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Paul Miller, CEO and Founder, Digital Workplace Group tells us what will happen in the intranet industry in 2012

As is my habit, each year I take a risk and look back over what I predicted for the past 12 months – and again I am pleasantly surprised that most of what I forecast has proven correct.

In 2011, I predicted technologies being adopted beyond Yammer and SharePoint, strong intranets being important for new hires, search remaining a frustration and activity moving beyond social media into deeper collaboration services – all pretty accurate. Intranets attracting increased investment – that hasn’t happened but they have held firm in budgets, despite the US and Europe debt crisis.

So what can we expect in 2012?

Trend 1 – Intranet refresh programs will accelerate with better intranets delivered at lower cost – more like business as usual services

Intranets are thriving despite the economic crisis. If anything their essential role in modern organizations has become clearer as companies increasingly need to communicate, engage and streamline during the last three years. However while the intranet services remain vital, the cost of the technology platforms that support them is being squeezed and that trend will continue. Organizations will continue to refresh and renew their intranet technologies but will expect and be able to do so at lower costs as the “commoditization” of intranet technology accelerates.

Trend 2 – Intranets will integrate their services into other workplace applications – but search will still be the poor relation

Integrating services and connecting applications will remain a huge challenge and need for organizations as staff and contractors look for an even experience of the intranet wherever they are but as in previous years “search” will remain the “bridesmaid, never the bride”. Talk will still focus on social intranets and collaboration (though not with the vigour of 2011) because vendors can meet those needs and teams enjoy the work but enterprise search will remain a struggle. Will this ever change I wonder?

Trend 3 – All major intranets will be designed for mobile devices – not just phones but tablets – and the PC will decline in importance

If you were starting an intranet from scratch at a major organization now you would not design for the PC but for tablets and smartphones. Some companies are doing just that now as the mobile shift accelerates so expect to see some new innovative designs emerging that give users what they need best while they are on the move rather than sitting at the desks they visit less and less.

Trend 4 – New sought-after hires will reach snap judgements about employers by looking at the intranet – and will leave based on what they find

One head of online told me with some embarrassment lately that a much sought-after new hire was so disappointed by the overall Digital Workplace of their new employer that they left for another company after three months. This is a tragic state to be in but as new workforce demographics kick in, the expectation levels of new joiners will rise and dejection sets in very early as you click on the “on boarding” tab and walk through some dreadful digital nightmare. Young people are so fickle – but then again, maybe they are right to jump to digital conclusions.

Trend 5 – Intranets will acknowledge they will never be “sexy” or attract extensive senior attention – but will remain a critical business service

Intranets matter and always will do. They are the internal web of the organization but the truth is they will never capture senior attention for more than a few minutes when they wow or disappoint the user. Senior managers expect 99.99% service and at a good quality and if that is happening the rest is noise for them. They are critical and will continue to be but intranet managers and teams need to understand that they matter at senior levels but will continue to struggle to capture senior management imagination or attention.

Trend 6 – Investment budgets into intranets will remain steady and withstand any wider financial climate ups and downs

Since 2008 intranets have been shown to be a resilient and new economy style service within the organization. You get a lot of return for the money spent and they act as glue in tough times. Much easier to spend an hour online in a “global CEO chat” once a quarter then spend two weeks on a plane. So intranet budgets will remain solid and deflect cost cutting pressures.

Trend 7 – News as percentage of home page “real estate” will finally decline as services and top tasks gain home page prominence

We know that staff and contractors want to access key services rather than read yet another news story and finally the addiction to intranet news will start to be kicked. We will see reduced home page real estate given to news and more allocated to the things people need to do their jobs. This will intensify as intranets act more as departure points to other locations in the wider Digital Workplace.

Trend 8 – Intranet managers and their teams will experience a renewed pride and passion for their work and services they manage

From time to time in the past 15 years, a theme emerges that “intranets are dead” rather like we hear that email is dead. What new technologies and services do is displace rather than replace what already exists. Intranets are growing stronger, better and more fundamental to work just at same time that the wider world of work and technology is developing fast. Intranet teams will feel increased pride and love for their work because they will see how much peers around the world applaud good intranets – 2012 will be an intranet celebration year.

Trend 9 – Intranets will be seen as core components of a wider world of the “Digital Workplace” – critical, distinct and enduring

The Digital Workplace is not a bigger, better intranet. The Digital Workplace is where work and technology meet and with an advanced Digital Workplace, you can expect to find a high grade intranet as a core component. Confusing the two is a dangerous mistake. For example, a better, faster train is not the entire transportation system but an essential part alongside road, rail and planes etc.

Trend 10 – The building of intranets for portable devices (tablets and smart phones) will be designed with better usability more akin to Linkedin, Facebook and Google + in “look and feel”.

The look and feel of intranets designed for portable devices will be heavily influenced by the giants of the internet such as Facebook, Google (particularly Google +) and Linkedin. Intranets will take on the characteristics of these internet sites, exploiting some their usability values, particularly where intranets decide to connect outwards into the web as IBM’s new intranet for a new IBM century is doing.

About the author

Nancy Goebel - DWG's Managing Director for Member & Benchmarking ServicesNancy Goebel is DWG’s Managing Director for Member Services. In addition to heading up service delivery, she is responsible for member engagement, retention and growth. Nancy also sits on DWG’s Board of Directors.

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. A great list, and I would not disagree with any of them. Search is certainly still the poor relation (Trend 2) but it’s a headcount problem, not a technology problem. Organisations fail to appreciate (because vendors don’t tell them!) that search needs people power to do the log analysis, the tuning of both search and the intranet site itself, and to run training and help desk activities

    If I take Trends 8 and 9 together it is important that intranet managers start to play on a wider role in developing the information management thinking of their organisations, en route to a Digital Workplace. They may need to step outside their comfort zone and become information evangelists, and probably acquire new skills.

    For example in the short term I see a convergence between business intelligence, competitive intelligence and intranets, again as a precourser to a digital workplace, and there are likely to be some substantial opportunities here for intranet managers to enhance their service options.

  2. So true Martin on search and your observation about the people need versus technology issue is a great point to add. And about intranet managers having to move out of their comfort zone is fascinating. I have had several heart to heart with young and ambitious intranet managers this year about where their own ambition might take them. At last we clear intranet “career choices” emerging – run a solid and vital intranet or step into a wider but less mature technology world beyond and risk great success – or possible disappointment.

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