Intranets 2012Steven Nelson, AP42November 1, 2011AP422303 Camino Ramon, Suite 280 • San Ramon • CA • 94583   T (925) 901-1...
Intranets 2012In November 2011, I led a discussion among content and community managers from around the world. I offered m...
platform into submission. According to Nielsen-Norman, three areas that have benefited from this are:• Usability testing an...
The key consequence, though, of parallel paths is when people jump the track to the other side. When features availableon ...
RealtimeAnother trend that follows user experience and expectation is the trend of the realtime intranet. You see this in ...
Semantic technologies allow different kinds of information to have a structural layering that captures information aboutth...
CustomCustomization and personalization is not just cosmetic - it adapts the intranet to how individuals actually work and...
ResourcesAP42http://www.ap42.comhttp://blog.ap42.comNielsen-Norman Group / Intranet Design Annual 2011http://www.nngroup.c...
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AP42: Intranet Trends 2012


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Tends and predictions in the digital workplace: intranets and collaborative software. Where things are in 2011, where things are headed in 2012 and beyond. From a workshop presented by Steve Nelson of AP42 in November, 2011.

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AP42: Intranet Trends 2012

  1. 1. Intranets 2012Steven Nelson, AP42November 1, 2011AP422303 Camino Ramon, Suite 280 • San Ramon • CA • 94583 T (925) 901-1100 F (925) 901-1104 http//
  2. 2. Intranets 2012In November 2011, I led a discussion among content and community managers from around the world. I offered my takeon trends and predictions in the digital workplace: where things are in 2011, where things are headed in 2012 andbeyond.“Trends” were things I observed or discovered during my dive into source material. “Predictions” were things I made upas I went along.One helpful model of perspective relative to understanding trends is the Gartner Hype Cycle (see resources). A number offeatures of new and trending collaborative platforms fall all over their Hype Cycle graph, and it helps to look at their takeon it when considering how real or out there the trends are. For instance, “Virtual Worlds”, which was certainly an intranettrend 4 years ago (when Gartner themselves predicted that by now, 80% of users would be visiting the internet with theiravatar), is now at the bottom of the Trough of Disillusionment.These trends aren’t isolated silos, many of them interrelate with each other, and so it isn’t really a linear list. But in a linearwhite paper, I have to start somewhere.PlatformAlthough intranet platforms have specific features that are certainly part of other trends: customizable, mobile, the mostsignificant platform trend is the adoption of platforms and versions that include these features. Enough time has passedbetween the introduction of Web 2.0-influenced features and their planning, rollout, testing and deployment in realintranets. These feature are no longer just predicted or in pilot, but they are real. Besides specific features, the platformshave evolved in their ease of management, maintainability, extendability. This has had an effect on the teams assigned tointranet activities and their assignments.PeopleSeveral factors are influencing the people who build, maintain and use the intranet. As I mentioned, the deployment ofnew platform versions has shifted assignments away from migration, deployment or more difficult wrangling of theAP42: Intranets 2012 1
  3. 3. platform into submission. According to Nielsen-Norman, three areas that have benefited from this are:• Usability testing and feedback into design• Tuning - especially in areas such as search effectiveness• Content - curating and culling.Management teams are becoming more aware of the intranet and its importance to the company. Intranets that are wellinstrumented for specific key performance indicators are able to make more-than-anecdotal cases for their returns oninvestment, which brings the intranet positive attention at higher levels. We are also seeing corporate buy-in asexecutives become social content creators with executive blogs and the like.Intranet platforms also allow for more decentralization of management and governance. This decentralization was oftenaccomplished by having many separate intranets, but now platforms can allow for this decentralization within a commonframework.But the most important constituents are the thousands of employees who integrate the intranet into their workingexperience. New intranet architectures aren’t just rolling out corporate data and functionality down to the employees, butemerge from the use of the intranet by the employees. With trends of the social and mobile intranets this comes to thefore.One more thing to note relative to the people who use the intranet, especially when combined with some of the othertrends such as mobile computing, is enhanced 24/7/52 connectivity to the company. This is a two-edged sword withmany implications, and it warrants not just technical but management attention.Parallel TracksYou’ll also see the trend of the parallel path, based on the factors of platform and people. By parallel paths, I meanwhat’s going on in the intranet relative to what’s going on with the internet at large. There’s a high degree of overlap, andthen there are the things that make each domain unique.For instance, in the internet, multiple platforms and technologies are emerging, competing, evolving all the time, but forany given intranet, platform decisions are more locked into specific choices. External technology may be advancing withnew solutions and platforms but for a company that has picked a specific version of a specific platform, they may not getthose advances for some time.On the other hand, the intranet may be able to do some specific things that aren’t available in the internet at largebecause certain assumptions can be factored in such as officially blessed software and hardware. Or things that wouldnot be acceptable from a privacy standpoint can operate on the intranet. For instance, some intranets include withsearch results the names of other employees that were searching for the same thing. Because an internal resource hasrules and expectations of usage and privacy, they might be able to get away with this, but imagine if every Google searchtold you exactly who else was looking for the same… remedies.AP42: Intranets 2012 2
  4. 4. The key consequence, though, of parallel paths is when people jump the track to the other side. When features availableon the Internet at large are absent from the intranet, people have a tendency to make use of them for business purposes.When you ban certain websites from internal access, people use their phones to get to them. When an intranet is notsufficiently social, people move their business conversations to outside venues. This happened at Sun. More people usedthe private Sun employee group on Facebook than were actively using their intranet. These venues may still be privaterelative to the internet at large, but they are still beyond the governance or measurement of the intranet. They are telling inthe kinds of features for future intranet development, and they will happen anyway, but this needs to be factored in.You also see track-jumping in the other direction: as intranets become more social, people may begin using them forworkplace-inappropriate socialization, picking up where they left off on Facebook in their own hours.SocialSpeaking of social, this is certainly a trend, and one with a number of related trends. At Sun we spoke of turning theintranet upside down, and rather than reflect a centralized-org-chart-mirroring view of the organization, we architectedthe new Sun intranet to reflect how people do (and can) collaborate out of emerging social connections.When I say social, I mean several things: architectural components of the underlying data, the interfaces offered toemployees, and the adoption and use of the platform.Architecturally, we see that rich individual profiles and connections are at the heart of a social platform. The connectiongraph of how people are connected to each other and to information is the key data structure. Such a graph cancertainly contain a representation of the top-down org-chart view of the organization, and its departments and groupsand management. And it can contain the corporate eye-view of information, organized along department lines. But thegraph can grow in other ways, based on people explicitly making connections and groups of interest, or having theseconnections recommended or realized based on how the network is actually used. An explicit group might be formed asa Mac user interest group, or groups can be formed spontaneously by the system recognizing all Mac users. And searchresults can be factored by these social data.Social ultimately means enhancing the ways people already work together, and integrating it into the platform.Social participation and support begins with individuals, and in addition to having rich profiles as part of the social entrypoint for individuals, systems are being developed that provide social ratings or scores for individuals. Peter Reiser, nowat Oracle, has devised a “community equity” score that factors in participation, contribution, influence and expertise.As I said in the parallel paths trend, people now have an expectation of having systems support the state ofconnectedness with each other and with information.AP42: Intranets 2012 3
  5. 5. RealtimeAnother trend that follows user experience and expectation is the trend of the realtime intranet. You see this in severalways. One of the ways is in the proliferation of Twitter or Facebook like status updates in the intranet. Once you have thesocial connectivity, seeing the activities of those people and groups you are connected with is natural. This capability isavailable to augment Intranets in products such as Yammer, but will be seen more in the platforms themselves.Realtime access to information is also enabled via dashboards and mashups.Realtime also incorporates the ability to establish intranet connections using variations of VoIP: Voice, Video and Virtualover IP.Related to realtime is another time-factored collaboration mode, which is pop-up collaboration. This is wherecollaborative spaces that have a limited-time or special-purpose duration can quickly be established and used for thepurpose.CrowdsourcingA byproduct of the social intranet is the ability to tap into the “wisdom of the crowds”. There are several trends toconsider here.First is the rich source of metadata available, both explicitly and implicitly generated, that follows the use of the intranet.Explicit metadata includes user commenting on or rating content, explicitly following or subscribing to other people,tagging information, and so on. Implicit metadata accumulates as people interact with the network. Similar to howGoogle tracks for what you are searching for, what you are clicking, what you are doing, tracking your actions helpspromote valuable content based on what people are actually paying attention to or using.Group creation and management of content includes the ability of individuals to create content, but also to collectivelycreate and maintain content through systems such as wikis.Question and answer systems such as Quora provide infrastructure for tapping into expertise in an explicit way.Finally, incentive based idea factories are finding their way into the intranet though systems such as Spigit, where ideascan be proposed and promoted, voted on, and systems of employee incentives can be factored in to motivate employeeinnovation.SemanticSome of the trends I’ve alluded to, especially those that tie rich metadata to people, information, and actions, are at theheart of semantic web technologies that are finding their way into the intranet. This means that there is meaning definedor derived associated with data, so that searching for information, or the connections among people and information,can be automated and continually improved.AP42: Intranets 2012 4
  6. 6. Semantic technologies allow different kinds of information to have a structural layering that captures information aboutthe information that can be used to make searches or other interactions more accurate and efficient. Semantic data willalso be critical in the natural language processing that follows speech recognition technologies. One of the amazingthings about the new Siri capability of the iPhone 4s is not that it can recognize your speech, but that it can make somuch sense out of it relative to the information it knows about.MobileMobile access to the intranet is a big driver of change and capabilities, and is interrelated with other trends as well.Mobile access entails a number of issues. Mobile devices need to be supported, but mobility applies to the worker andher environment, not just the device. Mobile security needs to be ensured. Mobile worker policy, more of a managementand governance issue than an intranet issue, will both be enforced and enabled via the intranet.Twice as many of the winning sites in the 2011 Nielsen Norman report had versions for mobile devices compared to2010. One trend is for mobile versions of an intranet to focus mobile specific features, and not be a mobile version ofwhole intranet . Mobile device support can also have some degree of control and specification when designed for acompany-issued device. And there is a proliferation of location-aware apps, not just on mobile devices but on allplatforms, that can both feed location-relevant information into the intranet, but serve up more relevant information to theend user.AppsOne trend in computing that started with the proliferation of apps on the iPhone, moving on to the iPad, and now even tothe desktop. It’s been an interesting dynamic change as what were once standalone applications such as wordprocessors became browser-based applications, and what were once information sources such as websites becamemobile apps. I think this is still shaking out, but with common development platforms afforded by technologies such asHTML5, where a common source base can be accessible via a browser or wrapped up in an app, I think you’ll still seeboth, depending on context. Even standalone apps that take advantage of reference or linking revert to a browser to fulfillthe links.The role of the app will be to encapsulate specific functions or content for easy access and interaction. Intranet apps willstart to be more common, and not just on mobile devices.The CouldLots of babies named “Cloud” were born this year, and not just because they’re 3rd generation flower children. But tome “Cloud” is more than just storing a file somewhere outside of your own computer or server, and more than justserving up software from a server. The notion of cloud is access to information from wherever you are without having tothink of how to address the information by location or even filename or URL. The cloud experience gets you to yourinformation wherever it is.AP42: Intranets 2012 5
  7. 7. CustomCustomization and personalization is not just cosmetic - it adapts the intranet to how individuals actually work and think.There may need to be common elements presented to all employees so that they can have a shared base of knowledgeand experience. Customization also presents challenges to support desks who don’t know exactly what an employeemay be looking at when faced with a problem. However, customization (as with other features) can happen explicitly andimplicitly. Implicitly as usage patterns are observed, much like Facebook or Google customize views based on what itcalculates as relevant to you. Customized collections of information sources or feeds make it easier for employees tohave the information they need or use most where it is most conveniently accessed. Finally, many platforms now havean ability to support user-selectable widgets and plug-ins.ProgrammableProgrammability of an intranet can include lower-level APIs to the data or interface so that modifications or mashups canbe created by people with both access credentials and technical capabilities or resources.Data feeds can also be made available through RSS or other machine-consumable formats.Finally, mashup toolkits like Zembly Yahoo Pipes make it easier for individuals to construct apps or widgets thatincorporate multiple data sources.Emergent IntelligenceThe intranet is getting smarter through more capable, semantic and social software in the platform, through theexperience and knowledge that accumulates through its operation, and in the experience of the groups who create,manage, maintain and use the intranet. This results in the emergence of new collaborative capabilities in any company.There will be a real trend toward serendipitous, unexpected ideas and innovations enabled by these new smart intranets.That’s my final prediction.SummaryIt’s easy to see in retrospect how these trends all interrelate. The challenge is to work in any of these areas while beingaware of consequences and opportunities in all of them.AP42: Intranets 2012 6
  8. 8. ResourcesAP42http://www.ap42.comhttp://blog.ap42.comNielsen-Norman Group / Intranet Design Annual 2011 / Hype Cycle Reiser / Oracle / Community Equity your baby “Cloud” Intranets 2012 7