NNg Intranet Design Awards 2021 review

For two decades my first blog post of the year has been a review of the Intranet Design Annual from the Nielsen Norman Group. This year NNGroup were not able to release the Annual until mid-April, at which time the 101Mb/636pp report crept into my email box. A draft was quickly prepared and put to one side as I was starting up a major enterprise search project. So far aside that it was not until this week when I was looking for some intranet ideas that I realized that I had never completed and published the draft. I do hope that Kara Pernice, Patty Caya, Maria Rosala, and Anna Kaley, the authors of the report, will accept my apology.

Like Gaul (if you are familiar with the Punic Wars) the report is divided into three sections. The first 50 pages are an extended executive summary bringing together the visions, objectives and lessons learned by the ten selected intranets. As an intranet consultant I noted with interest the author’s comment on the use of external expertise

“This year all 10 winners brought in outside agencies and consultants to help create their winning designs. Great teams often look outside their own organization to supercharge their ideas and see their goals through an outsider’s lens. This external perspective helps teams notice or better understand issues they may be too close to and expand their vision beyond day-to-day thinking. The presence of numerous outside vendors also speaks to the many complexities faced by today’s intranet teams. There’s little chance that a small team provides the full array of expert skills needed and has the time required to make an excellent design.”

Also noteworthy is the range of platforms being used, and in the list of winners below I have indicated the intranet application.

  • Baker Hughes (US), a leading energy technology company [Unily]
  • Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. (Hong Kong), one of the world’s largest international airlines [Unily]
  • Commonwealth Care Alliance, Inc. (US), a not-for-profit, community-based healthcare organization [Unily]
  • ConocoPhillips (US), one of the world’s largest independent energy exploration and production (E&P) companies [Akumina]
  • Deutsche Vermögensberatung AG (DVAG), Germany’s largest financial consultancy [Workai]
  • Johnson & Johnson (US), the world’s largest healthcare company [Unily]
  • Keysight Technologies, Inc. (US), the world’s leading electronic measurement company [Attolo]
  • Snam S.p.A. (Italy), one of the world’s leading energy infrastructure operators [SharePoint]
  • VMware, Inc. (US), a publicly traded enterprise software applications company [Drupal]
  • The World Bank (US), a unique global partnership with 189 countries [SharePoint]

So just two intranets based natively on SharePoint. Interesting!

The main analysis section starts out with an overview of the way in which all these organisations coped with the Covid pandemic, both in terms of meeting the constantly changing requirements of employees and keeping the intranet fully operational. The authors make the point that many of the innovations to meet short-term requirements are likely to be a permanent fixture in the future development of the intranets. I liked the inspiring summary of the objectives and challenges for each of the intranet teams set out on pp21-38.

The descriptions of each intranet have improved considerably since the 2001 report, the earliest in my library. There is much less descriptive text and a very strong sense of analysis and lessons learned, with an effective use of tables. In total there are 235 screen shots and other images, which works out at just about $1 per image. So when you are considering whether to buy a copy just work along the lines that you are buying 235 ideas for your intranet and the 600+ pages of text are just a freebie!

Earlier this year I was a judge on the Intranet Italia awards, and I have spoken to judges for the Russian Intranet Awards and it was apparent from both that intranets are at last being seen as business-critical applications and deserve the support of the organisation at a senior level, resulting in an appropriate level of investment in the user research, a careful choice of platform and a well-supported roll out.

Every year this report provides me with insight and enthusiasm for intranets, but also reminds me that the principles that were already well understood in my initial work in intranets in 1997 (and which have been well described in NNg reports since the start of the 21st Century) still hold today. I would suggest that no organisation that wants to support its employees to the very best of its abilities in the uncertain years ahead can afford not to invest just $245 in such a valuable, and indeed remarkable, intranet encyclopedia.

Martin White