intranets work now but what of the future?

For many comms people, the intranet is an overlooked and unloved corner of the landscape. But there's a dedicated community who love making intranets better. They came together at the first intranetnow event in London. But things are changing. The intranet is aimed at staff. But when staff can cut and paste and make public within seconds what is their future? When supermarkets employ 200,000 across hundreds of sites is there a need for them?

by Steve Murgatroyd 

On 2 September, I went to the first ever IntranetNow conference, I fantastic day, with some great speakers.

As an Internal Communicator by trade it was fascinating to be surrounded by people who would class themselves as Intranet Mangers (other job titles are available) but maybe not Internal Communications.

Their view on the topic of intranets was slightly different to what you would hear at a Melcrum conference for example. There was much more talk around how intranets should be structured and in fact whether things like news belong on the home page or if they just take up space…something which some Internal Comms people would faint at the thought!

In the afternoon an unconference was run and I suggested a session around ‘Do intranets need to be internal? If so, why?’ Blurring the lines between internal and external is something I’ve been fond of for a while now (see Asda Green Room and Fit for the Future – Stations) and as the digital workplace moves from something heard about in only the most progressive businesses to something everyone is looking at, I wanted to see if people though the firewall is becoming a thing of the past. As always with an unconference I had a few moments of worry that no one would turn up…but thankfully that wasn’t the case and we had a really good discussion. Some of the points we discussed included the difference between available externally and available to external people, could you set up a log on screen so employees can access from their own device/home but customers can’t? What benefits do you have from putting content external, would anyone be interested? Does it add value? If not then maybe you shouldn’t do it. Also, the benefits for a company with a large amount of non-desk based employees seemed bigger than more desk based companies e.g. supermarkets.

With only a few minutes left we moved into the topic of IT security and would our IT teams be happy that we wanted to open everything up? Probably not! But we also talked about how nothing is truly secure anymore…anybody can print/email a document and pass it to someone they shouldn’t. So in that world (which we all live in) it’s not a reason to avoid doing it.

As often happens with unconference sessions, we could have talked for another hour but we had to cut it short to go to our next session. We didn’t come to a solution (and if we did I wouldn’t tell you it for free) but the topic of intranets, firewalls and employee access isn’t something that’s going away and while there isn’t a one size fits all answer I personally think we’re slowly getting to a tipping point where employees will expect to be able to access content on any device personal or professional and as Communicators we need to be ready for that and try to stay ahead of the curve.

Steve Murgatroyd is digital communications manager at Transport for London.

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