I’ve been working on corporate intranets for over a decade at my company so I’m pretty much a veteran in this space. Over the years, I’ve brought about many changes to our site and following a well-trodden roadmap from a rather dull communication platform to a site that is now better characterised as a digital workplace.
Development for the platform not for the professionals
What’s been equally interesting and frustrating is that for all the clear development in the platform, there has not been as much development in my role. In conversation recently with a network of intranet folks, it’s clear that my situation is not unusual. Intranets have become digital workplaces, but intranet leaders have not universally become digital workplace staff.
So who is managing this stuff at a senior level? Given its importance, it seems strange that the people responsible for delivering these tools are rarely very senior. Where are the Digital Workplace Directors? Google it: I’ve found two or three and the phrase returns just over 10 results globally (although I expect this post will add to that total in due course!)
Time to invest in the people and platform
I think there are a few reasons for this anomaly. Firstly, the constituent parts of the digital workplace — HR, IT and Communications generally — are already well represented in senior leadership and often hold individual c-level office. Is there a need for senior leadership of the sum of the parts? I’d argue yes: it requires a detailed understanding of technology capabilities, of the business strategy, of design, of UI, UX, of platforms, CMS, knowledge management, gamification and of communications. It requires diplomacy, program leadership and first-class communication skills. You’ll need a visionary but someone grounded in reality of what’s possible. You’ll need someone to deliver what’s needed to support the day-to-day needs of employees whilst balancing the push from the c-level HR, Communications and IT partners.
Secondly, I don’t believe that businesses see the digital workplace as a point of commercial differentiation. It’s just the intranet, right? Wrong. It’s the beating heart of enterprise communication, collaboration and transaction activity. It adds value every working minute – switch it off for a few hours and see. But until this value is recognised, it seems unlikely that a business would support it directly with staff. We don’t help ourselves. If we continue to talk about it as the intranet (with it’s old communication portal connotations), we cannot expect others to wake up to the reality of the platform.
Professionalise the profession
We need to professionalise this profession. Those folks working in digital workplace come to it from all manner of other recognised professions, many of which have professional qualifications available and supportive professional bodies. You can be a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations for communications, of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Directors for HR of maybe of the British Computing Society, the chartered body for IT professionals.
We need an Institute of Digital Workplace Professionals so those working in this area are properly recognised inside and outside their businesses. That’s my aim: professionalise the profession. Drop me line or comment if you’re behind this plan.