Learn from the best: Intranet Design Annual 2019 results

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User-research firm, Nielsen Norman Group who has been tracking the development and evolution of intranet design for over 20 years, has just published its Intranet Design Annual 2019 results. This hotly anticipated report showcases the world’s 10 best intranets for 2019 offering more than 650 pages of sound advice and oodles of creative design examples.

Marc Wright presents smilelondon 2017
Marc Wright

Marc Wright, MD and founder of simply-communicate comments: “Often I am asked what good looks like when it comes to social intranets and the digital workplace. It’s a simple question, but a hard one to answer as companies don’t open their intranets to the general public. The NNG Top 10 is like an annual exhibition at a leading art gallery where I can wander around, take photos and appreciate the hard work of talented IC teams and their vendors. It is a comprehensive report, and you really can’t get the benefit from a quick flick-though. I use it to see how an organisation has taken the canvas, palette and tools of a platform and created something useful and appealing. It’s all about enhancing the working lives of our colleagues. Do their eyes light up or darken when they switch on the company portal in the morning?”

Giving us probably the best, and most credible, body of research on the role of the intranet as the hub of the digital workplace, it’s a must-read for anyone involved in social intranets and digital workplace projects.

In alphabetical order, the world’s 10 best intranets for 2019, which are all featured in detail in Nielsen Norman Group’s 682-page report Intranet Design Annual 2019: The Year’s 10 Best Intranets are:

  • 3M (US), a global science company
  • Anthem, Inc., (US), one of the nation’s leading health benefits companies
  • BHP Billiton Limited (Australia), a leading global resources company
  • Duke Energy (US), one of the largest electric power holding companies in the US, supplying and delivering electricity to approximately 7.4 million US customers
  • European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) (UK), an international, multilateral development bank that provides financial instruments and advisory services that strengthen economies on three continents
  • Flight Centre Travel Group (Australia), the world’s largest independent travel company, specializing in vacations, tours, and corporate travel
  • The International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) (US), an American multinational technology company
  • Lamprell Energy Limited (United Arab Emirates), a leading provider of engineering, procurement, construction and other contracting services to the offshore and onshore oil, gas, and renewable energy industries
  • Messer Construction Co. (US), an employee-owned commercial construction company
  • Norwegian Government Security and Service Organization (Norway), a shared services organization within the central government of Norway

Intranet design trends worth noting

There are some general themes worth noting here such as the fact that a broader range of industries are now taking intranet design and UX seriously, compared with a decade ago.

More interesting perhaps is the fact that since 2014 development times have dropped significantly. From 2001 to 2013, the average was 23.5 months (2.0 years), while the average from 2014 forward was just 15.9 months (1.3 years). Last year, the average winning intranets’ development time dropped even further, to 14 months (1.2 years), and it held at 14 months again this year.  Agile development has removed the sense of finality of a released design. Teams still plan major components, but they deliver them in waves, often after the big redesign goes live. Thus, the great intranets are always improving.

Eight of this year’s winning organisations looked to outside agencies and consultants to help with their intranet redesign, bringing in an average of two agencies each. Key areas that teams sought help for included: discovery, information architecture, journey map creation, user research, discovery, project management, content creation and editor training.

Kara Pernice

Kara Pernice, who co-authored the report told us: “Intranet designers are willing to share their experiences in the interest of making even higher-calibre intranets today. The ‘lessons learned’ sections of the report include their generous, salient advice.”

Certainly, this is a rich source of insight for anyone tackling an intranet project right now or in the future and perhaps well worth reading before approaching any third parties for advice.

In the meantime, here are my nine key noteworthy takeaways from this year’s analysis:

1.Hub of the digital workplace
At almost any organisation, the number of applications available to employees can be countless; knowing when to use which tool, mystifying; and how to find the right tool, impossible. But today’s intranets are very good at finding the applications that employees need and making them readily available.

2.Keeping content current
Ensuring that content is current is the bane of many intranet editors. This year’s winners advanced the quest for current content in thought-provoking ways such as offering a mini-form that employees can use to provide feedback about page content or doing a monthly content audit with key content managers.

3.Simplified design; responsive design
Usable, useful, and beautiful describe this year’s winning designs. Flat is gone. Now, even minimalist visual designs include subtle but noticeable signifiers to indicate that a link is clickable and that a button is a button. Text is legible, yet calm, and color palettes make pages look good while helping to create visual hierarchies. 100% of the winning intranets had a responsive platform designed for the mobile worker, across a range of devices. Essential for organisations with employees on-the-go or on the front-line who need access to the intranet, either to connect to their teams, check their schedules or complete routine HR tasks. Ideally, the app should contain relevant content that has been specifically streamlined for the mobile experience.

4.Give your intranet the staff resources it deserves
Creating and maintaining an intranet — no matter how much you automate and build good workflows — is still a manual job in many ways. The report suggests that fewer employees remain dedicated to the intranet and its maintenance, governance and iterative development once a major redesign project is completed. Given the intranet’s importance for communicating internally and completing daily work, it suggests that intranet teams should be more generously staffed.

5.Tools and apps
Findability and quick access is evident on all the winning intranets. Toolbars with custom favourites, customizable bookmarks, personalized dashboards – whichever way you choose to do it, employees love the harmonious joining of intranets and applications.

6.Search advancements
Using keywords to filter page content and search results gives employees practically unlimited control over the content t they see. Previously uncommon, this advanced feature is now standard in all great intranets.

7.Employee engagement
 The use of the intranet in cultivating relationships among employees is an increasing     trend. Organisations increasingly are using the intranet to create more pleasurable     working environments by sharing success stories and celebrating milestones.

8. Launch and relaunch
This year’s winners tapped into the expertise of IC teams and their PR savvy to get their new intranets notices – and used. Committing time, budget and resources to communication and a well-planned launch campaign is vital.

9. Personalisation and customisation
Personalisation (pushing content and features to users based on their roles) and Customisation (allowing users to make content and features they want to see easily accessible) remain highly valuable ways to increase engagement with your intranet, improving communication and productivity. This year we see more blurring of the lines between the two with users having greater control over their preferences.

Martyn Perks

Martyn Perks, Head of Customer Insight at Unily, part of the only UK winning entry, told us: “We are delighted to receive our 5th Nielsen Norman award, this time for Flight Centre’s new intranet platform. Together we set out to accelerate productivity with a clear and consistent intranet design that made functionality accessible and easy to use and, most importantly, enabled the publication of timely and accurate communications. The intranet plays an integral role in ensuring that frontline staff have the information required to proactively exceed their customers’ needs and expectations, especially during times of travel disruption and emergency. As a result, the Unily intranet has significantly increased the company’s ability to provide the exceptional service on which it bases its success.”

Nielsen Norman Group’s Intranet Design Annual 2019: The Year’s 10 Best Intranets, co-authored by Kara Pernice and Patty Caya, is available to download for $248 (group license $488) from the Nielsen Norman Group website at http://www.nngroup.com/reports/intranet-design-annual/