The term 'intranet user adoption' has the potential to cause confusion to senior management and other intranet stakeholders. This is because the words 'intranet', 'user' and 'adoption' are all wide open to interpretation. This makes it difficult to determine success. This article provides a more detailed description of what is meant exactly by intranet user adoption and suggests an alternative approach to measuring adoption success.
A couple of years ago, Deloitte published a report about the value of social software in the workplace - Social Software for Business Performance. When talking about the success of social software in the workplace, the report said:
“Focussing on adoption as a success metric will likely lead to failure because it engenders resistance…. As long as adoption is the primary measure of success, resistance, at all levels, can block successful social software deployment”
This is interesting because it flies in the face of what many people believe - adoption is the key to the success of social software in the workplace (ie. social intranets). For example, Michael Sampson in his book, User Adoption Strategies, says:
“There is growing agreement among multiple groups of people involved with collaboration technology - the vendors, the consultants, the internal evangelists, the end-user organisations - that an intentional focus on user adoption is essential. I’d go as far as saying that many are coming to the view that this is the main game”
And the following articles are just a small sample of the many that talk about the importance of user adoption:
3 Steps to Sustainable SharePoint User Adoption Success - Dux Raymond Sy
Low Intranet User Adoption: Address It Once and For All - Alexis Rodrigo
Loving the intranet: re-thinking employee adoption - Sam Marshall
So what are Deloittes on about?
So how can Deloittes say that focussing on adoption as a success metric will lead to failure when many other people believe the opposite? Well also in the report is their definition of ‘adoption’. It goes like this:
“The number of users who have accessed social software… Adoption does not measure frequency or sustained use”.
In my view, this definition of adoption is not widely recognised among intranet and digital workplace professionals. Adoption should include frequency and sustained use as well.
However, what the article highlights is the need for a clear definition of what exactly is meant by ‘intranet user adoption’.
Without this clear definition we cannot define success. If we want users to adopt the intranet we must know what is meant by ‘adoption’, what is meant by ‘intranet’ and what is meant by ‘user’. Using these terms in broad and ambiguous ways is confusing and makes it difficult to determine whether adoption is desirable and whether it’s actually happening.
What is user adoption?
Everett Rogers in his famous 1962 book, Diffusion of innovations talks extensively about adoption and how this applies to innovations (in this case we can think of intranets + new social tools as innovations). An innovation is ‘adopted’ when a decision is made to make full use of the innovation as the best course of action available.
In the book he categorises people into 5 groups using terms that have become mainstream today: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. He assigns a percentage of the target population to a bell curve that belong to each group (as shown below). Different strategies can be used for encouraging each different type of adopter.
An innovation must be widely adopted before it becomes self-sustaining. At this point the innovation has passed a tipping point and reached critical mass ie. it’s adopted. A tipping point occurs when there is a rapid increase in the rate of adoption of a particular innovation. In Rogers’ diagram, this typically occurs after 15-20% of the target population have adopted the innovation (the innovators and early adopters). A self-sustaining innovation is one where an increased rate of adoption means that little or no further intervention is required to ensure the innovation continues.
What is an intranet?
One of the difficulties of using the term ‘intranet user adoption’ is that the term ‘intranet’ means different things to different people and may encompass various digital tools. A clear agreed definition of an intranet is highly debatable.
For example, is instant messaging considered to part of the intranet? How about video calls? Or a document management system? File servers? Team sites or project sites? What about Yammer or Skype? Are these considered to be part of the intranet or are they stand alone applications? Even email? What about enterprise social networks, the digital workplace, social intranets or enterprise 2.0? What do these all mean? Are the same thing or different? And does it matter?
Despite many attempts, there is no clear demarcation of what functions comprise an intranet and what functions are part of a larger digital workplace or something else. One organisation may have an integrated chat feature as part of the intranet while a different organisation may have a stand alone chat application.
This confusion in defining an intranet has also led to a myriad of discussions and articles about whether the intranet is dead or not.
What is an intranet end user?
It’s also crucial when talking about intranet user adoption not to confuse different types of end user activity. For example, measuring how many people view the intranet home page is a completely different level of adoption to measuring how many people publish articles each week.
In fact it can be helpful to identify the following three broad intranet user types (and within each of these types, it’s possible to include Rogers’ five types of adopters as well. So a total of 15 possible categories of intranet end users):
Passive - an employee that ‘lurks’, someone that simply views content and doesn’t contribute.
Active - a contributor of content
Administrative - a power user, someone that sets up and maintains the intranet structure and architecture
The third user type is really a specialist role. For the purposes of this article, we’ll exclude administrative type people from the general target population.
The important point to note here is the importance of the Active user in relation to the Passive user (sometimes known as a lurker).
To deliver a valuable intranet, it is imperative to increase the percentage of active contributors and the level of content contribution.
Why are ‘active’ intranet users important?
Research from the Worldwide Intranet Challenge (WIC) has shown that the more people interact with the intranet - ie. publish content, upload/download documents, contribute to discussion forums, provide status updates, use project spaces and team sites - the more valuable they perceive it to be.
Whether this perceived value translates into business value is a complicated question and one that cannot be easily answered. However, if we make the assumption that most employees are adults who use tools and technologies that will help them to be as productive as possible, then a good case can be made that there is a correlation between the use of a technology and value to the organisation. Especially if the intranet is designed to support one or more of the three compelling business reasons for having an intranet.
A different way of looking at intranet user adoption
As I mentioned earlier, part of the difficulty in defining and measuring intranet user adoption is the broad array of functions that can potentially fall under the banner of ‘intranet’.
So perhaps rather than talking about ‘intranet adoption’, we may be better off looking at each of the following functions independently and then assessing the degree of adoption for each function and user type.
Content - procedures, news, documents, reports/dashboards, video, bookmarks, online training, staff profiles, blogs, lists (customers, products, services), ‘Likes’, tagging
Document management - version control, collaborative authoring, collecting feedback, reviews, approvals, archiving
Collaboration spaces - project spaces, team spaces, calendars, tasks/schedule
Discussion forums - questions and answers, online communities, subscriptions
Online processes - online forms, workflows, approvals
Advanced communication tools - video conferencing, messaging, activity feeds
Portal to enterprise data and apps – integration with existing ERP, CRM systems
It’s possible, and in fact probable, that many organisational intranets will have a combination of one or more of the above. This means not all functions will be relevant to all organisations. It’s also possible that some organisations may have a high adoption rate of some functions but not others. Or they could have a high rate of passive user adoption but a low rate of active user adoption.
This is why the all encompassing term of ‘intranet user adoption' can be confusing - there are many nuances and variables to consider.
It may be more meaningful to manage your intranet user adoption efforts at a more micro level. For example, foccusing on Employee Profiles views (passive users) and updates (active users).
What is user adoption success then?
Of course, deciding the target goal for adoption - what is good? what is bad? - can be a subjective, arbitrary and difficult task in itself. Particularly without the benefit of any comparative or benchmark data or a broader business context available.
However it’s handy to keep in mind the tipping point rule of thumb that says when an innovation is adopted by 15 to 20% of the target audience, an acceleration in the adoption of the innovation is likely to occur. This doesn’t mean that user adoption strategies should stop. This should only be considered when the innovation - self-updating of employee profiles for example - reaches critical mass (remembering that that critical mass is the point at which an innovation is self-sustaining).
Measuring user adoption
A possible starting point for organisations wishing to get a handle on what is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ level of user adoption is the Worldwide Intranet Challenge (WIC). Regular readers of this blog will know that the WIC is an online benchmark service that allows you to compare the level of intranet user adoption and satisfaction with 190 other organisations that have already participated.
For example, the chart below shows the average level of adoption for the benchmark questions related to publishing of content (as you can see, the bar is pretty low at the moment!).
The term ‘user adoption’ gets thrown around quite often these days. It sometimes seen as the panacea for an organisation's challenges in implementing collaborative software.
While it’s certainly a worthwhile goal to get more employees engaged with the various functions that can fall under the banner of intranet user adoption, people responsible for ensuring organisations make the most of their intranet investment should think more deeply about what ‘intranet user adoption’ really means, how it is defined and how to determine it's success.