At most companies the intranet has never lived up to its potential. Companies once envisioned the intranet as functioning kind of like the post office in a small town, as a place to gather and exchange vital information. Yet many intranets end up more like the dead letter office, a deserted place filled with forgotten communications.
When I interviewed Socialtext CEO Eugene Lee last month, he told me some of his company's customers were seeing real value from making their intranets the hubs of social activity. A hub is sorely needed. As I wrote in my post "Internal Silos Can Suck Life out of Social Initiatives," organizations won't derive much value from social information if it ends up in the same old departmental silos.
Based on our discussion, I wasn't surprised to see Socialtext release several enhancements to its software designed to facilitate making intranets more social. The enhancements include goodies for users, such as widgets that allow them to create personalized dashboards, and for administrators, such as an integration with Google Analytics that allows admins to see not just what intranet pages people visit, but how they get to them, how long they stay and where they go next.
Lee wrote a blog post that nicely sums up Socialtext's view on social intranets and includes a link to a webinar featuring Lee, Forrester Research analyst Tim Walters and folks from the American Hospital Association, a Socialtext client that has socialized its intranet and is thrilled with the results.
Walters shares Forrester research that found a third of enterprises are increasing social technology investments this year. The three top reasons for using social technologies, all of which mesh nicely with the idea of a social intranet, are capturing and sharing knowledge, corporate communications and fostering collaboration within a division or group (or, in the case of the intranet, perhaps collaboration that more easily crosses divisional boundaries).
Walters shares some other good information on social technologies, including several examples of organizations that are seeing clear business benefits by using them. He discusses the evolution of the intranet, noting that it began as a communications-centric repository of information, then added self-service elements and collaboration features such as the ability to create team sites. Now the intranet is advancing into its fourth stage, as an information workplace where existing practices such as knowledge discovery, reuse and collaboration are enhanced and new practices such as idea generation and innovation are created.
The intranet is a logical place to serve as hub for social activity because it's already familiar to employees and typically has already benefited from incremental improvements, Walters says.
Lee offers several snapshots of Socialtext clients that have added social features to their intranets, including Getty Images, The Motley Fool, Fona International and GT Nexus. The webinar wraps with two folks from the AHA, CIO Jack Mackay and IT Manager Karthik Chakkarapani. The AHA's intranet serves as a centralized hub for information management, aggregation and delivery. It combines features of the "new" intranet like social tools, and integration to software-as-a-service applications using single sign-on with more traditional intranet features such as news updates and a calendar.
Mackay stresses the benefits of transparency, describing the ability to see and follow innovative ideas, "from inception to implementation." Chakkarapani provides an example, saying the AHA's mobile devices and applications group posted a list of cool apps that created interest among business users and "now it's a full-blown project" to deliver some of the apps. In another example, a nursing leadership group called AONE was exploring how to better meet the needs of small, rural hospitals. Members of AONE posted questions on the intranet to jumpstart the project.
Of special interest to IT folks, the intranet offers a great way for AHA's IT organization to enhance its visibility. The IT department posts all of its projects, including business case and strategy alignment with corporate goals, team members, status updates, and milestones and timelines.