The social intranet has been quietly evolving. And counter to the predictions of some who dismiss the phenom as merely a fad (one naive “intranet consultant” decried it as a fad at a New York conference, to my face), social is becoming more and more pervasive. Most organizations are not yet fully social; at least not internally. Of course, most organizations still have a poor intranet that is woefully underfunded, and they have bigger priorities (establishing full, thorough governance; proper content management; fixing the search engine; creating an engaging, not a hindering user experience).
With social, it is not an issue of ‘if you build it they will come…” No, they won’t come. Oh, there will always be a few keeners, particularly in IT and Communications that are initially jazzed to use internal social, but most employees need a reason, need some orientation or training, and need to be pushed (marketed to). The operative term is ‘change management’ – without it, they will not come.
Firstly, a truly social intranet is one that has multiple social tools integrated not only into the home page and the complete intranet umbrella, but integrated into most aspects of content consumption (think about commenting, sharing and rating) as opposed to isolated in hidden corners of the internal network.
Those that have successful social intranets have active and engaged executives that are using these new collaboration tools, which are supported by significant change management plans.
Technology software solutions aside, what’s new with in social is what’s out: the term social. Increasingly the term ‘social’, inside the enterprise, on the intranet, is being replaced with ‘collaboration’. Most of us understood terms like web 2.0 and intranet 2.0, but they didn’t resonate with executives, the people with the money. Nor has the term social loosened a lot of purse strings. In fact, most executives and boards of directors cringe when they hear ‘social’ applied to employees and intranet. Many big wigs, obsessed with the bottom line, picture Facebook and Instagram, and employees wasting time and money, on the company’s dime. Social is out, collaboration is in.
A number of new solutions are making waves and gaining attention. Slack continues to be the darling solution of tech media even though it has been around for a few years. Though it’s not an intranet in a box, and not even an enterprise social network (ESN) – sorry collaboration network – it is a heavyweight instant messaging and collaboration platform, akin to Yammer. It’s not a standalone ESN, but its far better than the woefully frustrating Skype for Business (formerly known as Lync). HipChat is trying to cut into its market, as the de rigueur cool tool, but Asana is the most business like, and my favorite.
Other vendors worth watching:
These new age collaboration platforms are all trying to survive the marketing push and potential onslaught from the two new entrants to this category from the mega tech stalwarts, Microsoft and Facebook.
Last year, Facebook launched Workplace, their corporate answer to the call for a Facebook-like intranet solution. Trouble was (is) that it’s virtually identical to the external Facebook (though grey replaces the ubiquitous blue); good for easy adoption, but hardly a serious enterprise business tool. In fact, there’s little business about it. And it’s not free.
I’m not sure I’d recommend it to any company, but I’m sure it works for some. Facebook just announced, finally, some new features including new bots to automate responses (think Help Desk), and live internal streaming to groups. Workplace now has options to integrate with Microsoft OneDrive, Salesforce, and Box. Good news, but a tacit admission that it is not the standalone intranet solution it hopes to be.
A number of new solutions are making waves and gaining attention. Slack continues to be the darling solution of tech media even though it has been around for a few years. Though it’s not an intranet in a box, and just barely an enterprise social network (ESN) – sorry collaboration network – it is a heavyweight instant messaging and collaboration platform, akin to Yammer. It’s not a standalone ESN, but it’s far better than the woefully frustrating Skype for Business (formerly known as Lync). HipChat is trying to cut into its’ market, as the de rigueur cool tool, but Asana is the most business like, and my favorite.
Other vendors worth watching:
Speaking of Microsoft, they are most definitely the leader, if not the category gladiator. SharePoint, particularly Office 365, aims to be everything to everyone. And it’s becoming increasingly social, particularly with the release of Delve (which enhances and replaces My Sites) and Teams.
Microsoft Teams is an interesting addition to Office 365; many liken Teams as Redmond’s answer to Slack. It’s a little more involved than Slack, but hardly as cool. It does, however, integrate with SharePoint Online, and is definitely worth a look if you’re already a Microsoft customer, particularly if you dislike Skype for Business (raises his hand). Despite some pundit reports, those that don’t have a clue, Microsoft Teams is not a replacement for Yammer, but a completely different tool. Microsoft continues to grow Yammer, and integrate more fully into Office 365.
More and more employees are accessing the intranet using their phone or PDA; they’re in the minority as the large majority still use a desktop or laptop, but the visits are increasing rapidly. Mobile apps are becoming more and more common. Jive is but one social network platform that has invested in mobile access, and one of the reasons Cisco dumped their own home-grown social network for Jive. In addition, Cisco has more than 60 mobile intranet apps, just for employees, including the Jive social tools, maps, approvals, benefits, etc.
Head to one of Jive’s closest competitor websites, Sitrion, and you’ll see their entire focus is now mobile. Once an RSS platform turned social network extension for Microsoft SharePoint, Sitrion is now an employee social app company.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is already being used on the intranet; IBM has been doing so for years. Prime examples of AI at work are chatbots. A chatbot is a computer program designed to simulate conversation with a human user. A chatbot is simply a means for a computer to respond to an inquiry by a user – which could be text-based, audio-based, or even visually based.
CNN uses chatbots to summarize news stories; Associated Press has a chatbot that serves up thousands of summaries every day. The technology has been around for a while and people are now becoming comfortable interacting with (“talking to, and hearing back from”) chatbots (Microsoft’s Tay, aside). The question for intranet managers is how and where best to incorporate this core capability.
Self-service technical support is an area of big potential. Instead of waiting for a live person, and wasting 20 or 30 minutes to resolve a simple problem, such as password resets, access requests for limited use applications or databases, adding or deleting users. Instead employees can send a message to a chatbot on “how do I reset my password?” and the information they need right away, or have a bot actually fix the problem.
Many world-class intranets and digital workplaces, including those from Google, Coca-Cola, Bayer, and others, with detailed case studies are presenting at this year’s Digital Workplace & Intranet Global Forum conference in New York (Oct. 25 – 26). Early-bird registration is only $890 for the full conference.
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