What does 2016 hold for managers of intranets & digital workplaces?

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” Steve Jobs

It’s the start of the year and so time to make some wildly, sweeping predictions for the future. Except I have no idea what the future holds. So instead, I will take a look back at the dots and see if this gives any clues as to what the future holds for intranet teams and the skills needed to succeed.

20th Century Intranet Manager

So intranets and digital workplaces didn’t really exist as we know them now, they were pretty much the domain of IT and technical teams.

If you were involved in intranets it was probably because you had a single, key skill  – you knew how to work a computer.

Pre-iPhone

In the early years of this century the ‘web’ type stuff within organisations was still mainly the domain of IT. Though a few technically minded people from HR and Communication functions were starting to leverage these tools.

This era was dominated by technical expertise. The systems were not forgiving to a novice user and not heavily used. Early adopters and the technically savvy were exploring the possibilities. Senior Management was focused on bigger technical challenges and more junior team members were exploring the new tools.

iPhone era and the rise of a profession

The launch of the iPhone was the focal point of a move towards more user friendly technology. This trend had been growing for a few years, but suddenly exploded, thanks in part, to Apple. For intranets this meant more people started seeing the potential of digital for them, day to day. The 2007 financial crisis also saw some significant restructuring of business models as costs needed cutting. For many this sees the initial steps  towards digital transformation. For others it meant a reduction in budgets and contraction of teams. Control of the intranet moved away from IT, more towards the business. Now intranet management is becoming more professional.

The early adopters could leverage their skills and had examples of how the intranet was working. Perhaps governance was less of an issue as a digitally savvy executive was now onboard. However with IT still playing a key role and HR and other teams now getting involved, intranet managers needed stronger stakeholder management skills. Some may have been given given wider remits and move into more ‘leadership’ roles.

Those negatively impacted by the financial crisis are now forced to work more agile, focus on prioritising more and use more guerrilla tactics to make progress, especially as everyone is demanding improved UX but are not always willing to invest in this.

Technical skills are still vital, as the technology is moving fast, social is the new buzzword. Mobile is likely to have an impact more and more.

The emergence of the Digital workplace

Around 2009 the term ‘Digital workplace‘ starts to be used to explain the wider digital ecosystem within organisations. It’s clear maturity is improving, though many teams struggle with cross-organisational approaches which this new, more complex world demands. The business is demanding more alignment of intranets.

Skills wise, the focus is more on Business Analysis, working with business teams to understand value adding developments. Business change management skills are also required as ‘launch and leave’ approaches often used with traditional technology roll outs are not sufficient.

A new breed of manager, more senior, is now joining the community. They are tasked with aligning and leading this diverse group of experts into a more aligned functions and teams. Leading digital transformation is now a key challenge for some teams. For me this hit home with a Digital Workplace Group member meeting in London, which was opened by a Senior Executive who explained how the digital workplace was a corner stone of a wider digital transformation in the company.

Others intranet team members find roles within teams are becoming more specialised so they can focus more on their strength areas. Those without the resources in their team are now be asked to wear several hats and accomplish too many things.

Maturity

By 2015 intranets and digital workplaces are being taken more seriously and now more likely seen as business as usual. Those team that have invested in getting the foundations in place are starting to see the benefits. Intranet projects have been replaced with intranet and digital workplace programmes. Ongoing iterative design and development cycles are becoming common place.

Others can now see the benchmark to aim for and are perhaps feeling the pressure to deliver by users who see the growth of technology, apps and digital tools at home and expect the same at work.

For many this is a period of consolidation, continuing to develop the skills acquired earlier but working within a broader context. For others the question of further development in senior roles is not always clear. Is the Chief Digital Officer the way forward?

2016 – there is an awakening, can you feel it?

Ok, so I had to get at least ones Star Wars quote in this blog. In looking back over the last 16 years, the roles around intranet management have changed significantly and I think this trend will continue.  The scope has expanded and being an all rounder now is becoming harder and harder. Being able to leverage a diverse and dynamic network of experts to support changing needs of your company will be key.

Perhaps 2016 is the year we see the beginning of a more serious shift for intranet and digital teams. With maturity,  intranets face the risk of focus being moved away from the teams that manage and support them. These teams will be expected to implement efficiencies. Some companies will look to outsource standard intranet activities, from cloud hosting to content management. The core focus of the intranet and digital workplace teams that remain will be owning the strategy and managing the relationship between the business and the service providers. The question for many members of intranet teams who find they have expertise or passion in one area will be, do they wish to remain within the firewall. Should they expand into other roles within their organisation where their online skills are part of the skills set needed, or do they make a move outside offering their unique set of skills to organisations on a temporary basis?

Although I work in an industry which saw 100,000 jobs cut in 2015, I think this is an ongoing trend across all industries. As more automation comes into all areas of work, I think many organisations will look to have a more flexible and temporary relationship with their employees. The opportunity is there if you focus more on the human and creative aspects of our work, which is much harder to automate. Being able to offer these skills in the coming years might be what the intranet and digital workplace teams of today need to prosper longer term. The question is, what are those skills? I would say having a more flexible mindset to embrace the changes, being able to manage complex problems and leverage your network to help solve them, is a good starting point, but I welcome your thoughts.

What is vital is taking time now to plan ahead and understand what your career aspirations are. Why not plan a personal offsite to get started?


About Dan Leonard

Based in the Netherlands, I’ve been working on intranets and digital workplaces for over 12 years. Mainly in financial services for Learning & Development, HR and Corporate Communication functions. I am interested in the skills required by Intranet Managers and Digital Workplace Leaders now and in the future.

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