Jakob Nielsen: Intranets Earning More Enterprise Respect

Ann All

When I wrote about last year's list of Ten Best Designed Intranets from Nielsen Norman Group, the big story was the increasing numbers of companies incorporating Web 2.0 elements into their intranets.

This year's list shows more of the same.

Jakob Nielsen spotlights the top trends at the beginning of his post, and there's plenty of good stuff: Companies are finally starting to realize that intranets can be strategic. (So strategic that the intranet team of one winner reports directly to the company chairman.) More intranets are adding collaboration support. Companies are creating more internal expertise devoted to intranets. Platforms are becoming more integrated, and Microsoft's SharePoint is winning fans. Usage skyrocketed (106 percent on average) when companies improved usability.

The average size of teams devoted to intranets is 14 people, up from six in 2001. Nielsen calls this "a healthy trend," and I agree. As users of an intranet themselves, who better than an internal team to determine what works and what doesn't? And maintaining on-site resources helps companies better respond to employees' needs. That said, Nielsen notes that sometimes it makes sense to engage a third party to get a fresh perspective. Other reasons for seeking outside help: to access the kinds of skills or knowledge for which a company can't cost-justify adding a full-time staffer, and to ease workload during major projects.

A couple of cool Web 2.0-influenced features from winning intranets:

  • An interactive forum at Environmental Resource Management on which consultants post urgent requests for advice from colleagues. Nielsen notes that the forum has practically eliminated multiple broadcast e-mails with similar queries. (And we all know that reading those kinds of e-mails can burn a scary amount of time.)
  • A feature at McKesson that allows users to create customized product and report lists, so they can go right to the stuff they use most frequently and don't have to waste time clicking around the site.

Interesting general trends mentioned by Nielsen:

  • More blogs in general, and especially CEO blogs.
  • Addition of Facebook-like features to employee directories.
  • More personalization, such as offering employees news updates geared toward their specific job roles and personal interests. Showing all employees all of the news leads to folks wasting time on items irrelevant to them and/or simply ignoring the news, notes Nielsen.
  • More support for multiple languages.

Of course, it merits mention that even with the addition of these kinds of features, employees may need further prompting to nudge them out of relying on old collaboration habits such as e-mail. I wrote about this in October.


Finally, a great example to throw in when making a business case for an intranet redesign: Winner L.L. Bean found the success rate of its intranet improved from 67 percent to 88 percent after a redesign. The time required to perform specified tasks fell from 1 minute, 52 seconds to 54 seconds on average. In other words, writes Nielsen, "users can perform more than twice as many tasks per hour with the new design."

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