The best intranets were not crowned in January

Once again US-based design consultancy Nielsen Norman Group kicked off the year with much fanfare publishing their usual list of the top 10 intranets for 2016.

Besides the joke when a consultancy crowns winners for the year during the beginning of the first month where budgets and projects are ready to go, the deeper problem here is the disconnects between reality and hype, I experienced when reviewing the so called best practices and trends during a series of intranet group meetings in the J. Boye community in the now 2 months since the report came out.

Intranets are complex and take time

As many have experienced, intranet launches remain mostly painfully slow sea voyages, spanning over several years.

Actually NNGroup’s own report cites that the average development time for the intranets featured on their top ten has been going down for the past 3 years, coming to a fast paced average of 1.3 years this year.

We have several past NNGroup winners among our group members and they commented that when you submit your application to be among the top 10 intranets, what they call “intranet development time” is quite open for interpretation.

What we see among members is intranet launches in less than a year, e.g. with out-of-the-box solutions, and some that takes longer. Irrespective of time to launch, most often the intranet development keeps going after launch to introduce additional improvements.

That is one big list you got there …

The average team size of the featured teams was 14 people according to NNGroup this year, and from the perspective of many intranet professionals even in large, complex organisations that is a massive team size.

All the top ten winners also employed consultancy services, which is perfectly normal, but the long list of external services used struck me as a tad helpless given that the top 10 winners had both big teams and substantial usage of consulting services.

Is the measure of success not also about being creative and doing the most with what you got?

It was encouraging to see the list featuring a company like Repsol with a team size of only 4. But this also entails that Repsol is bringing the average down, which means you also get Dorma+Kaba in a completely different weight class with a team size of 25, and that can’t exactly be described as slim by any standards.

Top ten is good for press, less helpful for practitioners

Susan Hanley, intranet analyst, SharePoint expert and speaker at the J. Boye Philadelphia conference in May among other things, said it well in regard to the NNGroup list for 2015 where they concluded that 7 out of 10 award winning intranets use SharePoint:

I wonder whether awards like this one and others are recognizing best practices or creating trends that may or not be “best.”

Susan acknowledges the usability and design aspect of the report as a benchmark for other intranet teams, as do I, but where the report in my view comes short is in particular:

  • Taking 10 winners and making a science out of intranet team size and support based on just the numbers from those 10 very different organisations. Arriving at conclusions like 7 out of 10 award winning intranets use SharePoint is helpful mostly for the SharePoint eco-system of service providers.
  • Helping those organisations that need tangible, actionable insights to persuade management to invest more in their intranet. Believe it or not, management support for an intranet is still not a given in all organisations
  • Recognizing the big industry differences, e.g. between the legal and financial services industries, which we see typically with very advanced and specific intranets, and then say non-profits or government, where some also have great intranets, often on very small budgets, but needless to say with a very different organisational culture and mission.

A small team and a lot of groundwork — Alzheimer’s Society

In the J. Boye intranet community we are witnessing small teams putting tremendous amounts of work into establishing intranets suited for their users.

In our network I have been especially impressed with John Bazleys team at Alzheimer’s society and the amount of groundwork they have put into their intranet. Read more about it in babystepping into an intranet recently published by our group moderator Stephen Emmott.