10 top tips to improve your intranet by
Nick Throp, Director, Like Minds UK Limited
The Intranet – Pain or Panacea?
Is your intranet failing to deliver value for your company and your people? If your
intranet isn’t delivering a good experience, then time and money are being wasted. The
Nielsen Norman Group states that employees at companies with poor intranets take twice
as long to perform a set of tasks as do employees at companies with good intranets. They
put a dollar value of $1,000 to this differential – so for a company with 1,000 employees,
that means a $1,000,000 per year in lost time.
So what can you do to improve your intranet? Here are 10 things to think about.
Intranet Business Strategy
Although many intranets are the results of a series of unplanned initiatives that have
coalesced into the company intranet, the time comes when it is vital to have a business
strategy for the intranet.
What are the business drivers for the intranet? Which is the priority? Who owns the
intranet and has responsibility for ensuring that it delivers value to the organisation? If
you don’t have an intranet strategy it’s time you got one.
Do you know what your users actually want from an intranet? Profiling your users,
finding out what they want from an intranet and actively soliciting feedback at all stages
of the development results in better products being delivered at lower cost.
How is the information on your intranet classified and organised? Is the information
grouped in ways that really make sense or has the default “navigate by department”
approach been taken?
Information architecture (IA) is the “art and science of structuring and classifying web
sites and intranets to help people find and manage information”, and the larger the
intranet that you are responsible for, the greater the need to apply some IA techniques to
ensure that your employees can get to information they need.
How much content do you have on your intranet? Would anyone notice if you got rid of a
lot of it?
Content Management Systems (CMS) are often talked about as a solution. These systems
certainly can be effective but too often companies spend a fortune on implementing a
CMS only for the results to be disappointing.
Be smart - you don’t have to spend a fortune to implement expensive Content
Management Systems. There is a variety of open-source (free} CMS solutions out there
that cost nothing to try out.
Usage statistics should be your starting point for measuring how your intranet is
performing but metrics only tell part of the story. There are several tools that can be used
to help here – from more expensive industry standards to lower cost alternatives that can
provide you with the main highlights.
Site visual appeal
Because intranets are targeted at an internal audience, it is often felt that they do not need
to look as professional or visually appealing as the customer facing internet site. This
attitude sends the wrong message to employees. A recent large study conducted by
Stanford University and ConsumerWatch showed that over 50% of the population assign
greater credibility to sites that are visually appealing.
More than just a logo
There is much talk these days of “employer branding.” In basic terms this means the
experience that the employee has in every aspect of his or relationship with the employer.
Many organisations are working hard at developing their employer brands but how is that
reflected in the design, structure and functionality of the intranet? Are the brand values
lived out in the experience users have on the intranet?
Does everyone have access to the intranet? Don’t ignore shop and factory floor workers.
What about people constantly on the road? These may be the people that benefit most
Good usability is the cornerstone of a successful intranet and demands that you
continually test your site.
Expert review (or site auditing) involves a usability expert going through and scoring the
site based on a checklist of items. It can be a very quick and effective way to identify
areas where problems lie.
User testing involves observing real users interacting with the intranet. Observing and
listening to users as they struggle to complete tasks is the best way to convince non-
believers that the problem exists.
Make sure that the intranet and your other communication channels are integrated. For
example, what channels do you use for different types of message? Messages can be
classified by their audience, content, complexity, timeliness of distribution. Which media
will you use to get your message across in the most effective way? Technology may not
be the answer – how about good old face-to-face?
Your First Step
Audit your current intranet. What is its purpose? Is it delivering against its original
objectives? Have those objectives changed?
From there you can develop a compelling vision of what your intranet can deliver to both
the organisation and its employees and begin the task of transforming it from being a pain
to the panacea you originally intended.