Ah, the intranet. One of those great ideas that somehow never quite lived up to expectations, right? An internal, private online environment designed to be to the enterprise what the Internet was to the outside world—a place for sharing information and communication. Since the first intranets emerged in the 90′s, the vast majority of large organisations have ventured down this path—indeed an Office for National Statistics report published in 2010 stated that almost 90% of UK businesses with more than 1,000 employees had an intranet (and 25% of the UK business market overall). But how many can honestly say their intranet is a business critical system—or even one that their employees find useful and are happy to use?
The reality is that many intranets are still back in the late 90′s when it comes to the publishing models they use, with content published by just a handful of people, and forced through painful workflow processes that can mean the information is out-of-date before it’s even published. What’s more, once it is published, that’s often the end of the story—it’s left, untouched, until it becomes out of date, adding to the massive volume of content already sitting there, and overwhelming the ineffective search capabilities that are supposed to help people to find information.
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, with new social technologies bringing the opportunity to overhaul the corporate intranet, stripping out the old model and replacing it with one that allows much more openness and greater flexibility.
As the diagram above suggests (click on it to enlarge it), at the centre of this is the idea that, rather than having a small handful of content creators, anyone can create and publish content, regardless of role or position. And because others can comment on that content, it quickly becomes apparent which content is valuable or of interest to people, and which isn’t. This feedback loop allows people to learn the best way to present content (or requests for input or advice, etc.), enabling the intranet to evolve in a natural, interactive way. What’s more, the ability for people to offer their own opinion or perspective allows you to overcome some of the problems around bias that you get in traditional intranets, where information—which might be relevant or useful to a number of different parts of the business—is trapped in a particular department’s area, or is written purely from one perspective. And of course, because every piece of content and comment is attributed to its author, you are able to see who within the organisation is knowledgeable on the subject or interested in a particular, providing a platform for building communities of practice or interest.
So perhaps it’s the beginning of the end for the traditional intranet? I, for one, can’t help thinking this is an obvious next step for any organisation wondering how to improve levels of interaction and engagement among employees. It needs more than just technology to change a business’ culture of course, but isn’t the intranet the most obvious home for this new social technology?
If you’re thinking the same, I wrote more about this in my report Socialising the intranet (free if you register). It would be great to hear your thoughts!
(A note from the editor: This post was originally published on the AIIM community blog, where Angela posts monthly as an invited ‘Expert Blogger’.)