Articles, Digital Workplaces, Intranet 4.0

Another Walk in the Digital Workplace Park – 8th Annual Intra.NET Reloaded, Berlin 2019

One of Europe’s longest running major events on intranet and the digital workplace, Intra.NET Reloaded just wrapped up its 8th annual summit in Berlin recently. Packing a week’s worth of content into just over 2 days and with multiple streams, it’s definitely an event you want to bring an extra colleague or two along for. However, as the scope of the modern workplace continues to grow, this conference is always a great place to get oriented and informed, while exchanging real world experiences with others.

Even though there’s never a shortage of tech topics to check out or buzzwords to chase, it’s always interesting to see how the industry is growing up a little more each year. Like marking your height in the kitchen doorframe as a child, each Intra.NET Reloaded gives a bit of insight into the state of the modern digital workplace and what trends are shaping its journey. With some of the most recent growth-spurts, like a shift of focus from tech to people, it has certainly reached its unruly adolescence.

Growing Pains

With people and culture firmly in the spotlight, it’s topics like adoption and moreover acceptance that have everyone’s attention. Afterall, the success of an intranet or a DWP is only possible if it is used by the people it was built for.

“Nobody cares about the intranet.”
Calum Haswell, EMEA Intranet Manager White & Case LLP

The realization that an intranet may not be attractive in and of itself, but instead must be sold or sell itself to its audience, has led to a lot of attention on luring employees into deeper interaction and may be fueling the popularity of “social” mechanisms or even gamification. Ironic, since one of the primary selling points of a digital workplace, at least during the budget phase, is that it’s supposed to make the overall workplace more attractive. However, the overall understanding of attractiveness is only changing slowly. It still has a ways before everyone has moved beyond symptom fighting to more strategic consideration of organizational mechanics.

“Disrupt or be disrupted!”
Stefan Waalderbos – Microsoft Technology Lead EMEA @ Insight
Victor Jan Leurs – General Manager Insight Digital Workspace EMEA @ Insight

Change is happening, whether we accept it or not. According to Insight, in their presentation on Digital DNA Transformation, “46% of senior leaders are unwilling to disrupt their existing businesses”. Ok, maybe the phrasing here is a bit awkward, because leaders generally don’t want to disrupt their businesses. However, what I think they meant to say is, just under half of senior business leaders are in denial about change. The tragedy here, it’s not as simple as just ‘you snooze you lose’. It’s about embracing change and consciously deciding to dedicate resources towards managing change and incorporating it into the standard strategy and your company’s modus operandi.

“Everyone proclaims a culture of proper failing, only few succeed.”
Martin Wilckens -HR Digital & Innovation @ Deutsche Telekom

Where negative buzzwords like disruption are getting a positive spin now, ‘failure culture’ is another one that has become quite popular. Unfortunately, all too many embrace the ‘forgiveness vibe’ and overlook the other side of the idea, which is trial and error learning. Martin Wilckens @ Deutsche Telekom talked about this and how accepting failures is a part of experimentation, an integral part of development and learning. In particular, he even went as far as considering “unlearning” as a part of the process, when trusted knowledge or conventions become invalid. Although many are attracted to this kind of thinking, it’s far more difficult to encourage it in reality. In the end, you actually have to change everyone’s, in particular leadership, attitudes towards risk.

“People and organizations as temporary life companions.”
Martin Wilckens -HR Digital & Innovation @ Deutsche Telekom

While it sounds a bit frightening, Wilckens prognosis of “Episodic Loyalty” may be an uncomfortable truth that is also mirrored by a growing ‘gig-economy’. The idea is that ‘who we work with’ is becoming more and more temporary and is far less based on classical geographic or departmental factors. It’s less about ‘loyalty’ per say, than it is about source and longevity. Just the right resources at just the right time, for only as long as is necessary. After all, we saw this happen to logistics and services, why not with employees as well? How this will affect ‘culture’ is yet to be seen, but it will most likely make giving references more interesting in the future.

Signs of Growth

Again at this year’s summit, it seems as though perspectives are still maturing nicely, as ever more fundamental organizational aspects are now being considered in digital workplace initiatives. The shallow enabling feature peddlers are having to give way to organizational strategy, change management and the balancing people + culture, process and technology.

– The connected employee –

While there is always a lot of talk about enabling collaboration and connected employees, not many really include everyone. Realizing that it’s not only “Desktop Workers” should be connected and that mobility could be the answer was illustrated nicely by Julia Dudenko, IT Program Manager and Simon Püttman, Digital Media Manager @ DHL in their presentation of their myNet Connect.

Presentation “myNet Connect” Julia Dudenko, IT Program Manager & Simon Püttman, Digital Media Manager @ DHL

– Understanding Collaboration –

Amongst the most popular and at the same time misused terms surrounding the modern digital workplace is ‘collaboration’. While everyone says the word, few can describe what exactly it’s supposed to mean and why we are so interested in it. Which is where it’s quite refreshing to see someone start to analyze what this means to their organization. In their presentation on “Transforming How We Collaborate”, Sian Jones and her colleague Ken Bourn @ Bank of England illustrated how you can break down not only what tools you are using to work together but how they manifest culturally.

Presentation Sian Jones – Head of Internal Communications & Ken Bourn – Head of Digital Workplace @ Bank of England

– Promoting Cultural Change –

“We are shaping a new communications experience for employees, from programmatic to participatory”
Nadia Dupont – Philip-Morris-International (PMI)

Communications have long since been a primary driver of intranets in particular. Although much has been attempted here in the past, pursuing dialogue in earnest and enabling it in context could be a powerful approach. Nadia Dupont @ PMI put it best in her talk, “One-way communications don’t reach the head and the heart. So we are developing spaces for dialogue”. These are brave steps that require a fundamental change in culture and the way people work together.

“How we develop the community mindset, online and offline”
Ernesto Izquierdo –  Global Community Manager – Change Adviser @  International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

As Ernesto Izquierdo from the ICRC explained in his talk on “engagement”, modernizing the workplace requires a change toward a “community mindset” and managing the expectations of the workforce. The fact is, a modern way of working requires a “networking mindset”, which can be a real challenge for more traditional organizations. That means changing the organization. A sobering notion, that digital transformation must aim beyond the current workplace and plan for and the transition to a future one.

Things to look into

Some interesting trends and things that peeked my interest this year were more hybrid environment thinking, video becoming a mainstream content and of course Bots/AI.

– Systems Integration –

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the modern workplace we inhabit is a rich ecosystem of culture, processes and technology.  However, the one stop shop/single solution mania has often misled organizations to focus on individual systems, one at a time. While those interested in the DWP focus primarily on intranet, classical systems like ERP or document management are treated as if they were their own paradigms. Slowly but surely, particularly intranet-centric solution providers are focusing ever more on integration of services. You use SalesForce, how about SAP, Service Now…? Yeah, we can and have integrated that! So when you’re in discussions with providers, ask them how they approach integration and you may be surprised how much more you can get.


– Video as Mainstream Content –

Video has long been the kind of content that has lived on the fringes and was restricted to those who had the budget to invest in professional moviemaking talent. To make matters worse, video is always awkward and difficult to manage as digital content verses the text/image/document variety, or should I say was? While I never thought I would be admitting it, I think even that frontier has now been conquered.

The thing is, video always needed too many things to just make it stream/watchable. Then you had to manually deal with all the meta-data, so it could be found and that after going through the effort of making it in the first place. Today, solutions like Kaltura, have made video just as manageable as any other content. Mixed with the fact that cameras are now omnipresent on all devices and these now have the quality of sound/video that you need, it’s no longer a stretch to make a short video on the fly. So yeah, video…there’s an app for that.


– Bots & AI –

So, it looks like the AI apocalypse may still need a bit more time. No killer robots or ones that steal our jobs, unless you’re a taxi driver or work on a support hotline. While I’m not going to get onto the self-driving cars topic here, bots are getting ever more interesting. Although not all AI assistants can make phone calls and reservations for us like google, “yet”, there’s a lot going on here that’s worth paying attention to. It’s mainly the humanization of the technological interface that’s changing the way we will interact with technology in the future and impacting the way we will work.

Bots are appearing as standard parts of office applications already. Did you ever talk to the bot ins Skype or how about the new one in Teams? If you haven’t, you really should, it won’t bite. While not perfect, they have now reached the point that they can aggregate data and make logical connections and, more often than not, give you valuable answers. What organizations are beginning to discover, is that bots are a great alternative to the traditional structured interface. In addition, it helps to cover those scenarios that couldn’t always been foreseen, by allowing you to use natural language to interact with the system. Unfortunately, not all have realized that bots are only as good as the data they hold and the quality with which it was structured. If your information architecture is a mess, your bot will be too!

There is another side to the AI revolution that gets less attention, but is just as exiting, if not more. In the realm of analytics, pattern-recognition and machine learning, there’s a lot going on right now. The simplest examples of this can been seen in analysis, where heuristic algorithms can spot patterns in data or behavior and flag these as statistically relevant, then notify their masters. Unfortunately, these haven’t really dominated center stage keynotes yet. However, if you run into the right people, while walking the halls of the Kosmos at an Intra.NET Reloaded, you may have some great discussions on the side lines.

We are coming closer and closer to self- managing and even scaling systems. Imagine a system that recognizes bottlenecks in a workflow process, compares it to similar ones and then makes the appropriate adjustments to improve the flow. All you realize when your using the system is continuous improvements, many of which didn’t have to be reported in the first place. If you have complicated processes and are looking for relief, your answer may be on its way.

In short...

Things are moving right along and the approach towards a modern digital workplace is getting a bit more mature each year. Understanding has grown and the focus is now more on balancing/optimizing business’s people + culture, processes and technology. While there will always be a bit of a feature fest with technology, the new focus on organizational impact and active cultural change is paving the way to greater successes and some delivery on those promises of modern working.

Another great walk in the digital and modern workplace park at Intra.NET Reloaded Berlin 2019. Once again, the we.CONECT team did a fantastic job and have even been nominated for the “Conference awards 2019” in the category Best Conference Series.

Finally, a heartfelt congratulations to all this year’s winners of the Intra.NET Reloaded Awards 2019.

About the author:

Christian Heraty is a digital strategy consultant, focusing on the modern workplace and digital workplace technologies, its processes and its people. With over 20 years of experience in enterprise digital, he has advised organizations across a broad range of industries in the potential of digital transformation, while identifying appropriate solutions and developing strategies to meet their specific business needs. He is a managing partner of GEODESIC, where he is a champion of the modern workplace.