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Intranet 2.0 - web services dashboards are key

A new book called 'Transforming Your Intranet' has just been released and chapter 2, written by Kathleen Gilroy and Bill Ives, has been published for free on the Web. Chapter 2 is entitled "Preparing for Intranet 2.

A new book called 'Transforming Your Intranet' has just been released and chapter 2, written by Kathleen Gilroy and Bill Ives, has been published for free on the Web. Chapter 2 is entitled "Preparing for Intranet 2.0: how to integrate new communication technology into your intranet" and it starts off with this:

"The intranet is changing. New communication technology is making it less a one-way publishing vehicle and more a platform for two-way communication, collaboration and innovation. In this chapter, we discuss these new technologies – from RSS, to wikis to blogs – and whether you should integrate them into your intranet."

I come from a background as a Web Manager, Web services-driven dashboards will result in much more useful, usable and personalized intranets so I'm very familiar with the challenges of creating a functional Intranet in a corporation. Not least of which is to get employees to contribute to their Intranet. In my experience it's been very difficult to get office people to adopt blogs and wikis. So while I absolutely accept that the Web is a collaboration space and a two-way communications medium - principles stated at the beginning of the chapter - the real challenge is to get generally overworked employees to actually use the Intranet. That said, I think the nascent world of web services and personalized start pages (maybe dashboards is a better term to use in the enterprise setting) has a lot to offer corporations.

ZDNet's Dion Hinchcliffe is quoted in the chapter, saying that intranets will "become more exclusive and user-specific". I very much agree with that and in fact the following description could pretty much describe the dashboard vision:

"Some intranets – those created for a company board of directors for example – will have a very small audience. Some will be larger – one food company runs an intranet for farmers in India. They access the site to receive commodity prices, weather forecasts, farm management advice and to sell their crops. Two million farmers use it daily and the company’s competitors are being forced to build similar tools."

The key is to deliver to each audience the information and services (which will be collaborative and two-way) that they need to do their jobs. So the Marketing and Sales team for example gets the latest market intelligence, sales data (e.g. from salesforce.com), niche news, their email, spreadsheets, etc. You could even make it more granular - so that sales managers get the more high-level information they need, whereas sales people on the road get jobs data delivered via mobile devices. If anything defines Intranet 2.0, it's that it'll more resemble a web services-driven dashboard - than a wiki or blog.

I also think some of the more innovative Web Office tools that I've been profiling here - such as Dabble DB, Jotspot Tracker, Zimbra, ZohoCreator - will be utilized a lot on Intranets over the coming years. I won't repeat my previous posts, but my main point is that those kinds of apps offer unique, hybrid, more collaborative functionality - not found in Microsoft Excel or even Google Spreadsheet. 

Having said all that, Gilroy and Ives provide an excellent primer on RSS, blogs and wikis for corporations. They show how those tools can be used to increase user participation and create content mashups. And those are compelling features of a modern intranet, for example for knowledge management purposes. But the real power of 'intranet 2.0' I believe is the web services-driven dashboard vision, where the Intranet becomes a much more useful, usable and personalized resource. The key is the Intranet must serve the needs of the employees, such that they simply have to use it day in and day out - in order to do their jobs.