Does Your Intranet Measure-Up?

by Carmine Porco — Your competition is doing a better job of communicating, and consequently, they are extracting more value and productivity from their employees. Their secret: a highly successful intranet that supports the entire business.
What are the secrets behind successful intranets? How does your intranet measure-up?
Many companies have some general impressions of their intranet relative to the industry, other companies and perhaps even the competition. But you can’t simply walk across the street to see your competitor’s intranet. The problem: the firewalls are too high to see if the grass is greener on the other side of the street. Sure, you can find the odd case study, but they rarely provide a complete picture and often highlight only the good, and rarely the bad.
While hiring a consulting firm to benchmark your intranet remains an option, insight and feedback from internal stakeholders and users can in itself paint a highly accurate picture for gauging your intranet’s performance.
Intranets often have multiple stakeholder and user groups inside and outside the organization. More often than not, company politics – particularly the issue of intranet ownership and management – is a hurdle to overcome during an intranet’s evolution.
"The number one challenge facing corporate intranets today is not technology, not even tight budgets; it's politics."
“The number one challenge facing corporate intranets today is not technology, not even tight budgets; it’s politics”, says Toby Ward, president of Prescient Digital Media who references a Melcrum Research study on intranets that found Ownership and Politics among the top issues confronting intranet managers in Europe and North America.
By letting stakeholders know that their input is welcome and necessary, the uncertainty and risk of undertaking an intranet design or re-design is greatly reduced or eliminated. The stakeholder input stage also serves as an important political measure for securing stakeholder buy-in and support. This buy-in is critical for delivering value, motivating use and maximizing return on investment (see below for information on the white paper Intranet ROI).
“It is amazing how precise internal stakeholder impressions can be when properly gathered and sorted,” adds Ward. “When conducting a comprehensive intranet evaluation, our performance ratings almost always mirror the collective feedback and ratings of the intranet stakeholders (owners and key players).”
Ward’s consulting firm, Prescient Digital Media, employs a formal methodology and approach to evaluating the intranet that includes a series of business requirements analysis tools. These tools include stakeholder interviews and workshops, user research, and benchmarking (comparing the intranet to similar ones of the same industry, geography, and size). A systematic evaluation employs a unique methodology, built on years of best practices, focused on six evaluation criteria:
  • Design
  • Layout
  • Usability
  • Content
  • Tools & Innovation
  • Planning & Resources
Each category is scored accordingly and ‘weighted’ (categories such as Content and Planning & Resources are given higher weight given their overall, relative importance) and an overall rating score is applied, on a scale of 1 – 10. In addition, stakeholders are also asked to rate the intranet on a scale of 1-10. Surprisingly, the average stakeholder rating closely mirrors the formal evaluation rating.
A sample of recently completed intranet evaluations with a number of companies (unnamed) spanning several industries:
Company by Industry
Stakeholder Rating
Prescient Rating
Financial services
Government agency
The sample ratings of recent evaluations reveal a close correlation between the consultant’s evaluation scores and the stakeholder’s average rating. In half of the sample companies, the score is precisely equivalent.
“The analysis allowed us to confirm our strengths and more importantly our areas for improvement”, explains Loretta Dunn, Senior Communications Specialist for The Co-operators, a Canadian-based insurance firm that benefited from Prescient’s intranet evaluation. “We were somewhat surprised that the formal evaluation so closely mirrored the combined input of our people, but we're pleased that the final report painted an accurate picture of where we are and where we should be heading."
User input and research is also critical to understanding the current and potential value of the corporate intranet. Of course, to maximize the intranet’s value, it must be used – and used often. This requires knowledgeable and motivated employees. 
To win the hearts and mouse-clicks of your target audience, you must also understand their needs and preferences and incorporate these into the form and function of the intranet.
"...performance ratings almost always mirror the collective feedback and ratings of the intranet stakeholders (owners) and users."
While corporate business requirements may sometimes conflict with user needs, a happy balance must be struck. As such, user research in the form of surveys, focus groups and usability testing should always accompany the business requirements gathering and stakeholder engagements.
The majority of companies likely know that their sites are underperforming and failing to meet expectations. The real value in evaluating an intranet is the key findings and subsequent recommendations that will help transform a 6 to an 8 or 9 (on a 10 point rating scale).
In the end, a formal evaluation must be accompanied by key recommendations for evolving the intranet.
“The site evaluation was valuable, which added to the credibility of the report, but more important are the actionable recommendations accompanying the assessment,” states Ed Coutinho, Director,  Business Systems at the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD).
These actionable recommendations then serve as the baseline for developing the complete intranet blueprint encompassing its entire form and function. And,   if properly developed, a blueprint that constructs a foundation that surpasses the best competition. 

A Senior Internet Business Consultant and a regular writer and speaker, Carmine Porco is the Vice-President of Prescient Digital Media. For more information on Prescient’s CMS Blueprint service, or for a free copy of the white paper “Finding ROI”, please contact us.