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Empowering the intranet

Assessing your intranet portal and whether it’s actually working

An Intranet portal is a powerful internal communications tool, which can unify the whole team, provide access to enterprising information and increase productivity. But how many are actually effective? Internal communications consultant Daniel Penton considers how to make the most out this internal information network.

If you work for a healthcare company, the chances are that your company will have an intranet portal of some sort – whether it is on a platform like SharePoint or Salesforce's Chatter.

Done right, intranet portals are the one gateway that unifies access to all enterprise information and applications. Of course, some things sit outside the portal, but – at a base level – today's portals should organise everything that's accessible on the intranet.

This is why they are so powerful. Portals can help employees find information more easily and ultimately perform their duties better. On the other hand, if they're not working they can seriously undermine productivity within a company creating aftershocks that are felt throughout an organisation and, in some cases, by customers as well.

Meeting expectation

Employees increasingly expect more from company intranets. They see no reason why they shouldn't be able to access something that looks like the BBC, has similar intuitive functionality to Google and features content to the standard of the Guardian website. The fact that these external behemoths have millions of pounds in investment behind them is becoming less relevant by the day. The costs of putting together a slick intranet portal that helps people do their jobs have come down significantly in recent years.

Chatter, SharePoint and even WordPress allow significant customisation and there are many third-party applications on offer, so that you can improve an existing portal to end up with a slick looking functional website for a reasonable investment.

Planning improvements

So, where do you start? The first thing is to remember that the average portal should do. Put simply, it should:

  • Enable employees to work productively through the use of online tools
  • Collaborate with team members and business partners and help support customers.

Once you assess your current portal, you can prepare a plan for how to improve your intranet. Here are my tips for how to effectively do this.

1. Know your goals

Clarify the portal's business, functional and technical requirements and how they support your company's strategic goals. A clear, strong link here makes it easier when it comes to improving the portal, knowing what to prioritise and when it comes to getting support from sponsors and stakeholders.

2. What does success look like?

The next step is to reach out to the people with the power to give you the go-ahead to evaluate your current portal. You should determine – or, in some cases, revaluate – what success should look like for your intranet portal. Do this by conducting interviews with your stakeholders and sponsors.

3. Check whether it's actually working

Put together an assessment team of colleagues from different departments and develop a checklist with a list of statements about functions of the portal. A “yes” or “no” response will help you determine whether the portal is functioning according to your established requirements.

4. Make sure you've covered everyone

“Equality” is the word to remember here. Make sure it includes representation from all corporate departments like support, product development and customer support. Stress the importance of candid constructive feedback, so that you can improve your intranet portal. If you're dealing with colleagues in other countries you may have to change your approach to elicit actual feedback, not what they think you or their boss wants them to say.

5. Test, test and test again

Through your assessment you should soon get a clear idea of common tasks that people use or want to use the intranet portal for. The next step here is to establish a set of common tasks for your assessment team to perform, depending on what tools and applications are the most used or the highest priority. Common tasks include uploading documents onto the intranet portal, finding business information or locating specific experts within the business.

6. Document everything consistently

Once you've told your team what to test, you need to make sure all test results are consistently documented, so that effective analysis can be performed later.

7. Questionnaires and focus groups

So you know the tasks that are coming out on top and documented the findings. You should also be conducting a company-wide user survey questionnaire and user focus groups to get feedback from average users. These users typically use an intranet to get updates on company policy, upload and retrieve data reports and collaborate with colleagues. You should gather input on each intranet portal attribute using a five-level Likert scale (strongly disagree, disagree, neither agree nor disagree, agree, strongly agree). This makes it easy to evaluate user sentiment regarding statements about the intranet portal usage.

8. Seek advice from the outside

There is a wealth of industry research on intranet portal best practices, such as best use of colour, graphics and interactivity. Arguably the most famous of these is the research reports by the Nielsen Norman Group. This type of substantial reports can also be substantial in cost. If you can't justify $500 for one of these, you'll find plenty of information can be gleaned from the internet. Just Google around and compare what you learn with your portal to see if you can utilise new techniques.

9. Sift the data

There is a goldmine of data sitting within your business that will most probably point out some things you haven't thought about when it comes to what people are struggling with on your portal. Review IT help desk support logs to see any obvious problems with the portal that can be addressed in your improvement project.

10. Look at the usage

Another good source of information are intranet portal usage statistics. Note what applications are being used most, the most popular search terms and the most popular pages. This can help when it comes to prioritising improvement efforts.

11. Don't ignore feedback

It can be difficult and not the nicest thing to read when it's not complimentary, but a lot can be gained when reading user feedback on the intranet. Look for any trends and propose solutions to how you can bypass any problems such as broken links and incorrect or out-of-date content.

12. Lights, camera, action!

You should now have a detailed assessment of your portal. The final step of any portal assessment is preparing an action plan for how you will address problems and areas for improvement uncovered in your assessment. Make sure the plan is realistic and agile. Agile improvement will mean focussing on small elements of the improvement at a time. It means that you can be a lot more fluid in your improvements and users get to experience the benefits sooner.

Securing the go ahead

With that action plan you will now have a clear roadmap to improving your intranet portal. This typically forms the end point of your report, which should also summarise all of your findings and how you went about assessing your intranet portal. In your overall report it can be useful to include how much the company will save, both time and costs, by improving the portal.

For example, you may find that on the current intranet portal it takes people an average of 30 minutes a week to find business experts within the company. On a good portal, this should take just a minute for each search – if not less. Considering that that 30 minutes per week adds up to three days over a year and imagine this could be applied to a significant number of employees in any one organisation, then the figures soon become compelling to even the most ardent sceptic.

Another good way to get peoples agreement to go ahead with the improvement is to focus on the stories you hear in your organisation. Using the findings of your focus groups, highlight instances where employees haven't been able to do something on the portal that they expected to and the impact this had on their work. Sometimes senior stakeholders and sponsors need these tangible reasons before committing the investment required when improving portals.

Whether your portal is in desperate need of some TLC or if it launched successfully just a year ago, assessing your portal on a yearly or 18 month basis is good practice and every internal communicator that looks after a portal should be doing it.

Daniel Penton, Black Orange, internal comms
Daniel Penton is principal consultant at and can be contacted on

17th August 2012

From: Marketing, Healthcare



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