Monday, 25 March 2013

Do social intranets have a future?

The last eight months or so have been interesting times, as the old Chinese curse has it.  My experience consulting for Interact has taken me into about 20 companies and has given me a real insight into how each of them views the 'social' side of their (planned) social intranet.  There is a wide range of intentions, from, at one extreme, 'Not for the forseeable future' through to 'Gimme gimme gimme'.  Most are somewhere in between, perhaps best expressed by the phrase 'interested, but cautious'.  There is also often a difference in attitude between the intranet team (keen to go for it) and the senior management (perceived as sceptical or anti).

I suspect enterprise social networking is being given the time of day by more executives than a couple of years ago mainly because of the mainstreaming of Facebook and Twitter.  Even the most hardened laggard will have a close relative or friend who uses these.  This fact has raised consciousness of the ubiquity of these tools, but is a double-edged sword for those like me who'd like to see more Web 2.0 in the workplace.  On the one hand I can refer to activity streams, for example, as being 'like Twitter', thus short-cutting the explanation. On the other hand in doing so I'll conjure up whatever impressions, possibly negative, that person has of the content of Twitter, thus making it more difficult to get them to see that it could be different on the office social network. 

Anyhow, this is a summary of sorts of where we seem to be, with some organisations swimmming but many still trying to put a toe in the water.  What I want to do now is pull in other trends and factors and think about how things will go from here on. 

At EurocloudUK the other week (thank goodness the speakers and topics were more up-to-date than the website! - sorry, Phil, David!) it was suggested by David Terrar (@dt) that the three big trends in technology at the moment are:
  • Social
  • Mobile
  • Cloud,
and that together these form a tidal wave for change.  I think I agree with this.  These forces are strong enough to sweep away the resistance and objections of the more traditional sort of IT manager, although in more heavily-regulated environments that resistance might take longer to founder.  I can see that in maybe a couple of years time - yes, that soon - there will be little if any need to use a PC to do work.  At ISKO UK last week Steve Dale (@stephendale) showed a photo of his two year old grandson ably using an iPad.  I agree that his generation will not be pushing mice around.  Combine these truly user-friendly devices, tablet and smartphone, with Cloud (SaaS) providers of not only 'social' but all the applications that we now traditionally think of as being inherently about client/firewall etc - but much more user-friendly - and you can see where enterprise IT is headed. 

Yes, but: what's the relevance to social-in-the-enterprise?  I think the social-cloud-mobile triumvirate mentioned above is going to - eventually - result on the virtual disappearance of the membrane that separates people within organisations from those outside it.  I'm not sure though.  And there's a huge amount to be said about that, touching on issues such as trust, confidentiality, transparency.

That's probably for a later post.