Enclosed an optimistic view of how intranet and social media may converge. But as an operational manager I notice a lot of myopia with regard to the use of intranets in organizations. Depending on who is accountable, one may notice different communication patterns. See the user interface and you know who is managing: HR (with an emphasis on HR-related items), Internal Communications (and three monts ago we had a succesfull party, …) or even worse ICT (we will be deploying this beta relaease in the forthcoming days, already apologies for any nuisance).
As an operational manager I just want that Intranets contribute to the success of my enterprise, my teams and members on a organizational, professional and personal level. May be it is indeed time that social media kills all irrelevant intranets.
Will social media kill off the intranet in years to come?
The intranet currently forms an integral part of the internal communication strategy in most organizations as an information provider and collaboration tool. But social media also allows collaboration, dialogue, documentation and much more, at a lower cost and with much less back-end work involved. In this report we look at the future of the much-loved intranet and it’s chances of survival in a web 2.0 world.
The way we communicate and share information is changing faster than ever before, there are more means of conversation and networks within which we can tap into than Sir Tim Berners Lee, the inventor of the internet, could ever have dreamed of, while the lines between work and play have been forever blurred. There’s no going back. Only forwards. Take Michael Jackson’s tragic early death last night, confirmation of his demise, followed by dozens of celebrity 140 character-long obituaries had hit Twitter before any other media organization had time to react.
If a CEO, or an employee uses the latest technology to talk about their experiences, we now have the opportunity to instantly debate with and/or be informed and influenced by what they say.
If a specific share nosedives or even spikes on the New York stock exchange we – time zones and sleep deprivation permitting – as users of web 2.0 technology can spot and track these movements as they happen and get the word out faster than any newswire service. And if, for example, a CEO, or even an employee of an organization, uses the latest new-media channel to talk about their experiences we now have the opportunity to instantly access, listen to, debate with and/or be informed and influenced by what he or she says. The possibilities are infinite. The speed with which we disseminate and receive information today due to the immediacy, transparency and approachability of social media is unparalleled and could not have been imagined a decade ago.
Times have dramatically changed, but what does that mean for internal communicators and the way we converse with our employees and leaders, as well as the way in which they correspond to one another? We are facing some one of the biggest communication dilemmas ever witnessed. The lines between who sees what and who doesn’t, who talks to whom and what information they put out and on which platform no longer exist. There are no boundaries.
The intranet: a well-established tool
One form of technology however has proved its worth is the intranet. For a long time the prince of communication platforms and bastion of borders within which to communicate, still remains one of, if not the, top channel of choice in companies today. But with social media networks breathing down their necks, worrying some while exciting others, what are IC practitioners to do?
Not only does the technology and implications of millions of unmonitored and uncontrolled employee conversations strike fear into thousands of communicators, the chances of it ever overtaking, or even replacing, the company intranet is causing many IC workers to fear for their careers and futures. So could the masked boundary-free social media “menace’”eventually kill off our friendly neighbourhood intranet that has spun its user-friendly web across organizations unhindered for the last 20 years?
Human evolution drives technology change
The majority of our readers believe the impact of Facebook-style social networks with elements of file and photo sharing, microblogging or status updates, phlogging (phone blogging), vlogging (video blogging), and instant messaging to name a few applications, will mean the end of the traditional intranet as we know it, but equally see the intranet evolve to incorporate large pockets of social networking.
But the reason we need to change the way we communicate is not just due to technological advancements, the principal driver is human evolution. New employees joining companies today, those born in the early 1980s through to the early 1990s, otherwise known as Generation Y, have a completely different set of requirements to those born and working 30 years earlier. Instead of a physical memo being handed around the office via post room staff to individuals, employees today demand instant, approachable and transparent communication at their fingertips. Not only that, they also demand interaction, to feel part of the process and to use their natural social networking instincts and skills within the workplace. Whether companies like it or not they will continue to have online conversations with or without the permission of senior leaders.
As Russell Pearson, communicator and intranet specialist says, there is now a need to realign to meet employee, not application or department needs. Pearson himself has blogged on numerous occasions on his vision of how intranet platforms may resemble in the future. He suggests that the majority of the applications will live within a browser. This would include a series of buttons to access core built-in functions, while these buttons would provide access to function bars such as RSS accounts. There would also be a direct button linking to a directory that would have full tagging and self-personalisation functionality, while this tagging would tie in to other social media tools, all accessible from the browser. One would be favourites, for example, while others would include personal and social bookmarks that you can share with your colleagues.
Every application and every tool would be contained in one browser and in a format that today’s 20 to 25 year old employees, and those of the future, can intuitively understand and use with ease.
You would also be able to connect to a wide range of other enterprise social networking tools such as your own internal corporate blog, forums, photos, videos, and so on. In the corporate example these would be Yammer or Jive, all or a mix. The key is that every application and every tool would be contained in one browser and in a format that today’s 20 to 25 year old employees and under, and those of the future, can intuitively understand and use with ease.
Google Wave to wash out the old
Pearson, however goes further and believes that the advent of Google Wave, a new communications and collaboration platform that is currently in early testing, as well as social networks being accessible on each other’s platforms, will “accelerate the process of embedding online conversations”. He says this will inevitably be mirrored in the workplace and that email will be “a collaboration not a dialogue”. “Social media is beginning to disaggregate and break up into more bite-sized chunks,” he says. “Think of the way that Twitter, WordPress, Facebook and LinkedIn all allow sync between them. You can view a blog via LinkedIn, send a Tweet to Facebook, and so on. The same will happen to more work based communications.
“Shared applications and technologies such as Wave will dissolve the boundaries that define the way traditional intranet works. Technologies like Google Wave, instant messenger and the ability for the technologies to ‘talk’ to each other, will impact the intranet – social media will not so much kill off the intranet, as to make it much more social, a collaboration and communication tool, rather than a static portal to information.”
Integration of all tools
Nick Taylor, company owner of Bodyproject agrees wholeheartedly with Pearson. “It is the connectivity between the platform and the application that is driving change. If you take an application like Huddle that integrates with calendars and e-mail and Linked In and creates a unified workspace – this is the start of what the future will look like.”
Gazing into his crystal ball, Taylor envisions a day when the intranet becomes the platform to create your own workspace that will act as the equivalent of today’s desktop. “It won’t be just another application you access like Word or Excel, it will be the whole environment you operate in. Everything you do will then be driven from the workspace whether that be social networking, calendar management, working on documents, collaborating, file sharing, holding web conferences and telephone calls. Every technology will be integrated.”
Christopher Hopkins, managing director at Caburn Hope, goes so far as to say that social media could well reinvigorate, or even save a flagging channel. “Far from killing off the intranet, social media might just be what saves all that ‘field of dreams’ content and technology investment from going to waste,” he explains. “Social media sites have provided the option to be active rather than passive consumers of information. Isn’t this engagement just what most organizations (and their intranets) need right now?”
Sam Marshall, intranet and enterprise 2.0 specialist at ClearBox Consulting, shares the view with many communicators that the pressure is now on for experts to modify intranets and incorporate social media elements. This is a simple enough task for many companies who are already commissioning experts such as Marshall to add elements of social networks to their corporate internal sites, but many of you are still concerned that in doing so many of the advantages an intranet can have, will disappear forever.
The intranet is a closed space, exactly the opposite of social media. Nobody will allow employees to share their internal information so there will be always a frontier between social media and intranets.
Lack of privacy and regulation
Daniela Dalbokova, web activities and group marketing and communications intern who works on Capgemini’s global website is uneasy at the thought of social media’s lack of privacy. “The problem is about privacy and secrets in organization. The intranet is a closed space, exactly the opposite of social media. Nobody will allow employees to share their internal information so there will be always a frontier between social media and intranets.
Vandana Mohal Dewan, deputy general manager of corporate communications at Pantaloon Retail in India, agrees that intranets may soon start resembling social media sites, but that content should still be regulated. “The regulation may depend on how open the organization is because people will continue saying what they have to say, either near the water cooler, on blogs or through anonymous mails.”
One core aspect of intranets is its nature of being a controlled and closed environment, and as intranet specialist Marshall points out, despite the inclusion of many social networking elements to the channel, there will still be a need for material that has the stamp of being ‘official’ such as policies and procedures. The challenge for companies, he adds, is to work out how to manage a combination of formally and informally produced content in a way that employees are able to assess it appropriately. “The BBC website, for example, combines the authority of BBC journalism with user-submitted comment, stories and photos but its always clear who the source is. Forward-thinking companies like BT, IBM and the BBC, are already finding ways to do this, for example using wikis to draft documents before they’re approved.”
Making life easier
One aspect that social media is already to existing intranets across the globe, says Marshall, is the improvements it can make to existing tasks. “I spent years in knowledge management trying to get interest in employee directories that included individual profiles, personal networks, skills and interests but didn’t get very far. Now employees are asking me, ‘why can’t we have an internal Facebook?'” Over time this will drag corporate phonebooks into the 21st century and hopefully put the emphasis back where it belongs – on the people and relationships behind the information rather than a bunch of documents and pages.
The common feeling, however is that intranets are here to stay, but not as we know and use them today. As Kate Elphick, director of Digital Bridges and Paul Miller, CEO and founder, of the Intranet Benchmarking Forum both suggest, intranets will morph into far more interactive versions of themselves. “Intranets are not fixed systems, they are metaphors for the world of work mediated by technology,” says Miller. But as Elphick adds, the key to any channel, be it intranet, social media or a futuristic blend of the two, is that properly designed the intranet should become the strategic backbone of the organisation. “To do this, you need to translate the organisational strategy into an intranet strategy and build the critical organizational processes into the system. Interactive intranets also require dedicated resources to keep them dynamic, useful and evolving.”
Have your say
Do you feel that your organization’s intranet is under threat from social media tools? Have you already started to incorporate them into your existing site? How do you deal with internal privacy issue that comes hand in hand with the openness of social media?
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