Best Practices: Five Winning Intranet Characteristics

by Toby Ward — Prescient Principal Consultant Toby Ward looks at five winning characteristics of proven and successful intranets from the likes of Cisco, Microsoft, E*TRADE, and others.

The answer to any question by any Cisco employee is "check the website." Cisco Systems has gone to great lengths to web-enable almost all work-related information and nearly every single work function on its corporate intranet. The effort has translated into an annual return on investment of more than US$800 million.

What are the winning characteristics of successful corporate intranets such as Cisco's? While there are too many to mention in this column, here are five winning characteristics of leading intranets that will help drive intranet success.

1. Engage:

Engage your users; ask them what they want and need, and incorporate your learnings into the site plan. e*Trade regularly engages users by undertaking employee surveys. Surveys include questions on overall satisfaction, most frequently used areas, favorite areas and can include a call to action such as "Are you interested in becoming an e*Channel roving reporter?"

Cisco continues to keep users engaged through various channels including one that encourages each employee's journalistic ambitions. Located directly under the 'News Headlines' at the top of Cisco's global intranet home page, Cisco Employee Connection, is a button labeled 'SUBMIT'. This button encourages all of Cisco's employees, approximately 40,000, to submit their own news stories to the home page. While all potential stories must adhere to certain guidelines (available adjacent to the SUBMIT button) the SUBMIT button encourages all employees to become Cisco journalists and to drive knowledge sharing and collaboration through the home page.

2. Standards:

Develop guidelines and site standards to be applied to and used by all sites on your intranet/extranet.

Swiss-based Adecco is the largest staffing/personnel firm in the world with more than 5000 offices in 59 countries. A highly decentralized company with managerial decisions largely resting with the respective regions and offices, Adecco has a centralized intranet team that is primarily focused on developing and managing intranet standards rather than actually managing the intranet itself.

While overall administration, and some news headlines, are centrally managed, Adecco employs a decentralized or distributed publishing model for its 150+ sites containing more than 130,000 documents for users in 55 countries. Content is published using a centralized publishing tool in four principal languages.

A core international intranet team is responsible for global intranet strategy and standards, international internal communications (content relevant to all users), overall management of the centralized portal, core application development, and intranet training and tools. Most of the 55 user countries have their own intranet site with their own management that that may include an executive champion, a team leader, a strategist, department level publishers and content writers that all must adhere to global standards, use standardized templates and production procedures while relying on centralized support and training from the international team.

3. Simplify:

Keep the site design clean and simple; don't overload with Java, multimedia and other memory hogs.

There are many surfers on the Internet who have high-speed connections and are impressed by Flash animation, cool gadgets and media-rich pages. This is not the case for intranet users. Employees want to find and download information as quick as possible. As such, intranet pages should download quickly and be designed for those users with the slowest access speeds (usually users dialing-in remotely such as on-the-road sales reps).

Microsoft's global intranet home page, MSWeb, closely adheres to the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid). MS largely re-uses the design and look-and-feel of

for its intranet. The look is simple, mainly white with a splash of light blue, with very few graphics, and no animation.

Best Practives 5 winning intranet Characteristics

4. Measure:

Each intranet must be measured by a set of pre-determined Critical Success Indicators (CSIs) that measure both quantitative and qualitative performance.

While each of the five winning characteristics listed in this piece is not necessarily any more important than the other, measuring your intranet's performance is perhaps the most important element for justifying your intranet's existence and budget. One of the great advantages of an intranet is the availability of multiple measurement channels - both online and offline - for appraising performance. Popularly employed measurement channels include metrics or log analysis, online and offline surveys, focus groups (also available online), feedback email, help desk calls and email, usability testing and return on investment (ROI).

The last measure, ROI, is increasingly becoming the most critical measurement as intranets grow in importance and demand more funding and investment. By early 2000, Mitre Corp., a not-for-profit technology company that services several US federal agencies, regularly appraises both hard and soft cost savings on their intranets. Since deploying an intranet in 1996, Mitre has measured HR and administration, IS management, financial operations, technical operations, employee productivity and other miscellaneous intranet savings. In total, a US$7.2 million intranet investment has returned US$62.1 million in reduced operating costs and improved productivity. (For a copy of my white paper on Intranet ROI, please 

contact us


Metrics are also an important measurement tool in the yearly, monthly, weekly and even daily measurement of intranet traffic and usage. Popular metrics or log analysis software packages such as WebTrends enable you to measure 'hits', page views, unique visitors, average user session, entry and disembarkation points, clickstreams, etc. SGI uses hourly metrics to help determine the daily news headline rotation on its corporate portal home page, Silicon Junction. An analysis of page views for each news story determines the order or ranking each receives on the home page and how quickly it is rotated into the archives.

5. Promote:

Every intranet needs to be promoted so that users know its value and are motivated to use it.

If you build it, they will not come (necessarily). Users need to be motivated and educated on why the site is of value to both them and the company. While each organization has its web-head keeners that need no prompting, many more users are not as keen and need to be educated on the intranet's value.

Firstly, your intranet's potential success and performance measures will be less than optimal if your user audience does not use the intranet. Users need to be informed and motivated -organization-wide understanding, acceptance, and intranet use is mandatory. A marketing or promotion plan is required, particularly in an organization where there is not a proliferation of desk workers (manufacturing, distribution, sales, etc.). Marketing tactics could include email broadcasts, newsletter stories and promotion, an internal press conference, executive promotion, hosted chats with the CEO, posters, premiums, etc.

A regional subsidiary of a large financial/investment services company embarked on an ambitious marketing campaign to promote the launch of their redesigned corporate portal. The campaign included an email campaign, promotional cookies for each employee, posters and even a professionally produced 10-minute promotional video replete with a famous voice as the narrator. In total, the company spent about $20 per employee on promoting the new portal.


The key to managing the above tactics is to plan each out during the planning phase prior to launching a new or redesigned intranet. Stakeholders and users should participate, and measurable goals need to be documented. While many more important tips and tactics exist for deploying and managing a 'winning' intranet, the five listed above are amongst the most important and should be given particular attention during the planning of a new or redesigned intranet.

Toby Ward, a former journalist and a regular e-business columnist and speaker, is the President and Founder of Prescient Digital Media. Read his intranet blog at For more information on Prescient’s CMS Blueprint service, or for a free copy of the white paper “Finding ROI”, please contact us.

Related Downloads

Download The Social Intranet Study 2011
Download Choosing an Intranet Technology Platform Whitepaper (2011)
Download The Social Intranet: Social Intranet Success Matrix (2012 whitepaper)