The image of everyone in a company sitting at their desks in various branches of the corporate office isn’t exactly quaint just yet. But workers are already spread out and moving around enough to make it necessary to equip them with technology for keeping connected from afar. Even within the office walls, meanwhile, the old practice of accessing your company’s information through an internet browser like Chrome or Firefox is gradually being supplanted by the use of targeted apps on mobile devices. The appeal of such apps is that they take you right to what you’re looking for and help you do exactly what you’re trying to do in as few steps as possible. The question becomes, as the technology behind apps advances, won’t they soon be able to do everything a corporate intranet can do? And, when that happens, who’s ever going to sign in to use the company’s dashboard?
What a Corporate Intranet Does
The purpose of an intranet is to keep employees connected, both to each other and to the company information they need. It allows people within the company to communicate with each other, serves as a repository for information, and provides a platform for collaborating on documents. One of the main players in the enterprise intranet market is Microsoft, whose platform SharePoint is used in some way by three quarters of Fortune 500 companies.
Another thing a lot of companies do with platforms like SharePoint is set up portals and dashboards for all their workers. These are supposed to be a digital version of an old watercooler, where everyone congregates to share news, and business leaders use them to strengthen their brand internally while promoting the corporate culture. The problem is that signing in to these portals and navigating with these dashboards often entails taking an indirect and twisting route to what you’re looking for.
What Mobile Apps Can Do
Led by pioneers like Google, the market for document collaboration apps has pushed rapidly into what was formerly the domain of old-fashioned intranet platforms. The suite of apps offered through Google for Work is basically comprised of versions of old Microsoft tools like Word and PowerPoint (and Google Slides is actually easier to use than PowerPoint) that allow you to work on shared files stored in the cloud. And, while Google for Work is still popular among smaller businesses (and in the education sector), Microsoft’s push into the cloud over the last few years has allowed them to capitalize on their established hold in the enterprise market.
Cloud software and storage services like OneDrive, SharePoint Online, and Office 365 are still accessed primarily through browsers, but you can already use many of them with mobile apps. For instance, the social sharing platform Yammer has a mobile version that preserves all the main functions of the browser versions (think Facebook on desktop vs Facebook on mobile). The Office 365 tools—Word, Excel, PowerPoint—are also already available as apps.
What this means is that if you want to work with a few of your colleagues on a Word document, you can save it in OneDrive, and then you can all work on it simultaneously on mobile devices, without ever having to sign in to your company’s on-site SharePoint platform. (There isn’t yet an app version of Delve, the interface that lets you peak in on what everyone’s working on and what information most likely has special interest for you—but we have to assume there will be soon.)
What Will Happen to Intranets
The basic idea of hosting a digital gathering place for workers on a bunch of on-site servers will probably be completely obsolete in a few years. But platforms like SharePoint will still be playing a role long into the future. The thing is, SharePoint is so complex that implementations are usually time-consuming, and if they’re done improperly lead to low adoption. Microsoft’s solution to this issue is to continue using SharePoint for a lot of back-end functions while creating front-ends that resemble other popular platform interfaces. Yammer, for instance, looks a lot like Facebook, and Delve looks a lot like Pinterest. So you get robust functionality with intuitive controls.
Will we all be working on some type of mobile device connected to the cloud eventually? Personally, I still like my good-size monitor and my ergonomic keyboard. But what will almost certainly happen is that any business processes that entail unnecessary steps will be pared down, and targeted apps seem the most direct route your data.