How Can Your Intranet Be Intelligent?

Intranets may seem like an old concept, but they’re having a resurgence.  The number of intranet “renovation” projects is up, and many of these projects are “teardowns” looking to leapfrog into a much better employee experience by starting fresh.  There has been a rash of new products coming on the market touting “ready to use” intranets in the last year, most of which are frameworks from intranet consultants and integrators who know that the appetite for long, custom projects is gone.
What’s going on?

Intranet Trends – Not Your Grandmother’s Intranet

The Digital Workplace Group (a membership group I heartily recommend for their depth in this area), has a chart portraying the evolution of intranets functionally. They report that intranets have grown up to include social networks, self-service applications, HR systems and much more. They also report an evolution towards Digital Workplaces which include the functions of your intranet as part of providing all the digital tools employees need to do their jobs.

The digital workplace

The Neilsen Norman Group (a UX research, training and consulting group that holds an annual Intranet Design contest and puts out some fabulous research) lists the top trends in intranets over the past three years:

  • Emphasis on organization brand
  • Responsive design over stand-alone mobile apps
  • Flat and boxy layouts, simple and clean design
  • Visual design — photos and videos
  • Spotlights and news on home page
  • Better employee profile pages and personalized home pages
  • Blogs by both executives and regular employees
  • Emphasis on search
  • Use of pre-defined page layouts
  • Content curators and training for site managers
  • Mega menus and fat footers
  • Social comments and likes
  • Multi-language support

I think we’ve hit a whole new level of user expectation, too.  The rise of user-centered consumer experience design putting pressure on businesses to pay similar attention to their employees’ needs.  Companies are overhauling their internal comms platforms to become lean, interactive and reminiscent of the digital experiences that employees partake in outside of work.  Slack (now the fastest-growing enterprise app ever), Hipchat, and the recently launched Facebook at Work are setting a new bar for communication tools at work.

The Future of SharePoint includes Microsoft Attending to the Intranet

Microsoft has started talking about Intranets again, too.  Half of the picture (and about 3/4 of the agenda) for the Future of SharePoint announcements were around the new OOB intranet and the new model for how to extend it.

sharePoint connections to intranet

I recently participated in a webinar with ESPC analyzing the new SharePoint Fabric and the updated OOB Intranet features and announcements from Microsoft, laying out how this impacts people who are planning a new intranet. Many organizations are renovating their intranets and/or undertaking a digital workplace program, and Microsoft is moving quickly and rolling out a lot of new capabilities in this area.

Of the MANY new things unveiled at The Future of SharePoint event, my personal favorites are the SharePoint Mobile and the new SharePoint Framework. I’m already using the SharePoint native app on my iPhone, and enjoying it.  Soon I’ll be writing client-side web parts and applications that plug into the new OOB experiences AND run native on my iPhone.  The SharePoint Framework is trusted code, meaning that I can do things that just aren’t possible running in today’s SharePoint add-ins.

Microsoft is getting wise to the world of the new Intranet.  Our patience for software that offers a poor user experience is incredibly low – if we struggle with something, we will simply abandon it and try something else. Our level of expectation is incredibly high, both as a consumer and an employee.
Companies are now starting to realize they can use new frameworks to design solutions that can be as good as the best digital consumer experiences – something the enterprise has been lacking for a long time.  That’s the role of the SharePoint Framework.

What is the Intelligent Intranet?

The mobile part of the “Mobile and Intelligent Intranet” seems clear enough.  But what about the “Intelligent” part?  I’ve been thinking about how to make smarter machines for quite awhile, and BA Insight has done some great work in this area.  But as more people start talking about the Intelligent Intranet, I wondered what they meant, and if they meant the same thing.

I’d just gotten a new video camera, so I dragged it with me to a conference I was speaking at, and took clips of different people sharing their take on the Intelligent Intranet.  This turned out to be a great way to get some very well known MVPs on camera, and also to get “person on the street” views from attendees.  I grabbed people whenever I had a moment, so these were taken in a variety of different places (with different levels of noise in the background).  People generally just spoke off the cuff.

Take a look at the video and enjoy!  What strikes me is how broad the range of opinions are.  There’s some funny moments and snarky comments, too – so watching them is fun.

I’d like to thank all of the friends and colleagues who took the time to go on camera, and below is the list.  You won’t get to see every single one of these great folks in the video; some of the clips didn’t come out well and we also had to keep the overall video reasonably short.  But we’ve shared the clips back with every speaker and you may see some of these flying around on twitter.

Bob German BlueMetal Architects
Chris Bortlik Microsoft
Chris McNulty Microsoft
Christian Buckley Beezy
Corey Roth Hitachi Consulting
D’arce Hess AvePoint
Dave Feldman Shire
David Rubenstein BZ Media
Dimitri Ayrapetov Cognizant
Drew Madelung Concurrency
Eric Shupps BinaryWave
Jared Matfess Slolam Consulting
Jason McCullagh BA Insight
Jason Himelstein Rackspace
Jeff Fried BA Insight
Jim Lennox Mission Hill Technology
John White UnlimitedViz
Liam Cleary Protiviti
Marc Anderson Sympraxis Consulting
Massood Zarrabian BA Insight
Matt Spewak Bristol-Meyers Squibb
Mike Gregory BA Insight
Pat D’ambrosio BA Insight
Paul Levine EMC Consulting
Ruven Gotz Avenade
Sean Coleman BA Insight
Tim Beamer Plus Consulting

Is Your Intranet Intelligent?

I’ve also recently done a podcast on this subject, which you can listen to here.  This looks at the Intelligent Intranet and at what you need to do to make your intranet intelligent.

I’m still actively doing research in this area, and would love to hear your thoughts and stories.   So far, the top attributes of an Intelligent Intranet have proven consistent both in the ‘deep dive’ sessions I have with customers and in the quick interviews you can see in the videos.   Watch this space; you’ll be hearing more about the Intelligent Intranet here!