NNG Intranet Design Annual 2020 – winning secrets

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Those in the know will not have missed this year’s publication of the Nielsen Norman Group’s (NNG) Intranet Design Annual – the go-to report on all things intranet. Without a doubt, it is the most credible body of research on the role of the intranet as the hub of today’s digital workplace. It’s a must-read for anyone involved in social intranets and digital workplace projects.  

Over the past 20 years, NNG have singled out the best ten intranets from around the globe each year, providing a rich resource of advice and best practice examples that track the evolution and development of intranet design trends over time.  

simply’s Head of consulting, Jonathan Phillips says: “As ever, the NNG report is a treasure-trove for folks working in intranets and digital workplaces – for the simply team, it’s one of the must read reports of the year”.

This year’s report is a weighty beast, coming in at a mere 536 pages. It is packed with 189 full-colour screenshots of before-and-after designs, which are usually protected behind the organisation’s firewall. Comprehensive expert reviews, case studies, detailed best practices and annotated screenshots keep you up-to-date on current trends and provide heaps of ideas that you can use to improve your own intranet design. 

Here are the organisations (in alphabetical order) with the 10 best-designed intranets for 2020: 

  • Angelini Holding SpA (Italy), international group leader in the health and well-being area of the pharmaceutical and mass-market sectors 
  • Bank Spoldzielczy we Wschowie (Poland), cooperative bank serving three Polish provinces 
  • Barclays (UK), financial institution that moves, lends, invests, and protects money for customers and clients worldwide 
  • Consolidated Edison, Inc. (US), one of the Unites States’ largest investor-owned energy-delivery companies, providing a range of energy-related products and services 
  • Dynacare (Canada), one of Canada’s largest health solutions companies, offering services that include medical testing, insurance solutions, corporate wellness programs, advanced genetic testing, and digital health solutions 
  • Husky Energy (Canada), integrated energy company with 30 office locations across Canada, the US, and Asia-Pacific 
  • Korn Ferry (US), global organizational consulting firm, helping companies design their organization’s structure, roles, responsibilities, compensation, and development 
  • Loblaw Companies Limited (Canada), Canada’s largest retailer, providing grocery, pharmacy, health and beauty, apparel, general merchandise, financial services, and wireless mobile products and services 
  • United Nations (US), international organization that takes action on the challenges confronting humanity in the 21st century and offers a forum for countries to come together to tackle challenging issues 
  • Wellcome Trust (UK), a health organization that supports researchers, campaigns for better science, and exists to improve health 

 Agile 

The main theme from this year’s report is Agile; Agile; Agile. This year – as well as last year – all ten winners reported that they used an agile development process meaning that new intranets are delivered more rapidly. Essentially, this translates as creating a fairly comprehensive product which includes most of, if not all, the important features and following it up with numerous smaller iterations which introduce additional features as required.  

Interestingly, while this is a different concept to the once popular minimum viable product (MVP) approach, average intranet build times have remained this year at 1.4 years but with a better product at initial launchThis seems to be because working in Agile sprints ensures greater collaboration and transparency, meaning that any issues are identified sooner and thus remedied more swiftly. No longer the days of developers spending months working away on something only to discover problems after the product went live.     

Team size 

From this year’s winning ten entries, there was a huge discrepancy in team size delivering the projects. From core teams as small as just 5 people at Korn Ferry, to as many as 80 at Angelini! The average team size is 16, which has doubled since 2007 – that’s good news for intranets surely. Anyone involved in an intranet project knows that creating and maintaining an intranet, no matter how much is automated and how brilliant the workflows, is still a very hands-on job!  

Partnerships with agencies 

Six of this year’s winning entries used outside agencies and consultants to help with their intranet redesigns. With intranets being far more sophisticated it is common to use technologies, employ development processes, and require expertise that in-house teams may not have. Popular areas requiring external expertise include information architecture, journey-map creation, prototyping, user research and development. The report authors add a cautionary note here: reliance on outside resources is a double-edged sword and raises a crucial question. With quick development times and iterative processes, who is left to iterate, maintain, and continually improve the new site when these short-term external resources are no longer on contract? Factoring in longer term partnerships seems to be the way forward. 

Marketing activities 

Communications around the launch of a new intranet is a given. All the winners had a well-coordinated promotional programme. Pre-launch activity creates buzz and awareness and educates employees about core features and benefits of the new intranet. An ongoing series of promotions as new features are added gives opportunity for further reinforcement.   

Common intranet goals and objectives  

Every winner in this year’s report had clear goals for their intranet. Whatever their specific goals were, they all had something around community, inclusivity, collaboration and knowledge access. For example, Barclays: organise hundreds of tools and division-specific microsites in one placeand Korn Ferry: bring together staff and teams under one digital roof; provide one platform to effectively communicate, collaborate and manage knowledge  across the entire organisation. 

It is also clear that the intranet is seen as the gateway to all the tools, applications and micro sites in the business. Like last year too, the intranet is very much the heart of the digital workplace. 

Jonathan Phillips: “When building intranet specifications, teams often focus on what it needs to do – the functionality – and the content that it needs to house but rarely define the intranet’s utility: How it feels to use the site. If we provide functionality that is difficult to use, or creates design disaster when design delight was possible, then employees will avoid using your intranet. The NNg group champion usability and rightly remind us to keep our users front-and-centre” 

Personalisation and customisation 

Whether the organisation comprises a few small teams or several large businesses, an intranet — more than any other digital tool — can bond them together. Seeing each group’s information and apps in the same menu, search results, and homepage can teach or remind employees about each team’s strengths and resources, so they may work together in the future. Likewise, having access to the same overarching news, leaders’ messages, rich employee-profile documents, and policies can be unifying. But personalising the intranet experience is also extremely important and essential for ongoing engagement. All winning intranets offer plenty of opportunity to customise your intranet experience, from quick links to favoured tools and apps, to the type of content you want to read and the groups you want to hear from. 

Jonathan Phillips: “Personalising the intranet experience, through data-led targeting of content for example, is critical. In maximising the relevance of the content, you’re creating an efficient user journey and a compelling reason to visit. However, you build personalisation in – via a subscription model allowing employees to select the content they want, or via a prescription model using employee profile data – it’s an exercise that generates returns.” 

“I’m less convinced on the business case for customisation. More than a decade ago, Credit Suisse had fully customisable intranet homepage, allowing their employees to essentially create the intranet that was right for them. You may also recall a similar opportunity that Google provided with their search page but in both instances, uptake is low – likely too low to justify the expense”  

Building personal connections 

Winning designs promote the idea of building personal connections, whether that be via something like a Yammer feed, or highlighting personal stories of success and celebration. User generated content is on the rise, and several of this years winners actively encourage employees to post articles on their intranets. At Wellcome Trust for example, 40% of employees posted an article on the intranet last year! Giving authors credit for content and making their contact information available helps keeps content fresh too 

The Wellcome Trust Intranet team

 Making life easy 

Findability and quick access is evident on all the winning intranets. Whichever way you choose to do it, employees love the harmonious joining of intranets and applications. Toolbars with custom favourites, customisable bookmarks, personalised dashboards and a really good search function are giving employees practically unlimited control over the content they see. Last year we noted for the first time the widespread use of keywords to filter page content and this continues to be a feature in all great intranets.  

Conclusion 

Perhaps this year has been one of consolidation in intranet design – we have not noticed any real firsts in this year’s report. Nevertheless, intranets as being at the heart of digital workplaces have come of age and this year’s report demonstrates clearly the essentials for success. Clear goals, agile development, an holistic view of your organisation, great search functionality, a sense of community, fresh content and a customisable experience are the non-negotiable components of your new winning intranet.    

 Jonathan Phillips: “simply communicate likes to celebrate intranet excellence and so, hot on the heels of their NNg win, we’re delighted to welcome the Wellcome Trust to simplyIC in May. The winning team, represented by Alice Berry and John Baptiste-Kelly, will talk our audience through their winning intranet. Buy your tickets and come and learn from the best” 

Get your tickets to simplyIC here. For more information, head to www.simplyic.info