The Digital Workplace, a 10-year old term with new life

January 10, 2011

Update 31 October 2014: My global survey started in 2007 and the annual reports were entitled “Global Intranet Trends” through 2009. The 2010 report “Global Intranet Trends for 2010” report was sub-titled “Towards the workplace web”.  From 2012 to present (most recent being 2014) the report has become the Digital Workplace report.  The Digital Workplace is defined as the intersection of people, organization and technology. Although some people still consider it a new term for an expanded intranet, it is in fact much more than that. See the Digital Workplace Framework.

The beginning of a new year is a good time not only to look forward, but also to look back. For the last 18 months there has been discussion among intranet people about the use of the word “intranet”.  Both the “workplace web” and the “digital workplace” have been put forward as possibilities over the last year and a half. Neither term is new. Both have been around for about 10 years.

  • One of the first uses of “digital workplace” was in 2000 by Jeffrey Beir, co-founder of eRoom Technology who wrote “How to create a digital workplace“. He defined it as a place “in which distributed teams can get work done… (and) members of an extended enterprise can work together, resolve issues and make decisions”. He identified 5 criteria which he coined the 5 C’s: comprehensible, contagious, cross-enterprise, complete and connected.
  • “Workplace Web Content Management” was the name used by IBM in 2003 for the web content management system that became IBM Lotus Web Content Management in 2008.

“Workplace web” is clearly not sticking; “digital workplace” is.

I triggered the discussion for a new term for intranet in March 2009 with a brainstorming in NetJMC&Co (LinkedIn group dedicated to intranet managers). In April 2009, I  wrote my first post about the “workplace web”. The conversation continued via James Robertson and  Alex Manchester.

I sub-titled last year’s “Global Intranet Trends for 2010” report as “Towards the workplace web”. It identified one of the 5 megatrends of the intranet becoming the front door into the workplace web.  The workplace web was defined as the organization’s ensemble of information, application, collaboration, networking and communication tools.

For whatever reasons, the term “workplace web” did not take!

Doing a search on today for “workplace web” brings up 195,000 results including a few articles from my blog and the discussion that ensued,  but mainly articles relating to the IBM product.  A search on “digital workplace” brings over 24,000 results, from a number of sources. Most of the items are relevant to the concept of an expanded intranet combined with cross-enterprise interactions.

The digital workplace, a ten-year-old term with a new life?

In addition to Jeffrey Beir’s article “How to create a digital workplace“, another early usage of the term was by the US census bureau that reported on the “digital workplace” in 2001. Their definition:   adults using computers and the internet at their workplace.

More recent instances: Toby Ward, Verizon case study (2006), Matthew Hodgson, Intranet or digital workplace in August 2009.

The most recent re-appearance of the term is by IBF during their worldwide Intranets Live event  in June 2010:  “Exploring Intranets and the Digital Workplace”.

I’ve tested the term “digital workplace”  at two intranet conferences recently, one in Stockholm and one in Paris, and with several of my clients. The term has had an impact on management decisions in two recent client cases.

One of my strongest professional goals is to place intranets firmly on the agenda of senior management. My experience so far indicates that talking about the digital workplace rather than the intranet is one tool in my arsenal.

By the way, the 5 C’s coined by Jeffrey Beir (comprehensible, contagious, cross-enterprise, complete and connected) are strong ambitions for  the intranet, oops, the digital workplace today!








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It’s an interesting conundrum on the use of language. If you consider that the Intranet started as an internal network using public internet protocols, then the workplace web was a nice evolution of the intranet. When I was consulting I used to talk to clients about their “intranet ecosystem” in order to convey the message that there was more than a homepage and internal ‘web sites’ facilitated by use of a WCMS.

I think Digital Workplace steps well beyond either your or my descriptors, although if we are to be really geeky you could say that there is a hierarchal structure, the intranet is part of the workplace web, which in turn is part of the digital workplace !

It could be that while workplace web resonates with communications and IT professionals, the digital workplace label resonates more with CIO’s and other top level exec’s. So my only issue is that could be a used in a very, very broad context. Some businesses still use ‘green screen’ terminal emulators to access mainframe based applications – these are part of the digital workplace, but not the workplace web !

In the end I suppose its all semantics – can you come up with a nice term in French that we could all use ?

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Paul Miller

Yes it’s been really interesting seeing how the term Digital Workplace has grown in strength in the past 18 months or so Jane. To underline your points I would say that we have seen many developments – here are just three….

Several IBF members have renamed their teams and roles to be about Digital Workplace rather than intranet
Two IBF members have written “Digital Workplace 2015″ strategies signed off at CIO levels
IBF has produced a “Digital Workplace Maturity Model” for download at

One reason I think the term is sticking is that we know and understand the “Physical Workplace” and the “Digital Workplace” is its digital equivalent…’s not where you work, it’s how you work.

Within IBF we have

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