‘The four horsemen of the Intranet Apocalypse’ – how emerging trends will transform the company intranet

In November 2011, I created and delivered the following presentation for Ovum Group’s Enterprise Collaboration event, held in London – Imagining the Future Intranet: the inevitable impact of Internet trends.

Here are the slides (some adjustments have been made to fit Slideshare formatting):

And here are some brief notes from my talk:


My staff will not be using email.

Lord Alan Sugar, in his 2002 book ‘The Apprentice’ recalled a BBC Documentary from 1993 when he said his staff would not be using email. Looking back, he justified the quote (somewhat unsurprisingly) on the basis that sending faxes was still the more popular form of text-based communication at the time. That didn’t last.  Intranets are just internal organisation versions of web sites.  And Internet trends influencing public web sites will inevitably enter the workplace sooner or later…

Interface Design

Starbucks Facebook page gets 10 times more traffic than its web site.
Source: Business joins the party, Wall Street Journal, 2011.

I picked on Starbucks to demonstrate but quite a few brand web sites could easily have swapped places. In the images above (there are more examples in the slides), the blocks of yellow highlight participation points – boxes or links encouraging the viewer to join in and contribute to the site. Red areas are content. Blue areas are standard (fixed) navigation and Purple areas are contextual – related content or navigation.

Standard web sites (and most intranets) are not designed around participation. They are still far too focused on visual appearance, managed content and controlled messages with action links kept tiny and low-down on the page.   Yet all social networking sites and commerce sites such as Amazon and eBay have evolved their designs to pivot around the audience and encourage the visitor to do something – talk, share, buy, sell. Do you want people to participate on your Intranet? Then start thinking about interface design rather than focusing on visual ‘prettiness’.

But there’s another trend too. If it’s not conversational, then go the other extreme and get some focus. Tablets and smartphones, even when they can do multi-tasking, work best when one app is open with minimal interruption from others.  If we aren’t collaboratively working on a project, single-tasking will lead to far greater productivity than juggling multiple different items.

How many Intranets are designed around these two concepts? A place to converse and a place to think?  Too often the emphasis is still on visual design: colour schemes and font choices rather than creating effective interfaces into information and knowledge.


It’s not just the traditional user interfaces that are changing. How we interact with information is shifting away from a dependency on keyboards and mice.  It is a matter of time before accessing Intranets via tablets becomes the norm.

There are three types of interaction that will become increasingly common place:

  • Touch – swiping, pinching, zooming through content
  • Talk – saying what we want or need and not expecting to have to then type as the next action…
  • Motion – movement without directly touching anything

Soundbites from Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Kinect were used to demonstrate some of the possibilities, including the use of game play in combination with motion to achieve results…



The third section of the talk explored how Internet trends are influencing our decision-making processes:

  • Anytime/Anyplace – people are used to just getting the data when it comes to the Internet.  Increasingly accessed through mobile devices literally on the spot. Yet within an organisation, it is not uncommon at a meeting to respond with ‘I’ll email those numbers to you when I get back to my desk…’
  • Collaborative – it is unlikely any teenager considers themselves a collaborative decision maker… but if they’ve ever been shopping and consulted Facebook for feedback or checked review sites before purchasing, that’s exactly what they are doing
  • Augmented – perhaps the newest shift in decision making – starting to see digital data overlaid back onto the physical world…

But there’s also a gotcha to consider.  We implement technology to improve access to information and many organisations will talk about seeking to improve productivity.  Yet at the same time, will design workplaces that have the opposite effect.  A short soundbite was used for the talk, but listen to the following presentation on sound by Julian Treasure delivered at TED.

It always surprises me how little thought appears to be put into the design of open plan office space from an actual getting work done perspective…

Intranet 2.0

In short, the web sites we spend our time on (i.e. not the brochure-ware variety) today have a very different look-and-feel compared to 10 years ago. Too many Intranets still look the same. To start thinking about a next-generation intranet, there are 3 simple steps to getting started:

  1. Start thinking in terms of conversations and focus – what should the Intranet help achieve?
  2. Start planning how information is accessed and interacted with beyond the PC
  3. Start acknowledging that decision-making does not fall into a neat organisation chart…

Closing comments

My staff will  not be using email tablets.

It’s easy to laugh at Lord Sugar’s original comment. Yet replace one word and that’s the line many people are taking today. Be interesting to see what the typical desktop looks like in 3 years time…

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