Forrester recently released a report on What’s Holding Back Your Intranet? by Tim Waters with Matthew Brown and Sara Burnes. They were kind to share a copy with me. They found that 93% of employee respondents said they use an intranet or company portal (Forrester uses the terms interchangeably) at least weekly, and more than half reported daily use. However, they found that these intranets were mostly accessed for basic functions such as company directory, benefits information, and payroll. Access to collaborative tools, what some might called an enterprise 2.0 capability was ranked fourteenth.
At the same time studies have shown that a highly functional intranet can provide great value. A 2009 study at BT found that every £1 invested in the intranet produced £20 in exploited value. This certainly is consistent with my experience implementing such system in the late 90s. Despite this firms are underutilizing their intranets. They found several reasons.
First these intranets are hard to use. Where is an AJAX interface when we need it? In fact, Forrester reports, “Most enterprises at least try to offer usable online experiences to their prospects and customers — but continue to inflict user-hostile internal systems upon their employees.” Nothing like a cobbler’s children syndrome.
They also found that there are few incentives to change established work habits that night increase productive usage. Since It is often in charge of the intranet they think in terms of IT-centric intranet teams such as reduced storage costs rather that helping workers do their job better. IT is not usually measured on this. Most current intranets also do not reflect and support the specific roles and responsibilities of their users. The one size fits all approach is consistent with an IT centric intranet as it is easier and cheaper to maintain.
Forrester wrote that the “symptoms of an ailing intranet are not hard to recognize: poor adoption, irritated users, failed tasks, and ingenious (but unproductive) workarounds in order to avoid the intranet altogether.” I have seen this over and over again as I interview people who moved to social media and away from their intranets. Serena even replaced their intranet with Facebook. Océ is moving massive amounts of information off their intranet.
Forrester suggests that improving the intranet starts with taking the users’ perspective. I could not agree more. They offer a number of useful suggestions in the report, including a set of criteria to review your current intranet