The underperformance of intranets can no longer be ignored by the retail sector. Jonathan Seal, Strategy Director at User Experience experts Mando Group examines the problem.
If you type "intranet performance" into google you will find a sorry set of adjectives. "Overlooked", "neglected", "forgotten", "unloved" –it can be said that the corporate intranet remains the poor relation to the customer-facing website, too often existing as a tick-in-the-box and contributing more to frustration than value.
So, what are the effects of intranet underperformance on companies – including those in the retail sector? Mando has investigated exactly that across key industries.
For the purpose of our research an 'underperforming intranet' is defined as one where users cannot easily and accurately access the information or people that they need, through their intranet, for collaboration, information or action.
The research reveals that underperforming intranets are costing British businesses, including those in the retail sector, over £2.7bn per year in wasted staff time. A quarter of big companies (those with over 500 employees) have underperforming intranets, compared with 42% of medium-sized firms (100-500 employees). Companies are paying for the users' time while they're using the intranet – wasted time is wasted spend.
But the argument for intranet excellence extends beyond one solitary factor. Consultants make the case for a bigger goal – one where the intranet is at the core of employee engagement. Recent research into employee engagement delivers some truly compelling figures, and commentators are increasingly vocal about the role of the intranet in driving an engaged workforce. A report from Gallup, for example, has shown that engaged employees drive customer engagement.
What are the solutions?
Usability remains the most basic failing in intranet design. Since 2009, a number of studies have highlighted the lack of focus placed on intranet usability during the design process. Commentators report that current best practice calls for an investment of around 10% of a design project's budget on usability. Furthermore, if this investment is made, intranet usability can increase by a little under 100%.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to making an intranet easy to use. Nor should businesses assume that usability is a one-off consideration that, once tackled, will no longer require senior thought or additional budget. Those getting intranet design right recognise the need for regular, systematic review and testing throughout the lifecycle of the project.
Intranets are significantly underperforming in 25% of large UK companies and 42% of medium-sized UK firms and that includes those in the retail sector. The impact of this underperformance on staff time and efficiency is estimated to cost UK business some £2.7bn per year.
The argument for correcting this inefficiency goes beyond ROI calculations. Increasingly, the intranet is recognised as performing an essential role in employee engagement. Yet, in many cases, usability remains a basic failing in intranet design, leaving users frustrated and far from engaged.
The answer to intranet usability does not lie in making assumptions or throwing technology at the problem. Rather, analysis and in-depth research is used to fully understand the needs and requirements of the end user. Leading companies are turning to third-party customer experience experts in order to achieve this goal. These leading players recognise that, whilst the intranet alone cannot transform business performance, it can be a powerful force for good.
 Gallup – 'Five Ways to Improve Employee Engagement Now' – Jan 2014
 For example: Huddle.com – '6 Reasons Your Corporate intranet will Fail', 2013 ; Thecontenteconomy.com – 'Why traditional intranets fail today's knowledge workers' – 2010
 Nielsen Norman Group – 'Usability 101: Introduction to Usability' - 2012