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Intranet systems have come a long way since they were introduced in the mid-90s. Back then, internal portals were rather clunky and were barely used — and it remained like that for quite some time. A 2015 survey by Prescient Digital Media showed that only 13 percent of employees actively engaged with their intranet systems on a daily basis, with 31 percent saying they never used their intranet system at all.

With the advent of best-of-breed digital experience solutions, brands can develop an intranet portal that meets their requirements. But more often than not, we’re also seeing an increasing number of intranet systems experiencing feature bloat.

What is an Intranet Feature Bloat? 

An intranet feature bloat occurs when an intranet system amasses a surplus in features. This happens when a company purchases or subscribes to an intranet software vendor with too many out-of-the-box features, or when a company continuously adds new features to their intranet in a haphazard way, “bloating” their ecosystem in the process.

Related Article: 7 Free Enterprise Intranet Solutions (That Aren't Really Free)

How It Happens: A Real-World Example

Derek Hines, marketing specialist at West Coast Self-Storage, said his company ended up with intranet feature bloat when it added new features to increase usage. 

“Our original intranet was very basic and included a company news section, blog and a place for employee forms. The problem we had with this was that almost no one used the intranet site. So, it wasn’t fulfilling the goal of tying all the employees together. We then added a social networking plugin, which brings Facebook-like functionality. It allowed us to include a news feed where team members could post comments, photos and links just like Facebook. Other team members could comment and add GIFs. It [has become] an intranet site that more of our company uses on a regular basis,” said Hines.

Hines went on to explain how their new and seemingly improved intranet also boasted a “special KPI report” to help entice staff into using the intranet. However, all these new features soon began to work against the original objective. “[As we added more features], we realized we have too many places to put information. For instance, we have a photo gallery that now gets no pictures, since everyone is using the news feed to do this. We also have a team blog that doesn’t get many visits as this information is typically put into the news feed as well. The downside [to] a Facebook-style news feed is that [the] information that is posted can be easily pushed down by new posts and essentially lost.”

Some intranet platform providers come with several features out-of-the-box. Henry Amin, Senior Consultant at Adenin Inc., an intranet provider firm whose software has over 100 features, provided his insight into this matter. “As a senior consultant, I would never recommend a customer use all our features. Doing so can create a cluttered user experience, making it difficult for employees to use any individual feature. At the same time, having less isn’t always better — if an intranet solution is too niche, [such as] a social intranet only, it is hard to adapt its structure should the user requirements shift, either during the initial implementation or a few years down the line,” said Amin.

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Tips to Reduce Intranet Feature Bloat

Looking to reverse a bloated intranet, or better yet, seeking to avoid deploying a bloated intranet in the first place? These three steps should help. 

1. Conduct a feature audit - A feature audit entails evaluating the usage frequency of each feature. Once you know which features are being ignored, you’ll know which features can go.

In a blog post, Claps advised that when carrying out this exercise, you will come across features that will have a low usage frequency and are mandatory. “Updating account information” is a perfect example of this. Ensure these types of features are identified in the first instance to prevent them from being removed in error.

2. Align features to company objectives - Assess each feature to see if it meets your brand’s vision. For example, if your company wants to primarily use the intranet to share real-time KPI metrics with staff, then would a feature that sends out automated emails with this information be absolutely necessary?

3. Include system users -  Amin also added that any discussion around features should involve the employees since they’ll be using the system. “Talking to employees and finding out what their needs are, as well as the pain points with your current intranet should always be the first step. I would advise brands that are starting a new intranet project to aim for a flexible solution that allows for features to be added in and taken out as the priorities of their employees and organization change.”

4. Work With Your Intranet Software Vendor - Finally, brands should work together with their intranet software vendor to customize their software in order to avoid overwhelming their staff members with too many unnecessary features and interfaces. Sam Saltis, CEO of Boston-based Coredna, shared his thoughts, “Organizations should approach their vendors about customizing the intranet per user. A customized experience allows organizations to avoid scenarios where an experienced user and a novice get the exact same experience.”

“It’s almost impossible to design a good single UI for both [experts and novices], so having it customizable is key. Setting out user roles is a good start to having an effective product for all, but you also have to account for their progression and experience as time goes on,” Saltis added.