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Key intranet capabilities. How does yours compare?

Two cars. Same make and model but one is missing headlines and grill, and is unpainted.

Key intranet capabilities. How does yours compare?

You’ve got a vague sense of unease about yours, and you assume everyone else’s is performing better. It’s really hard to compare your intranet to another, as the other company may have different strategic goals, even if you’re in the same industry.

True benchmarking, when your data is shared for the benefit of others, is hard and can be expensive. Sample sizes can be too small to give you a true sense of your success. So while comms and collaboration pros use the word, I don’t think a lot of benchmarking goes on.

You could consider benchmarking with Jabulani Solutions, as I know they have a lot of data from years of surveys, or IntraTeam will provide a more hands-on approach. And join Intra2 to see loads of screenshots from real intranets. Otherwise, intranet and digital workplace conferences often showcase intranet makeovers.  Conferences often offer award ceremonies too, and so at or after the conference you might get to see case studies. See NNG’s ‘best intranets’, Step Two’s Intranet & Digital Workplace Awards, and maybe Interact’s Excellence Awards. Keep in mind our annual ‘Choices’.

We shouldn’t just copy features we see though; we really should consider the outcomes we need, and the capabilities that support such goals.

After researching 33 intranet products and platforms, reviewing dozens of actual intranets, and working with clients for over 15 years, we’ve got a good sense of real-world business needs and the most useful intranet capabilities. We base our reviews around nine key scenarios, plus a ‘wildcard’ feature. So if you can’t benchmark your intranet, compare your intranet functionality to the following key capabilities from just two of our evaluation scenarios.

Digital communications

Internal communication doesn’t just mean top-down messaging or the intranet or the company newsletter. Of course, it encompasses leadership comms, events, employee voice, and supporting peer-to-peer communication too. I really do think the intranet is central to employee communications; even those painstakingly-put-together manager cascade slides benefit from distribution via the intranet. (I won’t digress into over-reliance on email and email overload.)

Key intranet capabilities for internal communications include:

  • audience segmentation and targeting
  • targeted home page (employees see news and updates relevant to their role and location)
  • enabling employees to choose topics of interest or ‘follow’ categories
  • control of the home page layout to highlight specific news
  • drafting, reviewing, and scheduling workflows
  • lifecycle management tools like review reminders and expiry dates
  • flexible news article lay out and easy-to-add rich media
  • news management tools, such as a content calendar
  • analytics for content performance.

Our in-depth review of 20 intranet products and platforms showed that all scored higher than SharePoint – not too surprising, but it’s worth investigating the limitations of SharePoint Online before using as your default intranet.

LumApps (an independent intranet), for example, provides clear, flexible, news management features. Targeting and content type are easy to set, and the editing experience is clean and simple. It’s possible to notify specific groups upon publishing.

Screenshot of LumApps, showing a page amd photo, with metadata fields for departments, location, and news type. Notification option.
LumApps metadata and notification fields.
LumApps screenshot showing page building, with content widgets, and a panel of widget settings.
LumApps page layout with widget settings.

Take another look at the list above and see what’s missing in, or done poorly by, your intranet.

What could you achieve if your intranet system did more? Download our free report and see Scenario 3 of each review for detailed ideas. You’ll see Akumina, Firstup, Interact, Invotra, LumApps, Omnia, and Unily scored particularly well.

UI and navigation for better EX

Getting around the intranet relies on more than the navigation menu, as there will be dozens of links on home pages, and there’s search too. But the menu is crucial to discovery – helping people find things they didn’t know existed. Labelling menu items can be contentious. Stakeholders are often experts and want accurate terminology, which can be quite esoteric; end-user colleagues might not know such terms. So they might not know the name of your expense system and really would prefer to see ‘Expenses’ rather than only the app name.

When we design menus and information architectures based on stakeholder opinion and our own assumptions, instead of user research, we risk alienating the very colleagues we mean to serve. I was in a focus group recently, and one employee explained that while they thought the intranet was ‘fine’, they maintained a Word document with all the links they needed, because browsing was too difficult. They said that without their list, they’d be lost.

Striving to use recognisable labels in our intranet menus, and chunking similar topics together goes a long way to creating easy-to-explore navigation. But it’s not just about the nav menu at the top of the page – it’s the options on the search page, it’s how documents are offered, it’s how you visually differentiate between the HR pages and the Finance pages. You can achieve a lot with great governance and skilled publishers, but your intranet product or platform should support the very best of best practices.

Key intranet features that provide a great interface and employee experience include:

  • global company branding, flexible and accessible
  • support for multiple brands and branding, and locations
  • valuable notifications (actionable, aggregated?)
  • easy to maintain global navigation menu, with visual cues (images, icons) and targeting options (e.g. managers see different menu items relevant to their position)
  • visual impact of content, considering page furniture (buttons), and functionality.

Again, all the products and platforms we reviewed scored higher than SharePoint Online alone, but this is to be expected considering modern web trends, and each vendor wishing to stand out from the crowd.

SharePoint is SharePoint. It looks like that. You can choose between colour palettes. But the menus are the menus and that’s that. While I’m a fan of whitespace, SharePoint wastes a fair bit of vertical space at the top of every page. Still, Microsoft has worked hard to keep colour and text accessible. When you need more than this, perhaps icons and visual cues in the mega menu, an ‘in-a-box’ intranet product can transform your existing, or planned, SharePoint intranet into something more on-brand.

Omnia (an ‘in-a-box’ intranet product for SharePoint), for example, scores highly and can offer a clean design with flexible branding, that we feel is straightforward to use. New users are offered a configurable welcome tutorial, recognising that any new system, no matter how well designed, needs introducing.

Screenshot of Omnia inside Microsoft Teams, showing three-tier org chart.
Omnia (inside Microsoft Teams) organisations chart.

Checking the list above, what are you missing? You can of course express your company brand and culture through content, tone of voice, and imagery. And you can improve your navigation every six to twelve months based on real use research via card sorting and tree testing.

All 20 intranets we reviewed scored really well in Scenario 1, but as you browse through the many screenshots of each product I think you’ll see some standout designs. There are a few that have really broken out of the conventional intranet design you might have come to expect.

Report cover. Free.

Two of nine

IC and UX are just two of the scenarios we’ve judged intranets against. Our 733-page intranet report is free, and fair. Our expert reviewers share the good and the bad, and the PDF is a great way to start conversations with stakeholders, consider your requirements, and build your shortlist in a matter of days, not weeks.

Wedge Black

I support ClearBox in everything we do online, and I assist clients that are considering redeveloping or replacing their intranet platform. I worked in global and regional organisations as the intranet manager as part of the comms team, before becoming an intranet consultant. I'm the founder of the Intranet Now annual conference. I’ve tweeted about intranets and comms for fifteen years now.

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