A businessman hiding under his laptop - Intranet failure concept
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Ninety percent of intranets fail before 3 years. Intranets have existed for over two decades, yet the intranet industry still hasn't found a way to set organizations up for success. While the intranet industry has evolved and re-created itself, the same challenges that existed before persist today.

A Look Back to the Intranet Past

When the first intranets arrived in the mid-1990s, they were basic, static websites. Intranets naturally fell into the hands of IT because maintenance required individuals with high technical skills. As a result, most intranets neglected business needs.

In the mid-2000s, the world began to experience the rising tide of social networks. As social network giants such as Facebook and LinkedIn gained prominence, we saw an enormous social impact on business-oriented social collaboration platforms. Companies forced the social component into business software without understanding the effects. People gradually realized that this was a technology in search of a problem to solve. Eventually, some of these platforms warped into employee intranets.

Today, we're facing a culmination of legacy intranet obstacles, in addition to modern workforce challenges: distributed employees, fragmented communication, and overflowing information.

5 Reasons Intranets Need to Change

With a better grasp on the history of the intranet, let's dive into the five reasons intranets need to change to support modern businesses.

1. Intranets Have Not Evolved to Tackle Modern Business Challenges

Technology moves faster than we can adapt, and intranets are a perfect example of how this plays out in today’s workplace. Intranets were originally invented to increase employee productivity in two ways:

  • Easier access to information and documents
  • Quicker and more effective communication

Because intranets of the past were reliant on individuals with technical skills, they naturally became IT's software. IT's primary responsibilities are to make sure the intranet is working, is secure, and serves as a reliable document repository. Intranet software historically has neglected the day-to-day business communications and has failed to understand modern communication challenges.

The success of an intranet largely depends on internal communications' ability to engage and connect the organization through content production. Yet a majority of intranets are not user-friendly, inhibiting other teams from working at the speed of business.

2. The Top 10 Reasons Intranets Fail are Not Being Addressed

90% of intranets fail and are still failing. Simpplr Research conducted a study across intranet practitioners and asked for their top two root causes for intranet failure. The image below represents the top 10 reasons for intranet failure:

Simpplr Research results from intranet practitioners survey
PHOTO: Simpplr

In this study, failure is attributed to two types of challenges: processes and features. The top three reasons related to process are:

  • Unclear governance
  • No clearly defined purpose
  • Lack of executive engagement

The most common reasons for failure associated with features are:

  • Poor user experience
  • Outdated content
  • Irrelevant content

First, the intranet industry must acknowledge the two types of causation for failure. Second, the industry needs to admit that a sustainable solution requires more than throwing features at the problem. The industry must recognize that intranet solutions require a more holistic look at the organization, its processes, and people.

3. Intranet Design Neglects User Experience (UX)

The components that make an intranet need to be more purposeful in addressing challenges from both business and tech perspectives. Simpplr Research cites one of the top reasons for intranet failure is poor user experience. When considering user experience, it's essential to understand the goals and user roles (the end-user, the content author, the app manager, etc.).

For example, the end-user who consumes content has different needs from an intranet author who needs to draft and publish content. Designing software to accommodate all user needs is critical for a high adoption and engagement rate.

Many intranets today are configurable platforms with a variety of tools and features that can be customized into an intranet or another workplace solution. Customization is great, but a solution like this doesn't work out-of-the-box and requires your IT department or an external consultant to develop and manage the system. Companies often underestimate the time to build and the ongoing maintenance requirements that come with this approach. This dependency eventually leads to failure.

4. Intranets Become Content Dumping Grounds

22% percent of survey respondents attributed their failed intranets to stale, outdated content. The challenge for intranet owners is to consistently keep the information curated and relevant. People still need to manage and curate content to prevent the dumping ground effect.

In response to this prevailing challenge, Simpplr recently launched the industry-first “Auto-Governance Engine” that is purposefully designed to prevent intranet content from becoming stale.

5. Intranet Design Needs to be More Purposeful

There is an emerging debate around the purpose of intranets. On one hand, intranets are classically viewed as the “everything” hub. However, intranets should be positioned as the company’s virtual headquarters that primarily surfaces relevant, timely, and critical information for all employees. 

Giving employees access to everything is risky, because the workforce is already inundated with an excessive number of applications and too much information. Employees need help cutting through the noise. As a result, intranet curation has never been more crucial. The mindset is changing: instead of the classic belief that intranets should be everything hubs, practitioners are now adopting a “less is more” mentality. That way when employees find information they know it is important and vetted.

The Intranet is Here to Stay

Intranets have come a long way, but there is still much work to be done. The intranet industry needs to do its due diligence in understanding the way modern organizations run and the business and operational challenges they face. Although a disproportionate number of intranets fail, we're seeing modern intranet solutions that are attempting to solve today's unique problems.

At Simpplr, we're bullish about where the intranet needs to go, using research to address common business and technology challenges. To learn more about the top reasons intranets fail and how to mitigate these risks, check out Simpplr Research: State of the Intranet 2019.