Discussion Point Why Do Intranets Fail

Most hard-working professionals need a good reason to use their organization's intranet.

Remember the early days? The one-page company Wiki that had 1,000 links on it? And once in a while you'd get an email from a manager who said, "It's on the intranet. Go find it."

Those days are gone -- hopefully. Vendors cash in on companies needing a strong, internal collaboration platform. Intranets still serve as great fodder for debate in tech circles. Case in point -- the Intra.Net Reloaded conference that circles the globe.

We caught the Boston version of this conference last week. Practitioners discussed the relevance of gamification, platform usability, how to improve adoption and costly mistakes to avoid. We continue that conversation today with our latest Discussion Point.

The Question

Why do intranets fail?

The Answers

Josh Ward, Intranet Development Specialist, Insight

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Ward is the intranet development specialist at Insight in Tempe, Ariz. He was hired as an intranet designer/administrator but saw a problem and fixed it by helping to develop a new intranet. His organization just launched that new intranet, Inside.Insight, on Feb. 23. It has a custom design, and it was developed on the Igloo software platform. As the project lead, Ward helped steer the project. He was also the vision behind it and that vision started with design and usability. Tweet to Joshua Ward.

Intranets need just a clean simple design. We believe that less is more. We're really kind of bringing in several other elements from the web that users see every day whether on Facebook or Twitter. Iconography is huge. People identify with icons. Icons for your notifications, bookmarks, user profiles and anything really. We used a lot of iconography around there.

Design is important because people need to look at it and stay there as opposed to looking at it and leaving. Our old intranet was built on ColdFusion platform in 2001. It was like Windows 95 in 2015. It was ugly. It was abandoned. Everything was on the home page. It was a disaster.

With the new design we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback. A search that works -- being able to find things. Design was huge on my part and user experience as well as functionality. But more importantly the common user being able to use it and navigate through it properly.

That’s why I said no to SharePoint from the start. Microsoft is actually is one of our big partners, so we had to look at them and do our due diligence. It turns out it was not the cheapest. And I would have fought it anyways, because SharePoint isn’t pretty, and it’s not user-friendly. I’m a pretty tech savvy person, a web designer, and there are parts of SharePoint that I don’t even understand how to use. And it’s not intuitive at all. If you try to use it out of the box like the IT guys want you to do, it’s pretty much useless. My focus on design immediately disqualified SharePoint.

Right now we're built on a .NET framework, HTML5 and CSS3, it's and completely responsive. We don’t have to be in an app store. You can go to any browser on any device, and it’s there immediately. My biggest three things were accessibility, search and collaboration. Anything beyond that it’s kind of just like a bonus. The platform we did go with is user-friendly and intuitive and basically brings all the tools in that you use every day on the web into the Intranet.

Ken Barnett, Sr. Manager, Disney

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Barnett is a new media designer based in Southern California. His career has spanned almost 20 years, starting in video game design and moving into web design during the dot-com startup era. He joined The Walt Disney Company in 2001 and is currently the senior manager of design and operations for the Consumer Products division (DCP).

Barnett was the lead designer for DCP’s SharePoint-based employee intranet, which won a Web Award in 2013 for Best Intranet Site. He is currently managing the development of and providing lead design for DCP’s business-to-business website, DisneyConsumerProducts.com. He also manages a large internal digital signage system for DCP and the Disney Store and produces a bi-monthly internal magazine. Tweet to Ken Barnett.

A lot of times people look at the intranet as very utilitarian and very functional. It needs to perform various functions. And a lot of times design can take a backseat. It’s not outward facing. Customers don’t see it, so there isn’t a lot of importance placed on user interface. A lot of times it has to do with tools you’re using. They’re not easy to conform or alter the design.

WordPress is a tool that is kind of design-first in a sense to where you can easily change the front end lookout. SharePoint is not that way. I think they’re getting better, but it’s challenging to alter the interface. There’s not a lot of importance placed on the UI.

But I think what companies miss when they go that route is they miss out on the ability for their employees to be better informed about what the company’s doing. Sometimes it can take a longer time to do simple key functions that hundreds of employees are doing every month. They don’t realize there’s a huge cost in that. If it takes 30 minutes to do an expensive report vs. 15 because of the interface that’s thousands of dollars every month depending on how big the company. So there’s a real quick ROI advantage there.

Also, employees can be more engaged with the company. Ink.com did a list of the 10 most important things that employees want more than a raise. The No. 1 thing was employees want to feel proud of where they work. The intranet is a direct reflection of who you are. It’s the company saying, "This is who we are." The presenter (at the Intra.Net Reloaded conference) from L'Oreal made a great point about everything they do needs to reflect their company. We’re a beauty company so our intranet needs to be beautiful. That's a fantastic point.

Disney is synonymous with quality. We need to have quality in everything we do. If our intranet doesn’t look good or perform well that’s a direct reflection on who we are as a company. A lot of times the emphasis is on having the information available and not in how are you presenting that to the user. ... If employees go onto intranet that is poorly designed with a slew of content everywhere, they get disengaged or end up taking too much time finding what they need.

Vikram Samant, EVP, CIGNEX Datamatics

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Samant brings more than 24 years of industry experience in manufacturing and global IT services across multiple verticals and technologies. With several years of experience across sales, consulting and delivery, his expertise is in building customer centric solutions. At CIGNEX Datamatics, Samant holds global responsibility for enhancing and defining solutions based go to market strategy. Before joining the company, he held positions at HCL, IBM and NTT Data, the most recent of which was vice president of application outsourcing at HCL. Tweet to Vikram Samant.

Many successful companies are reinventing their intranets. The intranet has been a place that you’ve had to go to and do your most boring stuff. But now if you look at the "internet of people" -- how do you make a person absolutely loving to engage your intranet site because it’s a source of information feed and also a source of information gathering? And it has to be a two-way street.

If you really look at how workforce has evolved over the years -- from a very regimented workforce to a more egalitarian, more open kind of work culture. If it embodies itself into the intranet that you’re building that’s going to make it successful. I have three simple rules -- make it so easy a caveman can use it, make it run like the wind and make sure you need no user manuals. That’s key to making things look really good.

Sometimes the intranet you create is also a subset of the extranet you created. Everyone is focused on the outward branding. So the companies that have lagged behind have not exploited the intranet for internal branding. That is absolutely key to making sure that all the money you spent on attracting talent actually can contribute to the ROI on talent acquisition. That’s the struggle people are having. Many companies find it hard to justify. Why do I spend on the intranet? You need to look beyond dollar amount.

As for gamification, if you remember the game more than the content then there’s something wrong. If you’re going to use games for points and badge systems that's great. That’s equal to a Google star rating that you would get, so obviously you are a more knowledgable person to talk to. At least you have a go-to-expert to navigate toward. That’s great. My whole struggle is being on the other side -- if the game is what you remember rather than the content, then there’s something wrong.