Snapshot of the Digital Workplace

February 9, 2011

The “digital workplace” sounds good. People like the way the words resonate. It generates enthusiasm. Yet, when you need to explain to senior management in 2 minutes, it’s a little harder. What does it really mean?

digital workplace four variations

I’ve sketched the diagrams you see here and have tested them in numerous contexts over the last few months. They work well, both in potentially conflictual meetings with internal stakeholders and with 5-minute talks to senior managers. I use them as a build-up, talking through the evolution from the first model to the last.

These diagrams are not about technology platforms. They are about the underlying user perception of the digital workplace.  I interviewed someone recently in an enterprise that is advanced in their digital workplace strategy. He said: “Some people think of social media as different from intranet, but most don’t really separate the two when the tools are embedded.”

I’ll explain how I use these diagrams and also show you how you can use them to define your home page strategy. Of course there’s much more you can do with them too, especially concerning governance!

  • Model A is where most organizations are today: three distinct worlds, each providing value in different ways.
  • Model B is a big step forward, and often the trigger for senior management interest when collaboration becomes part of the intranet. That often marks the arrival of business support as one of the intranet strategy drivers.
  • Model C has re-positioned the “ex-intranet” as part of the overall digital workplace. Here, the networked collaboration of discovering and discussing, along with the structured, project-driven collaboration live side by side with the managed content and applications of the “ex-intranet”.
  • Model D is the most future-oriented. It considers the digital workplace to encompass not just the internal world but parts of the external world as well. This makes the “new intranet” a blend of managed, collaborative and social content. The digital workplace itself has become a platform for the extended enterprise.

digital workplace entry pageThis second diagram  has been adapted for a case where an enterprise is re-thinking the entry point into the “intranet” and wondering what to include.

The entry page by definition will reflect one of the 4 models. It is critical to get it right. If it is the front door into a full-blown digital workplace, then it should signal that from the content  people see on the page. In models A and B, it is highly likely that people in your organization do not all use the intranet home page as their entry point.

Nowadays, it’s becoming artificial to talk about the intranet home page. We need to be talking about the door into the digital workplace.

So, where are you at in your digital workplace?

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Hans-Juergen @hjsturm

Hi Jane, excellent post and still valid today. I agree with Samuel and Jonathan on the ERP (or other LOB apps). They should be integrated in the workplace.

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Pim van Wetten

Really like these diagrams. Saw them at the intranet2011 event yesterday. Good preso too!

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Jonathan @DigitalJonathan

@Jane @Samuel — ERP/Business Applications should be called out on the models as part of ‘ex-intranet’ for completion.

I’m also thinking about the heterogenous intranet that I wrote about recently []. These applications (even the social features) need not sit within the intranet itself, but rather the intranet is a gateway to them. This might be overt or covert to the end user of course. I see a growing trend in the intranet being an interface to a collection of services: hosted or cloud; branded or skinned; protected or even public.

Ricardo Saldanha

Great approach, Jane! We fight to spread this kind of vision, here, in Brazil, you know. Is it hard because there are a lot of names and “buzz words” around the digital workplace world. People see “intranet” like a old fashion web site still nowadays…

Like you, we use a model to show the diference between this and an advanced digital framework. We talk about “PCC – Portal, Content & Collaboration”, created by Gartner. Is it also a powerfull approach and I wrote an article about that, whit more details: (in english, by automatic translation)

Its very important find ways to put some light on this universe. Congratulations once again!

Ria Breuer

Excellent post, Jane, and on the spot as usual. We’re in model A with links on the intranet to the Sharepoint site for departmental and project information (collaboration) and links to the individual social media tools.
These simpel graphs will come in handy in future talks with management about next steps, so please keep them coming!!!

Samuel Driessen

Wow, this is really good and helpful, Jane! I’ve seen companies in all stages. Relating to Jonathan’s remark: I agree you could fit ERP etc in the old intranet. You could also add a layer called business applications. The old intranet is a layer on top of the applications. But for the point you’re making you don’t really need this, I think.

Jane McConnell

Agree fully, Jonathan, that social, realtime elements are not a discrete feature. I see them as a sort of “networked informal collaborative” layer or, better still, glue, that connect people and content.

I intended for ERP to be part of applications and I had placed that as part of the “ex-intranet”, the yellow block. Maybe I should actually add “ERP” to the diagram. What do you think?

The word “collaboration” has a lot of different meanings these days. I have a post draft about that. Maybe I should finish and publish that for comments.

Jonathan @DigitalJonathan

Hi Jane

I always find these sketches informative and tremendously helpful when discussing the future with senior leaders. A few comments if I may.

I believe my company is at a model B, but with social elements very much part of our plans in 2011, I think we’ll quickly move to a Model C. Any organisation considering SharePoint 2010 have a model C at their fingertips I would suggest.

However, I’m not sure that your sketched models fully capture all that the digital workspace might encompass (it might be my interpretation so feel free to counter!)

Social, realtime elements are not a discrete features (hinted at in models A and B) and I believe this is a source of concern amongst C-level executives. Social is not the feature; social communication, social collaboration and building the human network is where the real value of these feature lies.

I also wonder where transactions via ERP connections feature in these models. It doesn’t feel strictly like collaboration and I wonder if it ought to be called out separately?

Jane McConnell

What about “A front-line manager wants to find out how someone else solved the problem of ….” or something business-related? Employee engagement is good, even essential, but – in my opinion – not a priority for front-line managers.

Is this contrary to your experience?


We’re way back at A, but making ground toward B! Something that would help sell it to upper management would be a user scenario. “A front-line manager wants to find new ways to increase employee engagement. First he…” Have you used anything like that?