Company intranets are a waste of time and money as they are only used as "information dumping grounds", new research has warned.
A study by human resources consulting firm Mercer has criticised many internal websites for being disjointed and for failing to fit into an overall corporate communication strategy.
In many cases they actually highlight top-down information flows created by people working in silos, Mercer says.
Nick Throp, European partner at Mercer, said intranets are often used as repositories for information of limited value that has nowhere else to go.
"Many sites are created by self-serving departments with little regard for the needs of other employees," he said.
"Wasted time can cost companies over £1,000 each year per employee. That translates to a cost of £1m for every 1,000 employees - not an insignificant amount."
The cost of poor intranet design is reiterated by research from web usability experts Nielsen Norman Group, which found that employees can take twice as long to complete tasks and get information from a poor intranet compared to a well-designed one.
The company's principal, Jakob Nielsen, told vnunet.com that companies were still failing to take their corporate intranets seriously.
"They are still seen as a low priority. External web pages are still seen as more important," he said.
"Companies need to treat the corporate intranet as a project in its own right but in a lot of companies it's just grown organically.
"You need to have a consistent design managed through a central design team with a company-wide mandate to do things that the company needs."
Must-have elements include good employee directories, a single home page, one search engine across the whole site, good navigation and company news. But these are often done very poorly, Nielsen added.
And the jury is still out on the best person to manage such a broad and cross-functional discipline, he cautioned.
"In the best intranets we come across, half are managed by the IT department and about half are in a softer discipline such as corporate communications or personnel," he said.
"It doesn't really matter but it has to be company-wide."
Ironically, the economic downturn has had a positive impact on the development of intranets, forcing them to focus their priorities and pay less attention to corporate politics, Nielsen said.
"Centralised design does give you a better return on investment and it also means there are less likely to be unruly chieftains who don't want to conform to a company-wide standard."
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