The Intranet has evolved from a communication tool used predominantly by HR to circulate internal company memos and the like to a collaboration space where employees can share ideas, content and skills, writes PETER REID of Intervate.
The word ‘intranet’ tends to bring to mind boring internal communications sites, used mainly by HR and marketing to disseminate documents and newsletters. This traditionally push strategy has relegated intranets to the back burner for many organisations. However, as the world and the workplace has become increasingly social, the intranet is undergoing an evolution into a collaboration space for the sharing of content, ideas and skills. The intranet of the future will change the way people use the tool, focusing on design and the user experience (UX), and creating an almost ‘app-like’ interface that engages employees through interaction and interactivity.
In order to cater to the needs of a changing workforce, the way intranets are used needs to change as well. Employees today demand a rich user experience that enables them to communicate, collaborate, share ideas, gain access to expert skills and more. This is a complete shift from the push strategy of the traditional intranet to a pull strategy, creating an intranet that makes people want to use it. The focus of the intranet of the future needs to be the user, not the CEO, and thus the design and the user experience are of the utmost importance. Departmental intranets have also become out-dated – the intranet should be a centralised portal for all internal organisational communications. Ultimately, the intranet should be a self-service portal that provides convenience for users, allowing them to log time, apply for leave, find relevant corporate information, collaborate on tasks and more.
In future, the intranet will need to cater to the requirements of Gen Y and Millennial users – those who have grown up using sophisticated mobile and social communications tools. This shift is driven by a number of different factors, including increasing consumerisation and the demand for a consistent experience on personal and work-related devices. Ultimately, users want access to a friendly experience, not simply a functional one, which not only requires a focus on UX, but also a deep understanding of the user and their needs, wants and requirements.
One of the biggest evolutions of the intranet is the increase in social features, such as mobile chat and instant messaging services. Social tools such as tagging, sharing and liking content are part of creating the user experience, and are fast becoming standard features in many business applications. The intranet should be no different. In addition, mobility needs to be supported through responsive design and a ‘mobile first’ development ethos, while ensuring secure access from various end-point devices.
As previously mentioned, the intranet of the future needs to have an emphasis on design and UX. The key toward ensuring user adoption of intranets is to make the interface and the experience familiar – incorporating social elements, elements of the web, and the ease of use and intuitive functionality of apps are all essential. This should include more sophisticated search and filtering. Consumers are used to the Google interface, and intranet search should provide similar functionality to enable users to find the content they require quickly and easily.
Intranets need to be consumer focused, and the province of the users themselves. Employees, and not heads of department, should dictate the nature of the content and the future strategy of the intranet. The more social and interactive the intranet, the more likely it is to capture end users and their thoughts and result in engaged employees. This concept of ideation enables crowdsourcing of ideas from employees, which is the springboard for driving innovation. Intranets should also include functionality for managing the innovation pipeline, allowing people to rank and endorse ideas, and trace their progress through the system.
Ensuring user adoption is as simple and as complicated as creating the right experience for users. If an intranet is designed correctly from a UX perspective, employees will enjoy using it. Buy-in and adoption rates will be higher, which increases opportunities for engaging and interacting with employees. A well-executed intranet gains loyalty from employees, helps to raise levels of employee satisfaction and trust, and helps to create a culture of innovation if driven by a strong leader.
An end-user focus is critical in achieving this, and throughout the process of building an intranet it is necessary to involve as diverse a user group as possible. This will ensure that their ideas and wants are taken into account, and creates a sense of ownership and involvement once the product is rolled out. An agile approach is also essential. The intranet needs to be a work in progress, an evolving product, which, like apps, is constantly maintained and updated. This all ties back to the UX, which is impossible to get right without an intimate understanding of the user.
The success of an intranet can be judged by how happy people are to use it, whether it empowers them to do their jobs better or faster, whether they are saving time, or can connect with people to enable processes to be completed faster. Functionality should be balanced with design, but ultimately if one aspect needs to be scaled back it should always be functionality. Without good design, users will not use the tool, however additional functionality can always be developed and added at a later date.
The intranet should, at the end of the day, fit the way employees work, deliver what employees want and like, and be tailored to meeting their needs and the maturity of the organisation. The intranet should give employees a tool that makes their lives and their jobs easier. A successful intranet is not an implemented one, but an adopted one that employees enjoy using.
* Peter Reid, SharePoint Solutions Head at Intervate, T-Systems company
Money talks and electronic gaming evolves
Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.
The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.
The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games.
It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.
MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.
“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”
New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.
“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”
Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.
Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.
This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.
What is blockchain?
A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.
A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.
Each block stores:
– A number of valid records or transactions.
– Information referring to that block.
– A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.
Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.
As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.
How is blockchain so secure?
Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.
Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.
In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.
What else can blockchain be used for?
Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.
Use of blockchain in healthcare
Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.
Use of blockchain for documents
Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.
Other blockchain uses
This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.
Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.
Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.