Business managers in charge of their organization’s intranet are constantly faced with the challenge to stay on top of their game. They need to cut through hyped-up vendor announcements and media overload to find out which trends are actually important for them.

At J. Boye we regularly discuss these subjects with our members in our many intranet groups, as well as with other intranet experts. Last year, Janus blogged about 5 key intranet trends for business managers.

This year, I’ve taken a fresh look at what is happening in the industry and I’ve come up with the following list:

1) Mobile access (finally!)

Mobile access to the intranet is not really a new trend; it has been on the radar screen of intranet managers for some time now. According to last year’s Global Intranet Trends for 2011 report from Jane McConnell, 7% of participating organizations have optimized their intranet for access by mobile devices such as smartphones, while another 25% are in a planning or piloting stage. Mobile access is at a point where the early adopters have implemented and mainstream adoption will follow in the next 12 months.

Intranet professionals with mobile aspirations still face quite a few challenges. Some of these are business and governance related, others are more of a technical nature:

Business and governance challenges:

  • Identify the functionality that will be offered
  • Implement a clear policy, including security guidelines, around which type of devices can be used. Some companies allow BYOD (bring your own device) while others only have company-provided equipment. A recent IDC study (see graph) shows that the usage of personal devices is on the rise, climbing to more than 40% in 2011IDC study - personal device growth

Technical challenges:

How to ‘get it right’? The key will be to stick to the fundamentals and do your homework before leaping into development action:

Of course, accessing the intranet from a smartphone or tablet is only one aspect of the much larger domain of enterprise mobility. For a broader discussion and a very useful categorization, check out James Robertson’s recent blog post on enterprise mobility.

2) Discover talent with the social intranet

Social features and platforms are being fully embraced by many organisations. One particular use case that I see emerging more and more in discussions with customers is the ability to discover and better utlize talent and skills across the organization.

This is especially true for companies whose business is mainly about knowledge, such as consulting firms, but also in other industries there is a renewed focus on breaking down silos and finding talent across business units. Typical business drivers include:

  • Allowing employees to take control of their own careers, by flagging their skills and achievements in many different domains
  • Allowing internal hiring managers to find the right profiles quickly and staff up project teams
  • Enabling customer-facing staff to get answers quickly, form strong virtual teams
  • Making the organization more competitive, for instance by responding faster and more accurately to competitive bids.

Social software on the intranet will increasingly help to retain existing talent and utilize it to its fullest extent. While in some countries there will be legal issues or union resistance, Generation Y knowledge workers embrace this as the natural thing to do.

3) Stronger intranet governance

Intranet governance is historically a weak point in many organizations. And with new intranet initiatives popping up and being added to a mushrooming digital workspace, things have not gotten better. Fortunately the tide is turning. In many organizations there is a growing desire to put more emphasis on proper governance for their ever-expanding intranet.

There are many reasons for stronger intranet governance:

  • Clear accountability: There is a need to re-establish clear rules & guidelines for who can do what on the intranet, and how key decisions about intranet evolution are made.
  • Senior management is asking to show ROI, so more than ever the intranet manager needs to have a clear set of objectives for the intranet with tangible business benefits to show for it
  • The intranet’s scope is being redefined. Some people think of the intranet as the old-fashioned, top-down internal news site, while all the exciting stuff is not part of this intranet but of some larger ‘digital workplace’. The first job of any steering group should be to clearly define objectives, terminology and scope.
  • New initiatives often start under the radar screen. Stories abound of how the IT department rolled out SharePoint and let people experiment with its features, or how a few people in Marketing started to use Yammer on the side. While nobody wants to stifle well-meaning grass-roots initiatives, management is wary of their ‘unmanaged’ nature.

Governance does not need to be complex. It’s basically about setting the rules of the game and the boundaries of the playing field.

4) Cloud solutions and SharePoint on the rise

Many of today’s intranets remain custom-built or at least have custom-built extensions to them. This may have been the right thing to do in the past, but these days there are many excellent products on the market to handle your 2011 intranet requirements for content management, social, collaboration and search capabilities. As part of the selection process, these are the two key technology questions that intranet managers ask themselves:

  • In-house or in the cloud? There is a clear trend towards cloud-based solutions for intranets. While in some industries the data privacy and security considerations exclude external solutions, in most companies these are outweighed by the benefits of fast deployment and cost-efficient maintenance.
  • To SharePoint or not to SharePoint?As an ‘all-in-1′ solution, especially with its 2010 release, Microsoft SharePoint is clearly on the rise, although there are still plenty of other platforms out there as shown in the chart on the right (more details in this recent blog post).

intranet technology platforms

Wouldn’t it be great if employees could actually find things on the intranet? It may sound obvious that finding information quickly and efficiently should be a top priority, but unfortunately reality is different. Often this is again a consequence of the sprawling intranet estate. So many platforms and applications, so little time to put an overall information architecture or a proper search solution in place.

Yet this is exactly what companies are starting to do: rethink their intranet’s information architecture and putting more emphasis on search. In how to fight intranet chaos I shared conclusions that more and more organizations are now putting into place:

  • increased use of intranet portals to bring traditional, social and collaborative aspects of the intranet under one roof, with a revised IA and navigation scheme
  • more attention to search, with search engines covering more databases and repositories than before

Beyond 2011

I’m very optimistic about the future of the intranet. The 5 trends above are all positive ones, which is a clear sign that organizations are taking their intranets seriously and are making solid plans to deal with the weak points of their current implementation. It also means that budgets, while by no means spectacular, are at least available again to kick-off improvement projects.

Do you recognize these same trends in your organization? Leave your comment here and join us at the intranet track at the J. Boye Conference in Aarhus in November for more discussion and real-world case studies on the subject.

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