my world of work and user experiences

February 28, 2013

Nielsen Intranet Annual 2013 Trends in the intranet world

Filed under: Usability — Tags: — frederique @ 20:08

A new year, a new Nielsen Norman Group Intranet Annual. As always, they have looked at a lot of intranets and picked the ones that are most useable and user-friendly. And don’t think “we use SharePoint so it does not apply to us”, as 70% of this year’s winners are on SharePoint! These some of their lessons learned and trends that resonated with me.

  • It takes time and people to make a great intranet
    In these days of tools like SharePoint that we can use out-of-the-box, creating an intranet is no big deal, right? Wrong! “Just because a tool lets you do something doesn’t mean it’s a good design solution for your users. Across the years, our winning designs have tended to be from organizations that customized an existing technology solution to fit their needs, rather than simply doing an out-of-the-box implementation. That is, team members took the time to understand the tool inside and out, and worked with the tool to meet their organizations’ needs.” [p.363]. So development of the winning intranets took 2,3 years on average and the team consisted of 18 people, including consultants.
    “It’s not fair to ask a tiny team to take on an endeavor as great as designing and managing an intranet, even if you are “simply deploying” an out-of box solution.” [p.7] You don’t just need to build something nice. You also need to embed it in the organization, finding out what the employees need, asking feedback, testing with them what works best and communicating to them what they can do with it. “Even the busiest development teams, or those with the craziest deadlines, should take time to watch people attempt basic tasks using the design” [p.363]
  • Involve the content owners from the start
    One of the classic goals of an intranet is that the employees can find relevant information on it. In that context, we often talk about the ways to find it, via the search function and smart navigation options. But there also has to be a good, up-to-date, readable and fitting story when you have found the page. The winners have made sure of that by involving the authors from the start and helping them with their work. Not just writing new stories, but also determining what needs to be migrated from the old intranet: restart from scratch or clean up the content. But whatever you do, don’t just copy over the entire garbage heap – garbage in, garbage out.
  • Manage the content well
    That attention to the content is not just needed in the beginning, but continuously: “For the past few years, great intranet teams have been emphasizing regular content updates and creating processes and workflows that religiously keep content up-to-date.” [p.25] We – and they – see a lot of intranets that fall into the trap of content pollution. Users have a hard time picking the nuggets of golden info from the heaps of garbage.
  • Findable content: Filters gebaseerd op metadata
    To find that content, users can filter it via faceted search, which is really taking off by now. That makes sense, because “one of the greatest issues with today’s intranets is that they house too much content for users to deal with in an IA or even typical search results, [so] employees are willing to manipulate results to find exactly what they want.” [p.23]
    This kind of smart search only works if the information has been labelled properly with metadata. Social tagging is a catalyst here, and we see that SharePoint’s options for entering metadata and tagging help as well, such as the term store with type-ahead functionality that makes it easy to tag consistently. But it still takes time and effort. So according to Nielsen structure and navigation is still the number one challenge for struggling intranets, and there is still too much information in silos where it can hardly be found. But the winners say that it is definitely worth the time and effort.
  • Full on social integration
    In earlier editions of the report and some intranets in my experience, commenting en tagging are isolated in a separate section of the intranet or even a separate site. But then I see that users do not visit that section and hardly anybody participates. Now you can get social and interact on all content everywhere in more and more intranets. “There shouldn’t be a sense that there is one place for users to share information, and another for them to consume information.” [p.366] Companies that are still hesitant to get too social can at least make it easy to find people with particular expertise, so that you can contact them offline.
  • Take immediate action when you have found somebody
    Using the people search, it is easy to find people and then to contact them. If you have SharePoint and Lync, this is out-of-the-box functionality that is quite helpful. And it is not only available via the people search, but you get these contact options anywhere, like in the Members web part displayed on the homepage of your team site.
  • Pseudo-personalized homepages
    Personalization of the homepage based on your role has become very popular, but it can be very tricky to keep that up-to-date and working properly. Many companies therefore they take a step back: they let the users select for example their language and company code, or the type of home page they want, like a marketing home page or a customer home page. It needs to be very clear to the users why they should select anything and how they should do it. If you do automate personalization, check with HR regularly of the profiles still make sense.
  • Integration with enterprise applications
    The winning intranets make it easy for the employees to get into other applications – they talk about apps, very hot & happening …. The apps are often put on the home page and/or in the main navigation. And you see the apps that fit your role and/or the apps that you selected. Of course then you want to be able to access those apps without logging on separately – Single Sign On.
  • Feeds from the outside world
    Intranets already had inward facing social features, now they also display Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social sites from the outside: “offering these features as part of the intranet news serves as a frequent reminder, enables speedy access, and demonstrates support for the organizations’ representation on social sites. It also sends a message to employees that they should care about what customers are saying” [p.22] I’ve seen RSS feeds from the internet before, but I also see this outward facing view get emphasized now.
  • Mobile hardly there
    For years we’ve all been saying that mobile is hot or should be hot. Last year, we were disappointed of the mobile presence in great intranets. And this year is no better: the researchers have found only one instance of a mobile application for a winning intranet: an app for de iPad, for sales people. The others do something for mobile access, but haven’t optimized anything for it, for security reasons, because it is too difficult to choose a platform, because there is no money to develop or manage it, or because they don’t know how to tackle it.
  • Collect feedback and communicate
    Build your intranet and the users will come? Not necessarily… The winners were very serious about communicating its benefits and collecting feedback from the users to improve the intranet: users can send an e-mail easily and from everywhere, fill in feedback forms, respond to discussions about the new intranet. During launch, this gets additional attention by way of a banner on important pages. And they really do something with the feedback, so that the users know it is worth responding.

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