The pick-‘n-mix app intranet

PicknMix-JellyBeansLong ago, our intranet was custom-built because there was no intranet software available. We always spent a lot of time integrating our third-party applications nicely into the intranet. Any application, e.g. travel booking or ordering office supplies, was built with the same user interface and style as our intranet, and of course they were all single-sign-on!

Later, budget restrictions, the availability of intranet platforms, our management’s decision to buy rather than make, as well as the rise of internet-enabled third-party applications resulted in a mish-mash of different color schemes, user interfaces and password requirements on our intranet. I hated the fact that our employees could not move frictionless from one application to another. But I learned to be happy with small things like seeing our company logo on the travel booking system. 🙂
I strongly believed that a consistent user interface is a prerequisite for an effective digital workplace.

Is consistency in design and user interface still relevant now?
That belief has been shaken recently by an intranet introduction video (unfortunately it has been deleted) where the intranet was replaced by a collection of different apps (Office suite tools, general apps and custom intranet apps) on the desktop in a Windows 8 tile view. The intranet as an integrated website no longer existed.

Although I was shocked at first, I now think this is not such a strange idea. In our private life we are managing many different apps with different interfaces without thinking. We love spending time collecting them on our devices, moving them around, updating them and learning different interfaces, because we want or need to use them. With the rise of Bring-Your-Own-Everything, is designing your own workplace not a logical next step?

What did I see in that video?
I have tried to recreate the video’s concept.  Since I know Microsoft Office suite and SharePoint best, I have used those elements, but of course this concept works with any Office and intranet suite.

At the moment, we generally make these big blocks of functionality available to our (new) employees.

New employee desktop
1. This is the software on the desktop for a new employee.

Over time, most employees adjust that by adding individual links to Office and other tools to their desktop or task bar.

This is the workplace that the video showed. All suites and the intranet have been broken up into building blocks to create a personal digital workplace, in this case for a Sales-type role.

The new toolset as seen in the video.
2. This is what I saw on the video – a selection of all kinds of specific tools, without any mention of the word “intranet”.

What are the implications of this concept?
I think this is a plausible direction, but it raises many questions:

  • If it is pick-‘n-mix, will some apps be mandatory or will you leave it to the employee? Or will you have mandatory or recommended sets for different roles within the organization?
  • Will people have the same patience to create their own start page and learn different tools in the work environment as they have in their private life?
  • Will more employees spend effort in personalizing their start page than the reported 5% that has ever personalized their intranet homepage?
  • Who will be responsible for management and governance? Will it be one role or will every department have responsibility for their own role apps? Or a mix?
  • Will the responsible have any influence on a consistent user interface for internal and external apps? Or will they only be responsible for a set of design standards that every department will have to stick to?
  • Will  “consistent design and user interface” still matter, or is it sufficient that apps adhere to common usability and accessibility standards? (And what would those standards be?)
  • Will the responsible brand apps and if yes, which ones? (after all, we all love email and spreadsheets, and nobody has ever branded those)
  • Will it mean that the employee can pick-‘n-mix another set of apps for their mobile or tablet device, if that works better for them?

What do you think?
I am building this theory on the basis of one deleted video, so I may be completely off the mark. 🙂  On the other hand, it may as well be a plausible and tangible example of a digital workplace of the near future. I certainly have never seen something like figure 2 in real life yet, and I am very curious if this will ever happen. Have you seen anything like it, or are you working on something like this? Or do you think this will take a different direction altogether? Please share!

Image courtesy of Bill Longshaw at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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2 thoughts on “The pick-‘n-mix app intranet

  1. Samuel Driessen December 11, 2014 / 4:38 pm

    Nice post, Ellen. I just published a post about personalization and intranets. I don’t think this is theoretical at all. Based on the work I do I find intranets/digital workplaces are going to be personalized by default.
    I do think that some of the content/functionality will be mandatory. For instance, every company want at least the corporate news to be pushed to all. (I don’t think this will be like this forever, by the way.). Furthermore I think there will always be some overall branding to the widgets or apps to communicate the brand identity to all and to make it clear employees are using a corporate platform. Furthermore, as you know, information security is a big issue for organizations and I’m sure this is not going to change. So, I don’t see mid-size and large organizations allowing employees to pick and use their own apps for information sharing, e.g. Dropbox. Furthermore this would limit knowledge sharing in the organization as well.

    • Ellen van Aken December 14, 2014 / 11:33 am

      Thanks, Samuel! I am glad to learn this is not entirely fictional and that others are seeing this too (except the one other video in my next post). It will be interesting to see how this concept will evolve.

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