Traditional intranets have shifted into something new, often referred to as a "digital workplace" - something that allows employees to be more productive, that allows them to connect more easily to each other and that allows them to work remotely.
As both terms are often confused, I will tell you about the history of the intranet and its evolution towards the digital workplace - starting with a definition of the term "intranet".
I will draw on terminology based on the four purposes of intranets: content, communication, activity and collaboration.
- Content: the intranet is a repository of company information
- Communication: through the intranet, most of the staff can be reached
- Activity or task-based working: the intranet helps employees to do their daily job
- Collaboration: the intranet helps employees to work together
What is an intranet?
A traditional intranet used to be nothing more and nothing less than an internal website. It was accessible to employees from a certain company within that company's walls.
The purpose of these early intranets was content and communication, in most cases top-down communication sent out by the internal communications or HR department.
For example: to improve internal communications, the responsible department would have a news feature on the intranet which informed employees about internal events, company changes, new employees and the cafetaria menu for the upcoming week. The HR department could post documents containing the company's car or leave and absence policies.
The evolution from "intranet" to "digital workplace"
That was about it, until things started changing about 10 years ago. At a certain point, whenever an employee opened his browser, the intranet homepage would be his starting screen. Slowly but surely, integrations were added to the traditional intranet webpages: for example a gateway (usually via a simple hyperlink) to an HR self service tool to request holidays or to an existing team collaboration tool.
At this point, collaboration and activity started playing a bigger role, though they did not replace the original intranet's purposes of content and communication. That was the first step towards the "digital workplace": intranets had started becoming networks of digital tools and information to be accessed on the company's network.
What is a digital workplace?
Nowadays, companies are relying more and more heavily on their internal networks (note that henceforth in this blog post, we're not using the term "intranet" anymore) for content and communication, the two traditional purposes, as well as for collaboration and activity.
When a platform truly ticks all four boxes for content, communication, activity and collaboration, it has evolved from an intranet to a "digital workplace".
Let's look at some examples.
- Intranets allowed staff members to read news updates from the communication department. Digital workplaces allow them to read those updates, react to them and share them internally in a department or cross-department discussion group. They can check their messages on their desktop, or on their mobile.
- On a traditional intranet, you could look up the phone number for your colleague. In a digital workplace, you can look up his Skype ID and call him directly from the system with Skype Business. While you're chatting, you can collaborate on an important Powerpoint deck.
- Your company intranet used to make it possible for you to consult the company's car policy and check which car you could order based on your function category - which you had to look up on another part of the system. A digital workplace could allow you to set in motion a car order from the platform directly at the car dealer that manages your company's fleet, complete with your personal profile and preferences.
Modern intranets, or digital workplaces - what's in a name? - help our collaborators to get their jobs done or to find the information they need to take decisions timely. The power of these modern platforms is becoming increasingly easier to demonstrate to companies and their boards of directors.
In a next blog post, we discuss the business drivers for the digital workplace.