Why does your intranet suck?

Why are companies quite happy to invest in the design of their websites, but think the intranet is unimportant? Is an intranet really less important?

Just a short audio post today. One to get you thinking before I post more extensively on the subject later in the week.

Why doesn’t your company invest in its intranet to the same extent it does in its website?

I am not talking about technology. Companies seem happy to spend money on intranet software like Sharepoint. I am talking about user interface design.

Does your intranet not have a user interface? Are all your employees happy to deal with poorly designed, overly complex interfaces? Is their time not important?

Obviously, the main reason for this lack of investment is because intranets are not considered as valuable as the website, but is that really true?

Before I write more fully on this subject, I would like to hear your experiences of intranet design in the comments. Are they really under-invested? What are the user experiences really like? And why won’t your company invest in its intranet?

  • Abhi

    Ours in one of the rare places – we invest more in the intranet than the website. And, no one who sees our website can guess the intranet is amazeballs…

    • So what made management willing to invest in the intranet? Why did they take it seriously. @twitter-53685714:disqus called it a tough sell and I am interested in what made it work for you.

  • I would agree with the under-investment, but not intranets being thought of as less valuable. I think it is more a matter of not being thought of at all. Like, “oh yeah, that…”

    From experience, I know that large IT departments are happy to throw money at common software like Sharepoint – because everyone else is doing it, it removes the blame from any possible failure. In lots of cases, it is good enough, but it doesn’t drive user engagement.

    Pushing the envelope and developing tools that actually help employees communicate and collaborate is a tough sell to management. Compound this with most large organizations having slow-to-adopt policies with new browsers or hardware, and you end up with off-the-shelf unimaginative solutions running in IE8 on windows XP. (I wish that was a joke.)

    • Agreed, it is a tough sell. Have you ever considered using intranet analytics and maybe some adhoc user testing to identify the problem and need for investment?

      • camillevau

        Intranet analytics should be decided in the first step of a project that ” help employees communicate and collaborate”, but they are commonly used as forensic indicators to know why we have to adopt a new platform every two years .. exactly as your sentence stands.

        With this “new approach”, you do not decide on “why we can’t make them working on the platform”, but you can progress to “what do we want them to do on the platform” ?

  • I agree entirely with Joel, it’s the experience I had when I worked at a biggish manufacturing company. Sharepoint is often seen as a nice comfort zone for IT departments who can say ‘yeah we implemented it’ and that’s the Intranet taken care of.

    Senior Management Team had a fairly laissez-faire attitude: ‘why do internal users need good user experiences, they’ll just get used to this’. I also saw lack of ownership and vision, with IT and even Internal Creative Services somehow seen as ‘responsible for the Intranet’. If they did some proper analysis and showed the amount of dissatisfaction and real time wasted then the numbers would surely turn the heads of the decision makers.

  • Rob Haskell

    I guess intranet does not need the artistic and usability attention that public sites do. First the user can probably be assumed to have certain level of competence, second, they are not going to “go away” just because the user experience stinks. Having said that, user experience would seem to be important after all for company morale and inefficiency. One important step forwards might be to question the wisdom of placing the task of building the intranet solely in the hands of IT.

    • You’ve highlighted a big problem. I think companies need to see the benefits of interfaces that go beyond reliable and functional, and even past usable into pleasurable (to put it the way Aaron Walter might). I know from experience that some corporations ‘talk the talk’ about employee engagement but don’t always see the bigger picture – it’s not all nice coffee and beanbags! Surely if they want to really engage the workforce it might it be sensible to provide tools that are easy and enjoyable to use so that employees approach notionally dull (but important) tasks with enthusiasm not trepidation. Whilst my motivation is a bit different to a salaried employee of a bigger company I find doing my own business accounting rather enjoyable (not to say quicker and easier) since I started using FreeAgent, when before the idea filled me with dread.

  • alex wells

    A poor intranet may suck but its better then nothing! been trying to get approval for one at work but they are just not having it.

    At the end of the day a better UI will save people time and if there is enough people using it that time will add up and more then pay for the cost of implementing a decent UI

  • I’m not sure why, but we are currently seeing the same thing. To the point we are running a roadshow series entitled “Building an Intranet Your People Will Love”. It is very little about technology, but mainly about user interface design and the likes. Mostly centred on simplifying interfaces:


    We still see so many intranets that come out of the IT department (as opposed to the public sites generally coming from the marketing/comms dept) that no consideration has gone towards the actual use of the intranet or what is trying to be achieved by using it (or what problem it is trying to solve).

    Another aspect could be the fact that the intranet is not generally visible outside the organisation so in some minds doesn’t have to be ‘pretty’ (which is, alas, what many reduce design/ux down to).

    A decent intranet is a tool that should be used daily by those in an organisation to help get their job done, so really the user interface of it (in my mind) is even more important than that of the public website (which in most cases is merely one-way dissemination of information).


  • Justin

    A good amount of time has been invested in the building and improving of our intranet. I don’t see it any different than any other website. It needs to be well organized and easy on the eyes. Do I spend as much time on it than what I spend on the main site? No. But certain things need to work really well, are massaged quite often and easy to use.

  • In our experience there are many good and even great examples out there where companies do invest in the intranet. Invest doesn’t ahve to mean money or expensive consultants, for the best part an investment of time from focussed individuals who take time to consider the needs and motivations of their colleagues is more than enough to turn mediocre into good and good into great.

    Perfection is obviously when communications, IT and HR get together with a single goal: Create something with the user in mind.

  • When the client knows their site sucks it is critical to start the process of improving it with an assessment. It is vital to understand what employees need and what the business requirements are. We assess the information we collect and make recommendations based on our extensive experience and best practices. We deliver detailed key findings and recommendations.

  • anthmatic

    The company that I work for recently invested in a major overhaul of our retail intranet based on the IBM Connections platform. The company absolutely sees the value in social communities in the workplace- which is awesome! Sadly, searching for important information is chaotic and documents/tools are hard to find. I fear that it will stay this way for quite some time…

    That said, while our intranet is pretty and decent to use, I find the UX to be broken and muddled with amazing features that have been poorly implemented.

  • Scott

    Our company (fortune 500) will not invest the time as well. I think they agree that our intranet is bad, but I am not sure they understand how BAD. The reasons given for not taking action are: 1) users seem to be able to figure it out today, what is this really going to buy us?, 2) we have too many other large IT projects right now to devote resources to it.

  • Daniela Tommasini

    I found this article very
    interesting. Just to state a few facts Google Apps is no longer free and free
    isn’t always better. Google Apps support is mostly third parties. SharePoint
    Foundation 2010 couldn’t be a real alternative to SharePoint. It shares a lot
    of the same headaches that SharePoint has like you have to be a Microsoft
    expert to configure all the Microsoft products that come with it. When the idea
    of SharePoint Foundation first came to my team and I thought it must be much
    easier than SharePoint but after spending countless hours of configuring
    Server, SQL, Foundation, and our network it really wasn’t worth the time. The
    real problem came along setting permission for our users. The network access
    protocols we had to issue were a nightmare. We got to a point where it was time
    for a new and better system. I did a Google search for an alternative for
    SharePoint and came across content management systems like WordPress and
    Joomla. After doing some research on these two it was clear it wasn’t what we
    were looking for.

    We were looking for one
    platform for our users to manage their web projects from, something along the
    lines of a CMS and portal. We found Centralpoint by Oxcyon. At first we had our
    doubts because we thought the software was for the healthcare industry.
    Security was one of our biggest concerns but we knew if Centralpoint was used
    in the healthcare field that it would have a way to create roles and permission
    securely. Centralpoint made the transfer of data easy. It was nothing like the
    base model of other systems. It included things like taxonomy, rights
    management, Data Warehousing, Single Sign On, and Email Broadcasting. We found
    that Centralpoint was the right alternative for us.


  • Kylee Jewell

    After reading this article it brought me in the mind of this
    new content management system we are using at my company, Centralpoint by
    Oxcyon. Having a good internet is very important when dealing with B2B. I
    thought I would share this off of Oxcyon’s website,” Centralpoint
    provides self-service portals
    for manufacturers to service their dealers and consumers. Centralpoint’s Dealer
    Extranet or DAM (Digital Asset Manager) solutions empower manufacturers to
    serve everyone with the latest marketing and product information. It further
    allows for enhanced communication by offering tools for dealer incentives,
    order entry, and Reporting. With this portal, manufacturers can provide all of
    their dealers and distributors a self-service login to access and download
    information personalized just for them.”
    I hope this helps anyone out there trying to make a decision on a good
    content management system/Portal.

  • Vernon Fowler

    Our organisation adopted Atlassian Confluence a little too early – before blueprints existed and all the good collaboration features were still immature. We “migrated” lots of content from the old intranet and turned our wiki into a vast, poorly structured dumping ground. The software has matured a lot since then and I’m grateful for the choice of platform, despite that our IT department lags behind upgrading to the latest version. For a few years now, most staff see the space as a garbage tip and don’t make much effort to clean up the toxic mess.

    I believe we are at a turning point. Confluence has matured nicely. I’ve spent a fair chunk of time over the last couple of years figuring out some best practices, re-wiring the hierarchies, deleting as much as I can, building mini-showcases, and encouraging staff to use the most basic features such as mentions and labels. The grassroots movement is well underway. And just these past couple of weeks we’re starting to get buy-in from management and the head of our organisation – Hooray! Momentum appears to be building further still with staff beginning to seek ways to ditch the shared drive and collaborate transparently and openly.

    I’ve created annual reports analysing posts and engagement on the internal blog. Staff started paying attention when they heard that both the number of posts and engagement (likes + comments = applause) was up by over 300% from the previous year. Our boss has agreed to post to the blog very soon. I’m excited!

    Work continues to archive and remove obsolete content and redundant rubbish, as well as apply best practices that lever features which increase findability, usability, transparency, and so on. Our team have started creating a service manual in our wiki. Looking forward to the hard work investment returning value to all staff using our wiki. W-hooo! :)

    • That all sounds amazing. Great job! If you ever want to talk it over or need an external voice to encouragement movement give me a shout. I would love to be involved in something that is so obviously heading in the right direction.