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By James Mullan


Abstract:

It seems that you can’t move these days without seeing references to "digital workplaces" or "future workplaces". The question is what is a "digital workplace" and how does it differ from a traditional intranet?


Item:

It seems that you can’t move these days without seeing references to "digital workplaces" or "future workplaces". The question is what is a "digital workplace" and how does it differ from a traditional intranet?

The obvious place to look for an answer is the internet and this is what I found on wikipedia.

"A digital workplace is where work is what you do, not where you go to. While your physical workplace is your cubicle or desk in the office or at home, your digital workplace is the total of the computer applications that you work with. Your digital workplace can be your company's intranet, the set of apps on your iPad, or the total of downloaded software and cloud applications on your notebook."

I don't think this definition does the term "digital workplace" justice, so I'd like to suggest the following supplements to it. A digital workplace allows you to work wherever or whenever you like. Be that at home, in your own or anyone else’s office, on the train, ultimately a digital workplace lets you decide where and how you want to work.

A digital workplace also allows you to undertake the same work at home as you would do in the office. This could be booking a meeting room, checking an individual’s contacts details, searching for information or reading the latest news. A digital workplace should also allow you to share information easily as individuals who work for the same company might not see each other very often, so they need tools that enable conversations and collaboration. A digital workplace should also allow you to use any device, a laptop, your PC, a Smartphone or a tablet, and each device should be adequately supported.

What part does an intranet play?

Intranets are well established and well used within many organisations. A typical intranet will have corporate news and documents, including policies, procedures, manuals and other guidance. Publishing will normally be via a content management system or bespoke content editing tool and it may be that there is a decentralised publishing process in place. However a digital workplace will also have:

  • Collaboration tools e.g. blogs, wikis, podcasts
  • Microblogging tools e.g. Yammer, Twitter
  • Knowledge sharing/building e.g. team wikis and share workspaces
  • Applications/tools e.g. HR tools, online training, sales performance
  • Processes e.g. approving decisions, compliance checks.

Now you could argue that many out-of- the-box intranets and some content management tools will offer some if not all of this functionality, so why can’t we just call the "digital workplace" the intranet? I believe to some degree we can. Intranets have been the "glue" that has drawn together other applications for many years and this will continue, as will the idea of intranets acting as a layer below which sits all the other digital workplace tools.

There's also the question of whether a "digital workplace" is just a fancy way of describing a social intranet. A "digital workplace" will incorporate many tools that contain social elements or enable social networking. Increasingly intranets, which just used to be places where documents were published, are now becoming more social. For example, on modern intranets all content that is published belongs to an individual, their details will link to their staff profile, which might contain more information about them, other pages they've published, pages they've liked and their latest status update.

So is a "digital workplace" just another way of describing an intranet? The answer is probably not. Ultimately a digital workplace is a complex combination of a number of tools that put people, and the work they want to do, where they want to do it at the heart of things. Sadly some intranets aren't quite up to scratch. But that doesn't mean they can’t be and, for intranet professionals, this means that there are some exciting times ahead.

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James Mullan has worked in the legal sector since 2001. He is an advocate of social media tools and has been talking about how these tools can be used by information professionals and organisations since 2005. James is a Past President of BIALL and in 2009 won the Wildy-BIALL Law Librarian of the year award for his use of social media tools. Outside of work James is a keen runner and maintains his own blog called "The Running Librarian". You can follow James on Twitter @jamesmullan6 or friend him on Facebook.

James can be reached at james.mullan@freepint.com

More articles by James Mullan »


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