 2011 but sure enough there will be several unexpected issues that cause physical movement of staff to be difficult or impossible at times. Each of these incidents causes a ramp up of activity across the digital workplace as pressure on systems mounts. The beauty of the digital workplace is that it carries on regardless of “ash volcano….swine flu….strikes….grounded aircraft…terror incidents…”. Alongside, we should expect enhanced live communication technologies so that connecting virtually becomes better, faster and cheaper.

Trend 10: New resourcing – i.e. extra headcount – will be added to intranet and digital workplace teams later in 2011

Perhaps it is natural fall-out of the financial downturn to see that headcount numbers have declined in online teams while the financial and technology investment levels have increased. Fewer people are now left to handle more and more services. In 2011 this paradox will cause a mild level of extra recruiting into intranet areas as the staffing restrictions are relaxed a little. Here and there, we will see strategic and operational new hires into these teams with the “excuse” used that “we need extra people with SharePoint experience to deliver this new technology”. The real reason will be to do with setting future strategy and filling real life staffing shortages. 


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 +.


  1. Trend 10 is fantastic positive thinking but an unfortunate reflection on current times – will this allow us to see a great acceleration in regrowth in 2011 with greater efficiency?

  2. Good forecast, do you think the role of corporate content curator would also be coming in 2011?
    With all the hype and a number of curation tools such as Montage (Microsoft), Flipboard, Curata etc becoming more popular – I would expect curators (busines rather than IT specialists) to drive relevance of the Intranets in 2011 and beyond.

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