The world's top intranets all share a few attributes, according to the Nielsen Norman Group, which this month named its 10 best intranets of the year
. Video, personalization, social features and mobile optimization were characteristics of some of the best, co-founder Jakob Nielsen wrote in his blog post.
The best intranets also take a lot of time and planning to craft, Nielsen notes. Plus, organizations have large teams of employees in place to run them.
With those factors in mind, Ragan.com checked in with four organizations in the top 10—those in the United States or Canada—to find out what set theirs apart from thousands of other intranets around the globe.
The biotechnology company, which develops therapeutic neurological treatments, launched Synapse a little over a year ago. Kyle Kuhn, the company's director of business development, says naming the intranet after conduits in the brain for biochemical communication made sense.
"Communication really is the key word there. That's what we wanted our intranet to be very effective at," he says.
The company's previous intranet was an out-of-the box SharePoint solution. "It wasn't serving the needs of the company," Kuhn says.
|Top 10 intranets of 2013 listed alphabetically
|Acorda Therapeutics (U.S.)
American International Group (U.S.)
Hager Group (Germany)
Luzerner Kantonalbank (Switzerland)
Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (Saudi Arabia)
Swiss Mobiliar Insurance & Pensions (Switzerland)
XL Group plc (Ireland)
So Acorda spent months interviewing employees to find out what they wanted in a new platform. The requests ended up boiling down to three things, says Mike Russo, senior director of corporate digital strategy and innovation: quick access to work resources, collaboration, and fun.
Russo's team coded the new intranet from the ground up, adding in social tools such as one very similar to Twitter. That got to all three requests, Russo says: groups can share needed documents, the tool enables collaboration, and the interactions can be fun.
Some parts of Synapse are pure fun, Russo adds. For example, the company asked employees to submit photos of themselves as kids for a game in which co-workers had to guess who was who.
Other new features include a single sign-on for external websites, and clicking to dial co-workers through the company's phone system, Kuhn says.
The process of revamping American International Group's intranet, Contact, has been a long one. It started about five years ago, says Victor Aviles, director of corporate communications for the company.
"It has been a journey full of fits and starts. The process was, however, accelerated in earnest three years ago under the current company leadership," he says.
There's even more history in Contact than that. It shares a name with an 80-year-old employee publication, Aviles says. A team of six employees who run the intranet and direct strategy, he says. It runs on a combination of Tridion SDL and SharePoint.
One of the big changes to Contact over the past year was the introduction of a "mega-menu" which enables users to dig deep into the site without having to endlessly click around.
"I also think that the scope of the site and its mission to unify such a vast enterprise helped us stand apart from other sites," he says.
Other features Aviles points out are single sign-on, regional editions, collaborative tools, and diverse news content.
One of AT&T's many intranets was singled out for the top 10. Nielsen Norman specifically cited its intranet for customer-facing support teams.
Steven Hyska, executive director of AT&T mobility, says the depth of that intranet's profiles is really what sets it apart.
"Your view will be different from my view," he says. "We know who you are. We know where you are. We know which role you have. We know which products you sell, which products you may not sell. If you're in a customer care center, we know which product lines, which tier you might support."
Content is also a big factor. Hyska says AT&T has done a lot to streamline its content, particularly in putting content that will help customers at employees' fingertips. Articles are written and posted in such a way that employees can email them directly to customers who have questions. Videos and interactive media are becoming more prominent.
Plus, the intranet has been optimized for the iPad. It's all part of trying to make visiting an AT&T store a "dynamic experience," Hyska says.
"We're kind of in this evolutionary period in our retail locations," he says.
British Columbia's Worker's Compensation Board is notable not for the long time it took to build its intranet, but for having to scramble to create an award winner.
"We had an extremely tight, non-negotiable deadline to create, implement, test, and deploy the new design: three months," says Terence Little, director of corporate communications, "and during that time we did not put a freeze on publishing, so we had to maintain two separate versions."
The eight staffers who run the intranet make a continuous effort to improve the SharePoint site, he says.
Among the changes to the new version were an improved information architecture, special tools such as a "Lost?" button to help users navigate the site, blogs, wikis, feedback forms, Kudos employee recognition, embedded webcasts, integrated tracking software, and photo galleries.