The Intranet Is Dead… Long Live The Digital Desktop!

So, you’ve just started your new job with (let’s say a medium to large organisation) and on the first-day induction you’re shown the company intranet.

Option 1: “Wow!”

Option 2: “Woah!”

Option 3: “Meh”

You may not realise it at the time, but the company intranet is going to define your relationship with this employer and other employees in ways that may not be immediately apparent. And this might even be a factor which determines to some extent how long you stay with the organisation.

As a newbie, you have a privileged view of what most of the incumbents cannot see – implicit culture: the incumbents can’t see it because they’re already absorbed into it, like that ‘50s Sci-Fi wonder, The Blob.

This is because, whether we like it or not, the intranet encodes the company culture.  This means that the style of the organisation, its way of working, warts and all, is explicitly and implicitly reflected in the style of intranet: it’s the subtext. If the intranet is rigidly structured, static, difficult to change, lacking a nice flow – guess what type of organisation you’re in? If it cares about you as an employee, getting the information you need to do your job and including you in the whole organisation’s goals? – you get the idea.

It would be interesting for the Corporate Executive of an organisation to hold up some palm cards with brief statements about its purported culture (actual or aspirational) alongside the company intranet and ask itself, “do these align?”

Maybe we should ask to get a tour of the intranet before accepting a job offer!

So, given the intranet reflects back to the employee the organisation’s culture, it’s easy to understand the reasons for making sure it aligns with the business goals. Remember, employee engagement and the way employees perceive their workplace has a direct influence on productivity and that goes all the way down the line to customer satisfaction and, eventually, revenue.

If an organisation is genuinely interested in better ways of working (and which business isn’t, unless it’s an entrenched and protected monopoly, rent-seeker, or loss-making tax dodge?), it should have an intranet strategy that aligns with its overall business, information and technology strategies. This is going to be more important than ever (as many companies have understood, but not so many have realised) given the evolution of the intranet from a simple information delivery platform, to a digital workspace that becomes integral to the tasks we perform daily.

There are a few key elements of the intranet strategy that can easily contribute to a sound business case: among the biggest is search.

One of the most frustrating tasks for knowledge workers is the difficulty encountered in finding the right information at the right time.

Here’s a Post-It note business case for this: 1,000 employees losing 30 minutes (very conservative) a day due to lack of findability. That’s 30,000 minutes per day, multiplied by a blended average $50/hr, making a total of $25,000/day or $5.5m/year (220 working days). That’s a “soft cost”, granted. But it’s still a lot of productivity – consider, too, that when someone is distracted like this from the task at hand, that sense of frustration is going to pervade their following activities.

Search isn’t just about the intranet, of course. But it should be as easy as possible to both find information hosted on the intranet itself as well as use the intranet to find information in other systems. This means getting data organised and making metadata work for you.

It’s not just about big data: it’s about good data. Getting data sorted out is no mean feat: but better search (findability) will have a direct correlation toward delivering automation and efficiency at scale because it requires, in essence, a working enterprise data model (as well as policy and standards to maintain it).

Another critical element for the modern workplace is “Appification” and mobility.

Company intranets should be transforming into something like a “digital desktop” – a virtual hub of business activity involving unified communications (social networking, instant messaging), business process management (tasks and automation) and information sharing (knowledge management). Some businesses are already a long way down the road on this journey, and some of these have the capacity to invest.

Here are some simple questions that can be interesting to ponder in the context of how important your company intranet is to you and your employees:

  • Is the intranet just the “Corporate voice” – a one-way communication channel?
  • How important is internal, corporate information to reducing risk and do we understand the role of the intranet in this regard?
  • How can multimedia be better used and served to employees to aid knowledge sharing and training?
  • How can we integrate unified communications across the enterprise (messaging, tasks, workflows and automation) for a truly “connected workplace”.
  • How important is “personalisation” to us; do we want employees to like the intranet?


Intranet approaches for the new generation will need to change. Stagnant intranets that are one-way channels for the corporation to “shout” at the employee, or simple information silos that reflect the corporate structure, will not help retain the new breed of knowledge workers.

Dean Britton is an Information Manager with many years’ experience at senior levels in technology and project management roles, within both the private and public sectors.