Top 10 intranets are ‘genuinely enjoyable’ for employees

February 11, 2013

Originally posted by Matt Wilson on

The director of the Nielsen Norman Group said the top 10 intranets of the year did more than just streamline and pretty up. They pulled people together.

To have a top 10 intranet, you’ve got to think about more than just a website, Amy Schade, director at Nielsen Norman Group told the hosts of the Digital Workplace Group’s monthly Digital Workplace Live program. “We’re looking for what’s usable, but also what’s inspirational,” she said.

Top Ten buttonSchade said many of this year’s winners made significant usability changes. For example, faceted searches—which enable users to search within categories rather than in one big chunk—were big this year. Making major changes to content was another thing the top 10 shared.

None of it happened in a vacuum, however; it all had to happen within an ecosystem. A site couldn’t just have a social section, Schade said. It had to be entirely social. Using the intranet had to be genuinely enjoyable, something you didn’t see on many intranets, even a couple of years ago.

“People are really focusing now on having a good user experience on the site,” she said.

That takes more than just maintaining an intranet. Companies have to take big leaps. For instance, AT&T worked for three years on improving its search.

“Intranets are what you put into them,” Schade said. “If you see it as just something that has to be maintained, it’s never going to make a big change in the organization.”

IBF founder and CEO Paul Miller asked whether Schade would like Nielsen Norman to give a particular award that it doesn’t already hand out. She said she’d love to offer a most-improved award. Lots of companies that weren’t in the top 10 made big jumps in quality this year, she said.

What do Nielsen Norman judges hate to see? Bad navigation, Schade said. Sometimes, they’ll be on an intranet’s page and not have any idea where they can go from there.

Tuesday’s broadcast included tours of two of Nielsen Norman’s top intranets, Spanish broadband provider ONO and insurance giant AIG.


ONO’s intranet launched about a year ago, running entirely on the SharePoint 2010 platform. The company’s goal, said Internal Communications Manager Alicia Delgado Garcia, was to make it look like anything but SharePoint.

The design was a huge part of why ONO’s intranet was among the top 10, Schade said, but it also had a lot to do with how the new intranet mirrored what was going on with the company, pulling everyone together.

“We wanted a very powerful collaborative tool,” Delgado Garcia said. “What people have outside, they want inside the company.”

ONO’s intranet uses Beezy networking tools to include a Facebook-like wall on the home page, along with other collaboration tools, such as groups and document sharing, in a section called “Agora.” The right side of the home page is entirely personalized with links to those groups and documents.

The social tools have become employees’ preferred method of communication, Delgado Garcia said.

“This has completely changed the way we work at ONO,” she said. “Now we’re sharing everything.”

Delgado Garcia also pointed to ways that ONO is trying to make its communications more interesting and exciting. For example, she showed one article in the form of a comic strip.

“If you don’t make things different, people don’t read,” she noted.


Personalization is a big part of AIG’s intranet as well, said Victor Aviles, director of AIG corporate communications.

“We want for every employee to have a site that’s slightly different from the one from the person sitting next to them,” he said.

The development of AIG’s award-winning intranet wasn’t a quick one. It took incremental growth—the merging of 75 disparate intranets convinced management that social tools were a good idea, too, for example.

That consolidation has helped AIG employees feel like colleagues rather than people separated by brand-labeled silos, Aviles said. How drastically AIG streamlined its intranet was a key reason for its top-10 placement, Schade said.

Schade also mentioned how much of AIG’s content is available through video now. Aviles said the company’s taking it slowly in that arena, however, because of bandwidth worries. Schade added that videos are a great way to present information, but not everyone has time to watch them.

“You can’t skim a video,” she remarked. “You have to strike a balance.”

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Categorised in: Collaboration, Usability & design

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