How benchmarking helps IKEA keep its intranet in check

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Working on a continuous improvement of the intranet could be a dream for many internal communications professionals. Susanne Rolf, Process Leader, Knowledge & Information Sharing at IKEA has the opportunity to do just that.

Deployed in 41 different countries, IKEA’s intranet – IKEA Inside – is one of its main internal communications channels used as a business tool. It has a common landing page that includes global, national, local and personalized information. On the rest of the intranet, employees see different content depending on their location. There are 3,500 publishers in total and the site averages 70,000 visitors per month. The most traffic is generated in Sweden, the United States and Germany, followed by the United Kingdom, China and Spain.

Since the re-launch of its global intranet in 2009 – when IKEA merged more than 100 local intranet sites and fine-tuned the design and structure – the Swedish furniture company decided to support an ongoing development of new functionalities.

“Changes that require technical development are released four times per year, but we run continuous improvements in content and information structure. We have a dedicated budget for it so we gather requirements from the business, prioritise them and decide if they should be developed and when,” Rolf explains.

Some of the features that IKEA has added to its intranet in last releases are the ability to comment on news articles and photo albums, web survey translation, and usage tracking capabilities based on an employee’s country and office location. Improvement to the search function was also implemented – results can now be filtered according to a person’s profile.

In good company

I had the chance to see Rolf explain the growth of IKEA Inside at the recent Interaction Intranet Conference in London which brought together 200 intranet professionals from across Europe to learn about best practices at multinational companies. IKEA is a longtime member of the Intranet Benchmarking Forum (IBF). “As part of our membership we are able to participate in two benchmarking studies per year,” Rolf points out.

The IBF allows companies to run four types of studies: Usability, Strategy and Governance, Metrics and Performance, and Communication and Collaboration. The detailed results of an IBF member’s benchmarking study are confidential to that member and they are fully aware who they are being benchmarked against. This enables IBF members to exchange best practice openly as a follow up to benchmarking. The full list of IBF members is open knowledge to all members, although some choose not to share IBF Membership publicly.

The benchmarking study I witnessed Rolf present at the London conference had to do with Usability. The study consisted of an evaluation conducted by an IBF intranet expert, as well as a user testing which entailed several tasks performed before the expert. The intranet was rated according to design, search-ability, coherence, engagement, accessibility, effectiveness and efficiency. The results were compared with other IBF members and placed in classification tables. IKEA received the third best score in 2009 and ranked second in 2011.

The benchmarking study worked as a complement to IKEA’s internal surveys and meant an input into continuous development. “We participated because we wanted to score and compare our intranet against established good practice of other companies, and we think that this comparison puts things in a different perspective,” stresses Rolf.

After the 2011 benchmarking study, results showed that IKEA needed to improve the navigation and design of some parts of its intranet. For example, it was concluded that the home page didn’t make effective use of screen space. Users had to scroll down excessively to find useful links. Too much time was also spent scanning large lists of menu items. Therefore, IKEA Inside underwent a re-design which included new tabs and drop-down menus for easier navigation. The search page and landing pages also received a facelift.

Enhanced productivity

According to Rolf, the changes largely improved the usability and overall navigation on the intranet. Also fundamental to the intranet overhaul: supportive executives who recognized the internal communications tool as an essential resource for the company. Improved search and navigation leads to better time management for employees thus making the intranet a cost-effective tool.

Most of the content published on IKEA Inside aims at engaging employees while sharing knowledge about strategies, key business initiatives and new products. Other articles provide every day, practical information for employees at a local, national and global level.

Rolf explains that the sections most visited on the intranet are ‘People on the Move’ (which provides information about co-workers in new positions), job vacancies, company news (with its comments’ capabilities), information on sales figures and people search. What drives employees to the site depends on which role they have or what project they are working on.

Rolf points out that they created several categories depending on this aspect. For instance, purchasers access the intranet to check out information about new store openings, the travel procurement system, raw materials, IKEA locations or daily sales. Meanwhile, product developers visit the intranet to read information about product matrix and sales packages, pattern samples, work orders, materials or training courses.

As a result of constant housekeeping to IKEA Inside, employee feedback on the company’s bi-annual co-worker attitude survey has been quite favourable. Approximately 2,200 employees took part in the 2012 survey; nearly 70 percent stated they agreed or strongly agreed that IKEA Inside keeps them “informed of news and development within IKEA.”

Getting social

Another factor largely contributing to the intranet’s success has been social media features. In addition to the aforementioned commenting capabilities, IKEA has just introduced blogging capabilities. Use of video continues to be on the rise as a way to motivate and engage staff. Employees can also have a voice through various discussion forums and via integration with Yammer which was launched this summer.

“We introduced Yammer in June to selected business cases. Since then, the network has grown organically. We now have close to 10,000 employees using Yammer inside the company,” Rolf points out.

Watch this space for a follow-up case study on the use of Yammer at IKEA.