“We need a new intranet!” exclaimed the partners of my firm at the bi-annual Partners’ Conference in June 2014.  Notably, they didn’t ask for a new ‘digital workplace’.  So what’s the difference?

People have been trying to differentiate the terms ‘intranet’ and ‘digital workplace’ for years.  In 2012, Mark Morrell attempted to define in his Intranet Pioneer blog the digital workplace as “what you can do, not where” and outlined what the digital workplace provides that the intranet doesn’t.  However, platforms have evolved to provide many of these have-nots.  In his Cannaxions blog, Martin Rasmussen referred to the intranet as the ‘mortar’ between systems, providing a single point of access to otherwise stand-alone systems.  This definition could easily be attributed to a digital workplace, or Virtual Workplace (a la Wikipedia).  More recently, James Robertson on his Step Two website admittedly kept his definition of the digital workplace vague, though outlined six foundation elements.  And just a few months ago, the Mando Group’s provocatively exclaimed, “The intranet is dead: long live the digital workplace“, an event where they showcased great examples of digital workplaces, or as I’d argue several highly evolved intranets.

This year I challenge you to attend an Intranet conference without being bombarded with sessions on the digital workplace. Thus, I ask the question by improving the intranet, and/or developing better systems of – yet connected to – the intranet, must we introduce the term digital workplace to our users?

At my firm, the intranet will continue to exist, and until I’m otherwise notified, will continue to have an Intranet Manager.  But those of us in intranet management roles need to be prepared to let-go of services previously provided by the intranet, which may be better provided on another platform or system, whether or not we continue to be the business owner of those services. Likewise, we need to expand the connections from our intranet to other systems which have moved online or become user self-service.

Our current projects are moving services previously provided by the intranet to separate platforms:

  • Intranet search is being expanded and replaced by a separate enterprise search platform; and
  • The firm directory and people search is moving to a more robust platform, expanding expertise classification, replacing the current limited intranet profiles.

Meanwhile, we have pushed forward with our Intranet Roadmap, a separate strategy for improving the intranet.  While identifying requirements during our Intranet Discovery Phase project, it was clear that our users viewed content, search, and the directory as a package and would still expect to access them from a single point of entry, regardless of the destination URL.

The digital workplace terminology has afforded us a convenient vehicle for coordinated governance of multiple systems.  We will continue to champion our intranets as the effective mortar, directing our users to the information and services they need to access quickly.  But we don’t need to rename or ‘kill’ our intranet by rebranding it as the new digital workplace and confusing our users.  We’ve been working digitally for decades.