The digital workplace hype cycle

Since 1995, Gartner has used the Hype Cycle Model to characterise the over-enthusiasm and subsequent disappointment that typically happens when new technologies are introduced. Every year, Gartner issue a Hype Cycle special report, showing how far along the cycle technologies have moved, helping CIOs to decide if technologies are worth investing in yet.

Their 2012 report, published recently, shows that over the past year big data, 3D printing, activity streams, Internet TV, Near Field Communication (NFC) payment, cloud computing and media tablets have moved quickly through the cycle, and are expected to reach the ‘plateau of productivity’ – the point where benefits are widely demonstrated and accepted – in just a few years.

We all hear a lot of hype about intranet and digital workplace innovations. So where do these sit on the hype cycle, and how long will it be before we really see these reach the plateau of productivity?

Here, the Intranetizens plot the digital workplace hype cycle:

The Digital Workplace Hype Cycle

Although the Hype Cycle presents technologies individually, like Gartner let’s look at these in sets or groups, because so many trends involve multiple technologies or innovations working together. Often, one or two technologies that are not quite ready can limit the true potential of what is possible. This means that it takes one “tipping point” technology to mature for the group or set to really come of age.

Digital workplace innovations fall into several broad groups, in this context:

Content and comms

Most intranets began as a means of delivering content – mostly flat web pages – and it shows. Internal comms content – internal news and campaigns – have  long since reached the point where both consumers and stakeholders understand and accept the benefits. The increased ease of production and distribution of video has meant this has moved fairly quickly along the cycle to become accepted (and expected) by users. Federated and devolved authoring models have matured, leading to improvements in the quality and timeliness of content.

By contrast, early attempts at making engagement two-way – through the use of ratings and comments – have fallen out of favour as users take their first steps with internal social networks instead.

While content delivery via an intranet is now mainstream, focusing too much of your resources on what Jane McConnell terms the ‘managed dimension’ may limit development of social or structured collaboration, which will deliver greater value for the workforce, partners and the public. See this blogpost for more on Jane’s digital workplace model.


Services such as self-service HR or IT have slipped quickly from the peak of inflated expectations (of money saved and services improved) as end users struggled with poor user experience and service levels which contrasted badly with the (usually phone-based) services they replaced.

As this journey happened in parallel with significant increases in the quality of transaction services used outside of work – shopping and banking, for example – the contrast was stark and soon forced transactional into the trough of disillusionment. The long life cycle of enterprise HR platforms (often five years or more) has meant they’ve languished in that trough for some years now.

The good news is, this is changing. As products creak towards the end of their lifecycle, they’re being replaced with platforms with an improved focus on UX. At the same time, more companies are seeing the digital workplace as heterogeneous, made up of an ecosystem of platforms and tools – bringing content, transactional and social platforms together in clean interfaces that deliver a better customer experience.

We’re not quite there – Intranetizen think it’ll be a few years before this becomes completely mainstream – but we’re well on the way.


Last year we charted the milestones on the mobile intranet roadmap. Since then – driven, again, by consumer innovation – each of these milestones have progressed a little further along the cycle. Simply being able to access your intranet remotely is falling out of favour, while more advanced mobility features – with content and functionality designed for people who are mobile, to access on any device – are still at the hype stages.

We predict it will be at least two years before mobile intranets become commonplace, and up to five years before these take full advantage of the complete range of functionality (location, camera, touch-screen) with quality of UX required to be accepted by users.

This is based on our own experiences as practitioners, and conversations we have had with those in our networks – it’s not a robust study like Gartner’s. We believe a quantitative study would be extremely useful for digital workplace specialists looking at their budgets for the next year or two, so we’ve set up a short survey with the aim of gathering data from a larger group of practitioners.

We would be grateful if you would take the time to complete our short survey. It should take around ten minutes. We’ll publish the results – and more robust analysis – at a future date. We will also make the survey data available for others to use in their own research.

Here’s that survey link again, in case you missed it the first two times.

Where would you place intranet innovations on the hype cycle? Is there anything we’ve overlooked? Let us know in the comments below.

There are 15 comments

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  1. Chuck Gose

    Curious where digital signage for employee communications would fit on the cycle. Could be included with video but it’s just one element of digital signage.

    • @sharonodea

      Interesting question. I really don’t know. On the one hand, the tech is pretty mature, and getting cheaper envy year. On the other, has it been superseded? Getting messaging to employees at their desks in all manner of formats is getting easier, cheaper, better – does this negate the need for digital signage? I guess it depends on working environment.

      Anyone else have any thoughts on this?

      • Chuck Gose

        I think it all depends on the environment. I see it every day that companies still see the value of visual messaging that exists outside of a computer screen. Companies are using signage as calls to action for employees and with hopes of reducing the use of email.

        • @sharonodea

          Oh, I agree that the DW is fast moving away from the desktop. But the signs are (imho) pointing toward that being via a phone – enabling targeted, actionable comms – rather than the sheep-dip broadcast digital signage offers. The speed with which that happens will depend on the organisation, of course, but my feeling is that digital signage is going to be marginalised by more personal, mobile and local comms.

          • Chuck Gose

            Admittedly, I had to Google “sheep dip” so I now see what you mean. Much like many predicted the death of newsletters with intranets, people are mistakenly saying that digital signage will be laid to rest with more mobile communication. I argue that the two will actually strengthen one another.

  2. @DigitalJonathan

    I have a 50+ screen network of digital signs but I think their value is ever diminishing. The core purpose, then as now, was to digitally communicate with a non-connected audience but I think personal hardware is quickly catching up. Examples:

    1. I know of a pizza restaurant in Scandinavia that have the intranet available from the tills. Swipe to read in downtimes

    2. Home access and mobile access to workplace tools is increasingly common. In a few years, it’ll be ubiquitous even when companies don’t supply the hardware direct.

    • Chuck Gose

      In many cases the value of digital signage networks is diminishing due to poor content. Any communication vehicle would suffer from it. But when it comes to making data and communication publicly visible, it’s a tough medium to beat. Companies are still hanging printed posters.

      • @sharonodea

        Good communications is about using the right medium for your message – the one that can be accessed by, and resonates with your audience. Every organisation will need to find the right mix, appropriate for their own audiences, using the right digital, printed and face-to-face channels. That definitely includes the printed poster – I even found a printed poster advertising a training course on the back of a toilet door at Google’s offices 🙂

  3. Jane McConnell

    This is a great idea and I’m really looking forward to the results.
    I have a question before I take the survey.
    You say “‘plateau of productivity’ – the point at which the benefits become widely understood and accepted.” So do you mean exactly that: understood and accepted, regardless of whether or not they are actually implemented?
    Or do you also want to include the idea of “implemented” because they are understood and accepted?
    I don’t think this distinction is splitting hairs, and that it could affect the outcome of the survey.
    Am I being too difficult on a Friday night at the end of a long week and should I go have a nice cool glass of rosé wine on my terrace in Provence? 🙂

    • @sharonodea

      Interesting question, Jane. Gartner’s Hype Cycle aims to help those buying tech insight into whether a technology is producing the benefits to be worth investing in – so the further along the cycle they are, the more widely a technology is understood and the more likely it is that implementation/purchasing will be considered, if not necessarily carried out.

      Whether or not a tech/feature/content type is implemented in any specific organisation will be a decision for the individual business, I guess, depending on their own business goals. But yes, I think moving on the cycle would imply growing levels of adoption across intranets in general – as benefits become clearer, customer demand for such grows.

      • Jane

        Thanks Sharon. I understand all that. I really wanted to clarify how you interpret the phrase
        “understood and accepted”. Maybe it’s Gartner I should ask 🙂

        How do we know that a technology is “understood and accepted”? When it’s being used, I guess. Otherwise, the “understood and accepted” is hypothetical.

        What do you think?

        • @DigitalJonathan

          I look at ‘understood and accepted’ as meaning that a technology is broadly used, its benefits are recognised by the company deploying and by the employees using it, that it’s been through iterations and is well honed.

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