Is the Messaging-as-a-Platform the future of the internal comms & collaboration platform a.k.a. Digital Workplace or Intranet?

After many discussions about the organizational challenges of the digital transformation of work and the enterprise my recent research and musings are very much focussed on the future concepts of the “digital collaboration & working platform”. As said before – we are living in some exciting times with the emergence of some new types of technology concepts that have the power to disrupt and revolutionize – once again or if not yet happened now finally – the technology stack of the digital workplace.

I am talking about the interplay of ideas like the “messaging as a platform”, “artificial intelligence” & “machine learning”, “conversational UX” and “blockchain” as decentralized way to verify transactional processes. These recent technological developments enable a new approach for the organisation of “digital work” – that is truely digital (in contrary to just digitized), supports a platform model as operating idea for the corporate organization, and has the power to engage all levels and kinds of workforce.

To explain my ideas I like to start with the challenges and problems of the existing approaches to the internal comms & collaboration platforms a.k.a. Intranet or Digital Workplace.

The ideas of the Intranet, ESN/Social Intranet and Digital Workplace are not truely digital, but only digitized!

In the past we had many discussions about the insufficiencies of the existing “supporting” platforms for a better internal communication and collaboration. Without no doubt – all the existing platforms already enable better communcation flow and interactions on individual, team and organizational level than the old, traditional, analog ways like team meetings, formal townhall discussions, informal exchanges at the watercooler or the smoker’s lounge. The advances of these existing approaches are already manifolded in the way they decouple interpersonal communication and interaction from same time and same space limits, they documentate the communication and interaction and provide findability and transparency to the information about it.

But – IMHO – the architectures of these systems also have limitations in regards to becoming the one-and-only platform for the coordination of the “digital work” within the companies that may also the explain the overall not satisfying numbers of adoption and long-term usage of those platforms. For me these limitations consist of the following:

  • Limitation in the support of transactional processes: Though many new approaches of the digital workplace are trying to integrate the transactional systems and processes within the collaboration platforms, it is still the exception to the rule that the information stored and shared on those platforms are closely related to or even in the processing line with the transactional process. In many cases it’s information about non transactional processes and knowledge based work. In the best case the information is an documentated event of the transactional process (like a customer turned in a request form) where team-members can exchange information on.
  • Limitation to conversational interactions (comments, links to resources): Furthermore the platforms are mainly about information sharing and conversations but not about coordination or decision-making. Certainly we have seen customizations of those platform where applications for decision making and process coordination have been integrated – but still it was an integration not a core feature of those platforms.
  • Limitations of the “center of the world” claim of the platforms: Many social intranet & digital workplace approach come along with the aspiration of being the center of the “digital working world” of the enterprise. This does not go very well along with the corporate reality where the transactional process worker is tightly focussed to the enterprise resource planning systems, the blue collar worker to the factory planning and production systems and the sales people to the CRM systems. Again we can see bidirectional integrations of these transactional processes with the digital workplace solutions but it’s the exception of the rule. Though the solutions are around for nearly ten years now there are no widely accepted industry standards neither for the integrations into activity streams nor vice versa for the integration of conversational exchange features in transactional solutions. Furthermore the integration capabilities of these approaches are very much driven by a top-down idea – where the head of the technology is providing integration capabilities to the users.
  • Limitations in verifiable legal and regulatory interactions/processes: As mentioned above the approaches are mainly about conversational interactions – regulatory processes with interactions that are checked to be compliant with regulatory principles are not at the heart of these system approaches but again daily routine in many businesses.

(See also the discussion about the Social Collaboration Technology Stack at CeBIT Enterprise Digital Arena)

In many ways the social and digital workplace approaches have many constraints to represent the single point of “digital working platform” for the entire corporation. Over the past the solution approaches have gradually advanced from the “editorial” Intranet 0.9 over to the “Employee Portal” to the state-of-the-art “Social Intranet” and “Digital Workplace”. On each evolutionary step the digitiziation brought more “democratization” into the corporate world – but still some areas were left out.

  • Intranet 0.9: The Intranet 0.9 represents the editorial Intranet with nicely assorted information by the internal communications department or specifically appointed editorial team. It’s a very top-down communication-driven approach.
  • Employee Portal: The Employee Portal is the decentralized version of the Intranet 0.9 – still top-down driven in terms of the ommunication flow but with decentralized authoring. The core idea of the employee portal was also the provision of a centralized approach for all important task of the daily routine of (mainly) desktop workers.
  • Social Intranet: The Social Intranet includes the idea of the social and conversational interactions between all the users. There is no centralized authoring team – but a freeform and easy-to-use publishing possibility for everybody. It’s the digitization of the corporate conversations.
  • Digital Workplace: The Digital Workplace is the somehow the hybrid of the Employee Portal and the Social Intranet with the ackknowledgement of the existence of top-down information, paired with interpersonal conversations and the integration of process information into the flow of conversation.

 

intranet-evolution

The future of the collaborative platforms is disruptive

I know the word “disruptive” is used inflated for every new thing – but when we think about a standardized and open messaging systems with conversational UX at the center of the company, intelligent decentralized bots/apps on top of this infrastructure that extracts and enhanced the interactions and conversations and automated the coordination of task and processes along with the automation of the information processing and exchange – then we are already coming close to a more effective digital work support systems.

In this environment we still work on our main departmential solutions (ERP, CRM, etc). The “messaging-as-a-platform” automated the exchange of information along the transactional processes and provides transparency to company activity. As a standardized integration platform the solution provides the power to the user to customize and personalize his/her own digital workplace with the tools, integration of internal and external solutions (aka Bring Your Own Application / BYOA) that he/she needs for his/her daily routines.

Last but not least the integration of the Blockchain technology provides a decentralized approach to verfiable interactions that enhances the automation of transactional processes.

In many ways these new technological advancements provide interesting new ideas for the digital workplace concept that still need some more exploration and discussion. I am therefore looking forward to our interesting discussion about the future technology stack at Enterprise Digital SUMMIT – but also to your comments on my views in this post.

Register now for the Enterprise Digital SUMMIT / London 2016!


  1. Winfried Felser says:

    Schöner Beitrag und sehr gute Grafik! Heute noch mit Martin Seibert diskutiert, ob Portale / Intranets nicht zu kollaborativen Plattformen werden müssen! Mit Mit Jürgen Zirke hatte ich Collaboration As a Service als Chance für IBM Connection diskutiert.

    • Bjoern Negelmann says:

      What was the answer to the “Collaboration-as-a-Service” idea?

  2. Dirk Röhrborn says:

    Vielen Dank für diesen gut durchdachten Beitrag, Björn. Auch ich sehe einen zentralen Aktivitätsstrom mit Nachrichten, insb. semantisch angereichert, als wesentlichen Bestandteil eines digitalen Arbeitsplatz im “Digital Enterprise”. Wesentlich aus meiner Sicht ist dabei, dass alle Business Applikationen ihre Nachrichten dort sicher einspeisen und der Nutzer durch (wirklich) intelligente Agenten unterstützt wird, die Routinearbeiten automatisieren und so Freiraum für Problemlösung und kreatives Gestalten lassen. Ich bleibe bei meiner Ansicht, dass es dafür zumindest Quasi-Standards für die semantische Integration von Nachrichten verschiedenster Systeme geben muss. Dahin wird es noch ein etwas längerer Weg und es wird spannend!

  3. Dirk Röhrborn says:

    Thank you for this well thought out post , Björn. I also see a central activity stream with messages, esp . semantically enriched, as an essential component of a digital workplace in an digital enterprise. Essential in my eyes is that all business applications feed their messages there safely and the user is supported by (really) intelligent agents automating routine tasks in a way that the saved time can be used for problem solutions or creativity. I stand by my view that it at least needs quasi-standards for the semantic integration of messages from different systems. It’ll be quite a long haul and it will be an exciting one!

    • Bjoern Negelmann says:

      But just bringing the business process events to the activity stream is IMHO not enough – it must be available also vice versa. As SharePoint 2016 is enabling it now in its proprietary way with Office 365 where you can work collaboratively on documents, comment ideas along side with the documents – and this is also part of the team site.