Insights

Defining the damn thing: digital transformation, digital workplace and intranet

September 20, 2016

Is an intranet a digital workplace? Does the act of transitioning to a digital workplace equate to digital transformation? These terms, while sometimes uttered in the same breath, don’t cleanly align. This week, we clarify the definitions surrounding digital work today.

For well over a decade, the User Experience (UX) and Information Architecture (IA) communities wrestled with a painful existential debate they called “Defining the Damn Thing” or DTDT.  The argument was dredged up at every conference.  Opinions raged on mailing lists, blogs and Twitter.  Passionate views about the meaning of information architecture, the nature of user experience design, the role of practitioners within projects and companies, even the title adopted when attempting to do the work were torturously hashed out.

Some serious sense-making occurred during those formative years.  It’s not difficult to understand why:  the field was still in its relative infancy, it was evolving at breakneck pace and faced with momentous demand. Not unlike a former teen pop idol coming to grips with their adult identity the industry was always somewhere between train wreck and genius flailing publicly as we found ourselves.

The dust has pretty much settled in the digital design arena.  I heard that there was no mention of DTDT at the last IA Summit (and that was met with some degree of rejoicing.)  IDEO proclaimed that digital experiences have reached their “peak design moment” – arguing that the practice has become not just well-understood, but commoditized.

That tingly feeling of DTDT again

Things have seemingly moved a bit slower within the enterprise.  Of course, digital systems have been a part of the way we work for decades – but the understanding of the true impact of digital on the way we approach work is really only beginning to hit home.  The tingly feeling of DTDT – a sense that the community was shaping a practice that would change software, change business and maybe change the world – is also present in conversations about the changing nature of work today.

IDC predicted that 2016 would be the year digital transformation goes mainstream.  In a lecture to the London School of Economics entitled, Postcapitalism for Martians, Paul Mason artfully illustrated a shift towards a decentralized, highly networked economy: one where the composition and importance of organizations erodes and labour is atomized. Deloitte’s 2016 Human Capital Trends report underscored that organizational design topped the agenda of senior executives and HR leaders worldwide – as many looked towards more nimble forms of the organization.

At Valtech, we’re still exploring the nature and meaning of these fundamental shifts.  In the process, we’ve been flung into our own DTDT loop.  Here’s where we currently land on key concepts:

Definition of digital transformation

The process of adopting new business models, organization designs, work practices and technologies with the intent of achieving network effects, creating greater responsiveness to customer needs and automating repeatable processes.

Definition of digital workplace

A multi-channel virtual space where people connect, communicate, learn, develop shared vision, and shape the products of work.  A digital workplace may blur beyond the boundaries of a traditional company incorporating a variety of participants and contributors. At its best, the digital workplace augments human capabilities while at work – bridging physical distances, delivering insights and assistance in context of work being undertaken, and intelligently discerning signal from the noise of varied inputs.  Digital workplace may be comprised of many systems, intelligent agents and bots – a hub of both human and computer-based activity.

Definition of intranet

An intranet is a private network accessible only to an organization’s staff. This purist definition, however has been distorted.  To many, the intranet has come to be understood as a website that supports organizational communications, publication, collaboration, document management, search and provides a key entry point into various organizational systems.

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