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Communicators and digital workplaces: An IABC World Conference recap

I’ve just returned from the International Association of Business Communicators World Conference in New Orleans. Communicators have such a complex and evolving role. The conference did a nice job balancing the current perspective on the trends, shifts, and demands of both internal and external communications.

With the recent launch of our Go Intranet Accelerator, we felt the conference would be a great place to connect with organizational leaders who are trying to communicate within the new world of work, but also doing more with less. A colleague and I also had the chance to present on the trends Habanero is noticing in the intranet space.

Through conversations at our booth and at our presentation we noticed some of these common themes:

Dissatisfaction with the status quo

So many communicators were unhappy with the current state of their intranet. Common comments included too little investment, problems with SharePoint usability or the usability of their intranet in general, lack of insight about what was working and what wasn’t, troubles reaching field workers, and lots of challenges with low adoption. It was encouraging to see much of the conference topics focus on internal communications and a range of digital workplace topics—covering everything from social to chatbots to the future of the digital workplace. There is hope!

SharePoint is the most common intranet platform

When we presented to a room of about 60 people, we asked how many of the intranets in the room were currently running on SharePoint. Nearly 90 per cent of participants raised their hand. This was echoed again at our booth conversations where SharePoint was the dominant current solution.

While it’s encouraging that nine out of 10 Nielsen Norman Intranet Design Awards went to SharePoint-based intranets, the majority of the people I talked to seem to not like SharePoint. Usability, lack of IT support, poor planning, and too many customizations were cited as some of the most common challenges. Igloo Software, Interact Intranet, and a series of other intranet-like technologies were presented and showcased at the conference as SharePoint alternatives, so it will be interesting to see how the next few years pan out for SharePoint-based intranets.

Communicators and IT don’t see eye to eye

Lastly, communicators and IT departments don’t seem to see eye to eye. The common conversations here included: lack of a holistic strategy (including lack of integration with team sites/collaboration areas and corporate news), complaints about how IT did not engage the communication department when rolling out intranet platforms, and surprisingly little evidence showing communicators and IT were working together on the future of their digital workplaces. Personally, I think this collaboration is critical to both the future of IT and communications, so I hope to see this area improve as more and more organizations adopt a digital agenda.

While many of the conversations were disheartening, there seemed to be a surprising level of optimism about the future. People were excited to talk about the latest and greatest, and while there were a few companies that lamented they “will never go to the cloud,” “will never be mobile,” or “will never spend money on communications” the majority of people I talked to had a sense that change was on the horizon. It helps when organizations such as the IABC can create a forum for the positive, what’s working stories in the community.