A modern intranet needs to step-up and provide a digital workspace to assist with the new reality facing many organisations today: scenarios that are increasingly complex, volatile, uncertain and ambiguous.

A popular theme in the world of intranets right now is to create a social intranet. But saying you want a social intranet is not much better than the original focus on creating a brochure-style web site for the broadcast publishing of internal news. The intranet is not a single application, it is a portal to many applications. Some of which may share the same underlying technology platform if appropriate, many of which will be entirely different systems. Some may be tightly integrated whilst others may be connected by nothing more than a navigation link. But all benefit from being brought together in a cohesive way that enables work to be done more effectively than without. That’s what a useful intranet does, acts as the digital glue between systems to facilitate better decisions, relationships and actions.

I use the following image to describe the core functions that a modern effective intranet should perform:


The image is based on the following quote by JP Rangaswami, currently Chief Scientist at Salesforce.com

I believe it is only a matter of time before enterprise software consists of only 4 types of application: publishing, search, fulfillment and conversation

Whilst JP was referring to all enterprise software, the intranet is the primary candidate to act as the starting point for all four. Or, rather, if it doesn’t than it may find itself increasingly sidelined as people jump directly from app to app.

From an intranet perspective, the four types function as follows:

  • Content: information published across the organisation, consistent broadcast messages
  • Fulfilment: standardised forms-based processes completed by individuals to get stuff done
  • Search: helping individuals find what they need regardless of what it may be and where it is stored
  • Conversation: connecting people to share skills and expertise, discussions where practice trumps process

The degree of need for each of these four areas depends on the current challenge facing the organisation. Setting up an enterprise social network makes sense if internal knowledge-sharing and discovery is a priority. Introducing forms-based process automation makes sense if everyday tasks are still performed manually with all the time-consuming inefficiencies that paper creates. Before deciding what sort of Intranet you want, establish the current baseline across these four areas to help determine what functionality you need.

In the January edition of the Harvard Business Review, a short article discusses a recent buzzword in management-speak – VUCA, short for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. The new reality facing many industries in the 21st Century. The image below summarises the differences between the four scenarios:


A complex scenario has lots of connected dependencies. Small changes can have big consequences. A classic example is operating in multiple countries, each with different regulatory requirements. The solution is to tap into specialist expertise in as many of the different dependencies as possible.  Knowing what people skills you can lean on matters. A social network to facilitate conversations will not be enough – it needs to be searchable. Some level of classification may help to develop a skills matrix. And should also link to supporting evidence, in this particular example. Access to the regulatory guidelines established for each country is a must.

A volatile scenario can be easily understood but the changes hard to predict. To thrive means being able to adapt, quickly! But having the available resources to hand can be expensive. Can you stretch your resources beyond organisational boundaries? Access to an online social network may prove far more valuable than creating an internal enterprise equivalent limited to employees only…

An uncertain scenario is one that is understood at the basic level in terms of an event’s cause – e.g. a competitor announcing a new product that may disrupt the market. But it is difficult to know just what effect that announcement will have. The best approach is to gather as much information as possible, preferably more than anyone else, and have the skills to analyse that data to make the best possible predictions. The best skills may not always be apparent from the organisation chart. This is where internal social networks and their informal relationships can really make a difference.

An ambiguous scenario is one that isn’t understood at all – the unknown unknowns: ‘there be dragons’. When trying something new, the best approach is to experiment. Run simulations. Test hypotheses. Fail fast, learn and try again. For this, an open social network may be too noisy. Smaller group or team workspaces are likely to be more effective, for peer groups with a shared passion, perhaps with instant communications tools to show who is online and able to provide quick feedback in real-time.

These are just simple examples. But all four scenarios share a common theme – the need to co-ordinate people and information with minimal planning or advance notice. An effective intranet should contain or connect to the wide range of information and communication technologies needed to help facilitate this process, to adapt to the challenge of continuous change facing many organisations.


  • What VUCA Really Means For You by Nathan Bennett and G.James Leoine, Harvard Business Review, January 2014 (Kindle edition)

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Future TeamworkFeatured image: iStockPhoto


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Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. This is such a great help especially now that our phones can also function almost as our laptops. Right? You can use it everywhere. Mind you, read this article that I came by, also a great help: http://www.simpplr.com/blogs/2015/09/the-intranet-is-the-gateway-to-the-digital-workplace/

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