Managing directors and chief digital officers who roll out a (social) intranet in their company do this with specific intentions and goals in mind. On the one hand, a (social) intranet or digital workplace should make life easier for employees and on the other hand, increase productivity. Unfortunately, many managers expect that company performance will go through the roof as soon as the intranet has been introduced. However, many factors can cause an intranet to fail. Recognizing these factors early and even proactively countering is crucial.

Even though every company intranet is unique (all the more when it is a bespoke solution), there are common reasons that can cause an intranet project to fail. However, these can be avoided with good planning at the early stages and should therefore be included in the project planning from the very beginning.

The golden rule: Advertise your intranet!

View employees like customers and stakeholders for your (internal) product called “the intranet”. Nothing damages the success of an intranet more than when employees have no idea that there even is an intranet and what it can be used for. Equally, make sure that you don’t communicate figures and goals only from the management perspective. Nobody wants to use an intranet so that shareholders earn more money at the end of the year or the CEO can buy a new sportscar. An intranet has to provide employees with tangible successes. So, make sure your goals don’t stray far from the everyday work life of your employees.

18 reasons why an intranet can fail

1.) User needs are not (adequately) considered

Developing and planning a professional (social) intranet means that you need to think about the needs of your company and your employees. An intranet should be rolled out to simplify and accelerate the everyday work processes. Unfortunately, user needs are often overlooked during the development process. This can turn into an intranet that does not complete or only partially completes tasks – meaning as someone on the free market might say, it was “developed without the market in mind”. One of the best ways to avoid this problem is to perform a “focus group” in the early stages of the development process. Define your intranet goals and requirements and find out which tools your colleagues need to complete their work effectively and thus, get the most out of your social intranet.

2. Information is outdated

An intranet can be an excellent source of information. Announcements, company guidelines, documents and other (media) files should be easily accessible. But if these are not kept up to date, then the intranet not only loses its appeal but quite simply its effectiveness and is destined to fail. Outdated information can’t help you at all and in the worst-case scenario, it can cause your employees to go looking for the information elsewhere and completely abandon the intranet. In the very worst case, outdated information can even lead to errors, wrong decisions or damage to your image.
Archive old posts and files and make sure that new content is up to date and relevant to the needs of your employees. The more relevant the created and updated content in your (social) intranet, the faster you can increase the interaction and motivation of your colleagues.

3. Employees don’t understand how to use the intranet and/or don’t understand its purpose

One of the biggest challenges when using an intranet is the initial training for employees. And the larger the company, the greater the challenge. At the same time, a social intranet that is highly accepted can deliver top performance. Ensuring that every employee knows how best to use the intranet should be one of the things you focus on.

At the same time, it is incredibly important that employees understand the purpose of the (newly introduced) intranet. Especially in times of digitalization and the additional workload for employees that often comes with it, it is important to emphasize how time can be saved and work can be reduced. You cannot allow an intranet to become an additional workload. This is particularly important if employees have had a bad experience with an old (or even bad) intranet and look at the subject with an air of skepticism.

4. No consolidation of processes

An intranet should serve as a central hub – aka a digital workplace – for your company. A place where employees can log in and make something happen. Because employees use numerous different programs every day, it makes sense to consolidate as many processes as possible together on the intranet. Consolidating processes like accounting, time tracking and project management can play a role in saving your company valuable time and money and in helping your employees experience a real added value through the intranet.
This means, on the one hand, that the intranet needs to be able to model and integrate many technical processes – through interfaces and connectors, for example – and on the other hand that existing software solutions should be deactivated after a transition period. Otherwise, in the worst-case scenario, this leads to “double usage” and consequently chaos.
This consolidation also concerns files and shared information. Between server network drives, CRM software and other digital or physical areas, collaborative information can often be found in different places outside of your intranet. This makes logging in to the social community every day less important than when it is the only place to gain collaborative information.

5. Bad organization and bad architecture

An intranet is only as good as the extent to which it helps find the right information at the right time. This is not only in conjunction with the organization concerning the intranet’s architecture but also its value within the company. Unfortunately, poor organization can cripple an intranet or even make it worse day by day. This is one of the main reasons why intranets fail. One way of upholding the entire organization is to delegate organizational responsibilities to one or more employees – a “Head of Intranet” so to speak.
In this case, the hierarchical significance an intranet has in the company and which resources (manpower and budget) are made available for it are crucial. An intranet has (if implemented well) a direct and positive impact on the company and the staff. It accelerates work, makes companies more successful, strengthens employer branding, makes employees happier, etc. For this reason, an intranet should not only have the full (moral) support of the management but also be provided with the necessary resources for the long run.
This also concerns the question of clearly assigning responsibilities within the intranet. Which employee is responsible for which task and needs to monitor and improve which processes?!

6. Poor search function

An intranet should simplify day-to-day work processes. This includes employees being able to find the information they need every day. Therefore, modern intranets are equipped with a good search function that can also find the information by categories.

7. Complicated navigation

Usability: A matter of course on the Internet, a scarce commodity on the intranet. Users should need to put in the least amount of effort to find the areas and subjects they are looking for. A trouble-free experience is crucial. However, some intranets suffer from complicated navigation principles that lower usability. Employees are already facing the challenge of learning how to integrate a (new) intranet into their everyday work – so learning how to navigate through the intranet should not be added to this. Or put another way: View your employees like customers and keep the same rules as on the free market.

There are numerous causes of complex navigation:
a.) The intranet wants too much too quickly. That means that the intranet is so overloaded with applications, processes and subgroups that employees ultimately cannot find anything.
b.) There is no control. An intranet is designed to fulfill a lot of tasks. However, it makes a lot of sense to start small and to proceed step by step on the one hand, and the architecture should follow logic and strategy on the other. In some circumstances, this can also mean that the wishes of departments cannot always be implemented.

8. Employees don’t work together (no willingness to share knowledge)

There are many reasons why modern companies choose to deploy a social intranet. One of the most common reasons is greater collaboration with a view to increase productivity. An intranet can be an ideal platform for this. However, this is only as good as the employees who use it. Intranets rapidly lose their value when employees can’t or don’t want to work together effectively. Or when they have to worry too much about what happens if they disclose too many ideas on the intranet or spend too much time there. Communication can be the key to success and should never be allowed to fall apart. A company whose culture is not based on cooperation will fail even if they have a social intranet.

9. The intranet strategy isn’t defined

So that a company can benefit from an intranet, it needs to serve a range of clear goals. These goals need to be defined in a strategy. A strategy communicated well and clearly can make even simple intranets very efficient whereas a lack of strategy almost always leads to problems. A defined strategy is important at all levels because the executive board and managers should constantly remind themselves of the goals they have set for the intranet. At the same time, employees need to have a good idea of what they are working towards. Defining an intranet content strategy in writing is the best method, and the final product should be checked by as many people as possible before being implemented.

10. Autopilot is engaged

Success can be deceptive and make you sit back and relax. The same danger applies to the intranet as well. Even if processes are smooth and your intranet enjoys numerous successes, it still needs to be constantly updated and maintained. For this reason, it is also very important to define one or more responsible individuals and to give them the necessary resources (especially enough time in their everyday work) and the corresponding decision-making power. See also point 5: “Head of Intranet”.

11. Low-quality content

Quality before quantity applies to the intranet as well. Employees need to find more than files and information for their daily work processes on the intranet, they need other good content as well. As well as technical managers, we recommend assigning top authors for the intranet or looking for them in the company. In this way, companies create a solid basis for good collaboration.

12. Technical functions: One-to-one and group communication

Particularly when a company wants to expand its intranet or digital workplace with a social element, the communication functions are decisive. People need to be able to communicate with one another normally, and email is typically not the best way to do this. It can noticeably simplify and accelerate communication if a well-thought-through chat system is available, for example. Groups, on the other hand, are designed for ongoing exchange within a project group – even across departments. At the start of the platform selection process, you need to make sure that all the required communication functions are available or can be added later relatively easily.

13. Downtimes are too high

It is actually very simple: If the intranet is running, the company runs. And if the intranet isn’t running then it hasn’t been given the status it deserves. If your company doesn’t have a stable server then we recommend outsourcing the intranet to a reliable cloud provider. The provider is responsible for all maintenance to the server and software, which guarantees the highest possible availability – even worldwide.

14. The range is too short

Even though an intranet has a limited target group – due to the number of employees –, the range within this target group is still decisive. Especially companies, for example, with a lot of positions in the production hall or outside of the company offices have difficulties reaching their employees. While colleagues in the office with their own computer are often just a click away from the intranet, employees on the shop floor or in the field often have next to no way of logging in.

This bottleneck is often made even smaller by intranets that cannot be accessed externally – which can make a lot of sense for security reasons.

But these employees need to be informed where they are as well. Various smartphone apps or so-called digital signage devices can be a good solution here. Digital signage generally refers to classic screens in central locations such as the lobby, breakroom or next to the lifts. Depending on the content and exact position of these screens [keyword: company secrets], they can provide employees with information.

15. No backing from the management

An intranet can only be successful if it is backed and supported by the management. This applies not only to the resources in terms of money and personnel made available but also how active managers are on the intranet. If the management reverts to old communication channels like emails or letters despite a digital workplace on hand, then employees will follow suit. At the same time, they will communicate that the intranet isn’t an important element of the day-to-day work processes but is more of a nice thing on the side.

16. Using the intranet just isn‘t fun

As hard and trivial as it sounds, an intranet has to be fun to use. Due to an incorrect picture of intranets, many of them are downright “fun-free zones”. As a result of the indirect obligation for employees to be on the intranet, usability, design and enjoyment are often completely neglected. Mistakes that a social network intended for profit cannot afford. However, many managers mistake fun and lightheartedness with “unprofessionalism”. It has been shown that the success of an intranet, and therefore the success of a company, is directly proportional to how much employees enjoy being there.
Companies should strive to make the intranet a tool that employees enjoy working with. This indirectly increases the length of stay and thus the tangible corporate figures.
Discover how you can push your social intranet with gamification elements and increase your business success as a result.
17 funny examples of how gamification can help make your intranet a success – Part 1
17 funny examples of how gamification can help make your intranet a success – Part 2

17. Take criticism seriously and implement it as quickly as possible

Take criticism and feedback from the company seriously and – if appropriate – add it to your intranet without taking too much time. Also, be mindful that an intranet is a never-ending process in terms of content as well as functions and interfaces. New functions need to be continuously introduced or old functions need to be revised or removed.
Low code development represents a very wise alternative in this situation. So-called “citizen developers” – meaning trained and technically skilled employees from the various departments – can create their own applications via drag & drop in a WYSIWYG editor. The framework of low code development guarantees a secure environment and that the CI is upheld. In doing so, you relieve your IT department and open up the knowledge of the departments. Beyond this, the low code development framework enables them to release their specialized knowhow to the whole company, meaning all employees can benefit from it.

18. No rules – everyone does whatever they want

Managing the content of an intranet is a delicate process. On the one hand, rules are needed to keep communications and interactions on the right track – so-called guidelines. On the other hand, these rules cannot be too strict so that they deter employees and drive them away from the intranet. So tact is required.
These rules need to be communicated clearly and monitored professionally by a community manager.

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