I’d like to share with you an article by my friend William Trout, director of internal communications at the U.S. bank BBVA Compass. William raises some interesting questions on the future of the Intranet given the emergence of collaborative Web 2.0 technology and mobile “smartphone” devices that enable the distribution of content remotely. Could Facebook become the platform of choice for the Intranet?
The convergence of two powerful communications trends—the rise of social media and the emergence of the mobile Internet—is undermining the dominance of the corporate Intranet, long the backbone of most Internal Communications platforms.
The corporate Intranet—a closed and monitored environment designed for the sharing of tools and information—has been showing its years for some time.
As a platform, it allows limited space for interaction and for the creative power of social media. Firewalls and an ingrained ‘desktop orientation’ constrain the access of on-the-go and geographically remote employees, sapping productivity and morale. In conceptual terms, the Intranet’s role in controlling information runs counter to modern ideals of transparency and collaborative workflow, and seems antiquated in a world where industries are created at breakneck speed and yesterday’s competitor can become today’s business partner.
Information ‘When and Where I Want It’
The digital consumer of 2010 wants to access information on-demand and via a portable, user-friendly platform such as a smartphone or iPad tablet. Today, notes Morgan Stanley, worldwide mobile Internet use is ramping up to the point where it will overtake desktop Internet use by 2015. The pace of change is likely to accelerate further: According to another observer, Nielsen, only half of all cell phones in use today are capable of accessing the Internet, and only 10 percent can view video.
The iPhone and other application-friendly smartphones are accelerating the mobile revolution, shifting the focus of mobile communications from phone calls and text to more interactive uses on the Web, such as search and the use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Running astride this trend is the emergence on the Intranet of a new tribe—the ‘superconnected’—that uses mobile communications exclusively.
The New Mobility
What does this “new mobility” mean for the future of the Corporate Intranet, and internal communications more broadly? Companies today have trouble enough getting all their employees access to their Intranets, because of network bandwidth limitations (for example, in the case of bank branches) or the challenge of serving geographically remote locations (e.g. offshore oil rigs). Some companies with these dilemmas are looking to hosted cloud solutions to bring the Intranet to employees; others are launching mobile Intranet platforms that seek to replicate the experience provided to desktop users. These efforts, while innovative, tend to short-change the corporate user in terms of the content, functionality and overall user experience available to users in the retail marketplace.
The question, then, is how to rectify this corporate-consumer imbalance? For a start, companies might engage developers to build applications customized to their internal communications platforms, deploying these apps on top of their current Intranets to deliver richer and more integrated digital mobile experiences offering collaboration and access to those company business applications typically housed on the Intranet. Or companies could take a bigger step and engage companies like Facebook—which started out as a platform limited to Harvard students—to build closed or even partially open (to vendors, business partners and providers of news, data and other information) Internal Communications platforms providing mobile and desktop users access to this content within a social-networking framework.
This latter model may be a few years away; for one thing, it is unclear if the Facebooks of the world are even interested in investing the time and energy to develop these customized internal solutions. A more realistic short-term vision may be for the Intranet to do what it does best: serve as a self-service repository for company-specific business processes and tools, with information and other non-static content accessible by both mobile and desk-bound employees via the cloud and/or customized apps.
Even such a limited step, whether achieved through the cloud, through customized apps or via the creation of Facebook-style networks, would represent progress. Indeed, in the age of the superconnected, freeing the bulk of the Intranet from the desktop is a major step towards enabling the experience that today’s mobile consumer expects, and to providing the exciting and engaging experience that corporate users deserve.