Technology in general, whether designed for public or business use, is often destined for two fates: It can either evolve to respond to the growing needs and expectations of users or completely vanish if it fails to adapt and innovate.
Over the years, countless technologies, like e-mail and phones, have stood the test of time and acted as the foundation for future innovations; while some others, like the fax machine, pagers and floppy discs, are rarely used nowadays and have almost currently been replaced by more effective tools.
Intranets fall into the first category. They were first introduced in the ‘90s, and are still around today. During that period of time, intranets have evolved from a tool that just conveyed basic information and corporate news to a more holistic solution that now encompasses a variety of tools and business applications, usually with a focus on employee engagement.
Since it is now the last week of the decade, we thought it would be a good idea to discuss the intranet of the 2010s’ or what is currently now known as the digital workplace or intranet 2.0, how employee engagement and recognition are becoming an integral part of today’s intranets and what the future holds for the technology.
A brief history of the intranet
In a previous blog post, we looked back at the history of intranets from the early ‘60s onwards. That piece focused on the evolution of intranets from a practical point of view, with an emphasis on how the technology became effective in improving communication and productivity. As a quick rehash …
1990s: The most popular intranets of the early 1990s were designed to improve communication within organizations. However, these solutions were basic and often targeted administrators and the C-suite. This eventually made communication unidirectional (top-down) which led to poor adoption by employees.
Connecting employees and enhancing collaboration progressively took centre stage with later intranet versions, like in Intranet Genie. The ability to communicate instantly, share documents and access a variety of content appealed to users and pushed organizations to adopt such solutions. However, several drawbacks, like a poor user experience, limited customization and especially the unavailability of these intranets on web browsers, limited their potential.
2000s: The growing popularity of SaaS (Software As A Service) and the widespread emergence of social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, shaped the intranet of the 2000s. Intranet providers quickly adapted to these changes by launching their own SaaS solutions, inspired from popular consumer apps like Facebook and Twitter. A number of start-ups also seized the opportunity to create their own Enterprise Social Networks designed for internal communication. ESNs revolutionized communication in the workplace. Functionalities like user profiles, groups, instant chat and activity streams facilitated bottom-up and peer-to-peer communication. The possibility to like, comment and share different types of content encouraged employees to collaborate on different projects and to share their expertise.
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Intranets in the 2010s
The 2010s saw a surge in the number of applications used within the workplace, ranging from ESNs (Enterprise Social Networks), KMSs (Knowledge Management Systems) and DMSs (Document Management Systems) to chat applications and many other productivity tools. However, this situation ultimately led to an overload of tools and had a negative effect on productivity.
Digital workplace solutions came into the scene to tackle some of these issues and to act as a centralized solution that could encompass different applications and platforms.
Below are the main milestones that marked the intranet in the last decade:
- Employees at the heart of the digital workplace:
Ever since their creation, intranets have been designed to help employees communicate and get things done, at least in theory. However, in the early years, employees remained mostly overlooked and the intranets did not have the necessary features to allow them to have their voices heard. Later though, thanks to ESNs and their wide variety of social and collaborative features, communication moved from being top-down to cross-departmental and peer-to-peer. This had a positive impact on productivity and overall engagement.
The social aspect of intranets continued to be the foundation of the digital workplace in 2010. But as new generations made their way to the workplace (millennials and Gen Z), intranet providers and businesses alike worked on new ways to satisfy and engage their workforce.
85% of the workforce is either not engaged or is actively disengaged
Among the most popular and sought-after tools were recognition solutions. Employee disengagement and high turnover rates have always been the main challenges facing organizations over the years. This trend even gathered momentum with the generational change and the inexperience of some businesses in providing robust recognition programs.
Stand-alone recognition software became the solution of choice for any business willing to engage, reward and retain their workforce. Although effective in dealing with the problem, these solutions were, as their name implies, stand-alone, which means that they had to be purchased separately and their integration could be tricky with legacy systems.
Digital workplace providers identified the need for a built-in recognition system and seized the opportunity to launch their own. These systems differ from one solution to the other. The simplest form of recognition is “kudos” or “thank you” messages that can be visible to the whole organization or selected individuals depending on the visibility settings. Recognition can also be tied to a gamification system of points and badges with tangible rewards, such as bonuses, gift cards or tokens.
With more and more providers betting on recognition, it is safe to say that the initial feedback and adoption are encouraging. Additionally, a number of studies have highlighted the importance and effectiveness of such integrated programs. According to a Deloitte study, companies that implement recognition programs have a 31 per cent lower voluntary turnover.
- Office 365 and Google Suite growth
It goes without saying that Microsoft Office 365 and Google Suite are among the most popular office suites out there. Both suites have a significant share of the collaboration and enterprise software market thanks to the multitude of apps they provide, from communication tools with Teams and Hangouts, to collaboration with Office Online and Google docs, File storage with One Drive and Google Drive, content management with Sharepoint and Google Sites and the list goes on.
The large number of apps that rapidly appeared, however, was not met with the right intranet solution that could group them. This was not for a lack of trying though as both Microsoft and Google had Yammer and Google + in place to achieve just that. However, Google + was discontinued in 2019 due to a lack of adoption and engagement from the public and businesses. Yammer, on the other hand, is still part of the Office 365 offer, with some advancements made in terms of integrations with other Office 365 apps. But the solution is still relatively isolated and further integrations are yet to be completed.
This situation created the need for different types of layers that could be added to the suites to enhance the collaborative experience. These layers range from stand-alone digital workplace solutions to Sharepoint and Google sites extensions and various other add-ons.
- Focus on mobile
The late 2000s and early 2010s were characterized by the rapid expansion of smartphones and tablets. Additionally, the start and end of the decade were marked by advancements in wireless technology with the introduction of 4G and 5G. These circumstances coupled with the rise of deskless workers and the gig economy meant that intranet providers had to adapt and offer solutions not only on desktop but on mobile devices as well.
Nowadays, probably every intranet solution out there has its own mobile application to allow users to work on-site or from any location. Some intranet providers even built their entire solution on mobile and targeted employees who work on-site or remotely.
83% of enterprise workloads will be in the cloud by 2020.
- The expansion of cloud services
Cloud computing is not a new technology by any means. But the 2010s saw the technology reach new heights and more users with Microsoft and Google investing heavily in Azure and Drive. Obviously both services laid the foundation for their suites. They made storage easier with more space, deployment faster and information widely accessible from any device.
Today, most intranet providers give their customers the choice of on-premise or cloud deployment. Each choice brings its own benefits and drawbacks. But cloud deployment became the norm this decade, with 94% of enterprises already leaning towards the cloud.
If there is one thing that technology has taught us over the years, it is probably to expect the unexpected. However, a look at what tech giants are working on can give us a glance and little clue as to what the future holds. We can see that huge investments are being made on wireless technologies, like 5G, wearables and the internet of things. This will probably shape the workplace of the future and drastically change the way we work. Additionally, artificial intelligence and machine learning are also subject to huge interest from tech companies and may make their way into enterprises very soon.
With that in mind, there is no right answer to what the future intranets and digital workplace solutions might look like in the next decade. But one thing is certain, transformation is inevitable.