The 2011 Intranet Design Annual from Nielsen Norman Group, focusing on the Year's 10 Best Intranets, finds social networking and Enterprise 2.0 features becoming more prominent.
But the study's co-author, director Amy Schade, warned in an InformationWeek interview that a "thoughtful implementation" is required with such tools, that just throwing features at people won't improve performance.
What does she mean? "It's looking at the information needs within the organization rather than picking the solution first."
As an example Bennett Jones LLP, a Canadian law firm which is one of this year's winners, has long had a knowledge bank its lawyers use daily. This year they began tracking employees who bookmarked specific pages and used those bookmarks as endorsements. "If someone bookmarks it they list that person as an endorsement of that information. If people you respect endorse a document you are more likely to use it."
The site was also redesigned with a user experience expert, who customized the site for a global array of offices and highlighted usability in a blog called The Knowledge Sharing News, accessed from a tab on the home page.
Successful intranets are "about connecting people, not in a social way, but connecting work across the organization," said Schade. They're about "connecting people around the world who are doing similar things, so they can build off what others are doing, making connections where they didn't exist before."
Worker engagement is the hallmark for all the winners, she added. "Between last year and this year we've seen a lot more engagement with the site, more two-way communication. It's not just using the Intranet as a way to find a policy. It's a daily work tool. It's a tool of engagement with the company, with colleagues, with the work you're doing, with the site itself. You want to see more useful participation."
For the coming year, "I hope mobile continues to get stronger for organizations where it makes sense," she said. "Right now we see a lot of employee directories and bus schedules, which are practical. But I'd like to see a lot more job specific applications coming through."
The average site honored this year served about 37,900 employees and had 14 people dedicated to it, returning to averages from years before 2010, when Walmart was honored for a system used by 1.4 million associates.
In addition to Bennett Jones, this year's winners include AMP Limited of Australia, Bouygues Telecom of France, Credit Suisse of Switzerland, a global financial services company, Heineken International of The Netherlands, Korea Telecom, and Mota-Engil Engenharia e Construcao, a Portugeese construction enterprise.
The American winners this year are Duke Energy, Habitat for Humanity International, and Verizon Communications.
The full report, including all lessons learned, is available for $248 from the Nielsen Norman Group's Web site.