Each year I look forward to reading the Intranet Design Annual published by the Nielsen Norman Group. The report provides an inside peek into a variety of intranets that Nielsen Norman Group has awarded with their “best intranet” award for the previous year. The report itself is a bargain at $248 for an individual license ($488 for a group license) because whether you agree with the “best” designation or not, the report is a small price to pay for a quick way to benchmark with 10 other organizations. This year’s report comes with an accompanying file that has full-size versions of all of the 149 intranet images that are included in the report – which will make it very easy to share them in internal presentations.
SharePoint is part of 70% of the winning intranets
The first thing I always want to know, of course, is which intranets are based on SharePoint. I’ve done this analysis since 2007, and for the last 5 years, about half the winning intranets have been based on SharePoint. Of the 2015 winners, 6 intranets are totally based on SharePoint – 5 on SharePoint 2013 and 1 on SharePoint 2010. A 7th winner, Sprint, uses OpenText for their intranet content management platform and SharePoint 2013 for team collaboration and enterprise search. By my count, that makes a total of 7-ish based on SharePoint, the highest number since I started counting. The winning intranets based on SharePoint are the following. All but UniCredit are based on SharePoint 2013.
- Accolade (The Netherlands)
- Conoco Phillips (United States)
- The Foschini Group (South Africa)
- Saudi Food and Drug Authority (Saudi Arabia)
- TAURON Polska Energia SA (Poland)
- UniCredit S.p.A. (Italy)
Modern design features are present in all the winners
The Nielsen Norman Group produces a bi-weekly newsletter that always has great user experience tips, and the post on January 4, 2015 includes a nice summary of the winners and the trends in this year. I definitely encourage you to read it. A couple of the trends that I noticed:
- Responsive design – 5 of the 10 winners implemented intranets in a responsive way. A few were smarter than others (at least I think so) in that they did not try to make everything responsive – just the areas that they determined (by user analysis) that their audience wanted to interact with on mobile devices. In at least one instance, the winner did not worry about responsive design, but considered mobile apps as part of their strategy and created task-based mobile applications for activities that their users needed on mobile devices.
- SharePoint who? – All the SharePoint-based winners use the on-premises version of the product. They all have custom branding, but 3 of the 6 are super-customized – so much so that you might find it hard to tell that SharePoint is behind the scenes. The designers have probably all been given the direction to “make it not look like SharePoint” and they clearly drank that Kool-Aid. However, it’s very clear that Microsoft is promoting a cloud-first strategy for the future of SharePoint. This means that the next time these organizations look at their intranet strategy, they would be remiss not to evaluate Office 365 as an option or “companion” to their on-premises environment (i.e., hybrid). However, the pace of change in Office 365 continues to be far more rapid than I think anyone anticipated, which presents a particular challenge for branding that is implemented using custom master pages. If organizations want to take advantage of the cool new “toys” that come with Office 365 (like Delve), it will be especially important to understand what types of customizations can be accommodated without buying in to significant and ongoing maintenance costs. Microsoft has provided a general article providing advice on planning Office 365 customizations that provides guidance about how to minimize the risk of making customizations that will not preclude adopting future changes to the Office 365 user interface that should be part of any redesign strategy.
- Images and video – Virtually all of the winners used images and video in clever and engaging ways. One of my favorites is Adobe, whose Employee Communications team produces a biweekly video called “90 Seconds Inside Adobe” that provides a quick recap of headlines from around the globe. This is not something that they just throw together – they spend time curating and producing – so that it’s something that is clearly going to be worth taking less than two minutes to review.
- Task oriented – All of the intranets that won were re-vamps of existing intranets. And almost all of them (and my favorites) focused on making it easier for employees to get work done. The winning Verizon “intranet,” which is actually just their HR Portal, has each employee’s HR “to-dos” featured in the upper left hand corner of the landing page.
- Role-based – 9 of the 10 winners use role-based personalization to feature meaningful content to their employees. One uses business, division, country, language, and other factors to create a unique and targeted experience for their employees and helps establish the intranet as a place to get work done.
- Social – All but two of the winners had improving employee engagement as part of their redesign goals. In some cases, the objective was met merely by allowing users to Like and Comment on news. In others, the engagement was more extensive. For example, Sprint has a really cool capability where they are encouraging employees to be ambassadors for the company (they call them Social Media Ninjas) on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. To make this super easy, the Corporate Communications team creates pre-defined approved social media posts that are formatted for each target environment that employees can use with one click. The page includes governance guidelines at the top explaining how and why to share via social outlets. This is an example of something that might be a bit of a chicken and an egg in terms of a “trend.” Last year, this was a clear feature that Nielsen Norman pointed out about several of the award winners. This year, almost all of the winners have some kind of social features. What is important is that employee engagement is very much part of the intranet conversation and whether it is a chicken or an egg, it’s something that should be an important goal of any intranet redesign.
Good reading for all intranet professionals
Sometimes I wonder whether awards like this one and others are recognizing best practices or creating trends that may or not be “best.” For example, over the past several years, Nielsen Norman has given awards to companies who use mega-menus for navigation. I have nothing against mega-menus (in fact, I like them), but once a company gets an award for a particular design approach, it seems like every organization absolutely must use that approach. It must be the “best” because they won an award, right? This year, 4 out of the 10 winning intranet designs use mega-menus.
Whether creating or reflecting intranet design trends, the Nielsen Norman Intranet Design Annual may not always actually feature the “best” intranets, but the report always provides for interesting reading. The report has a summary at the front and then a detailed description (with lots of screen shots) of each of the 10 organizations’ intranets. One especially great reason to read the whole document is the lessons learned at the end of each chapter. Intranet teams shared everything from things you'd expect – like using an iterative approach – to really helpful and specific insights – like what to look for in a partner providing search support. On average, creating a new intranet took the winning teams an average of 1.4 years. That’s good information as input when you create your intranet redesign project plan. It won’t take you 1.4 years to review the report in its entirety – it took me the better part of a Sunday afternoon – and it’s likely to be something that you’ll come back to for inspiration and ideas for an entire year, or at least until January 2016 when the next year’s winners are announced!