Rapidly changing business environments and sharp competition now make it more important than ever to empower employees with an intranet that makes their work more efficient and productive. At the same time, budget constraints leave no room for guesswork when applying scarce resources to improve the intranet.

In a recent Workforce Technographics technology benchmark survey, 65% of the employee respondents said that they use an intranet or company portal at least weekly, and more than half use it at least daily. However, most intranets remain in the early stages of Forrester's maturity model. In the same survey, employees named access to the company directory, benefits information and payroll functions as their primary reasons for intranet use. In comparison, access to collaboration tools - the hallmark of a stage three intranet - was ranked 14th.

Unfortunately, too many intranets fail to realize their potential value because they are difficult to use. As one prominent designer for a large retailer told it, "Above all, an intranet must be usable. It should be wellcategorized, navigable and easily searchable. An intranet that is not usable will fail, even with all of the best systems and collaboration tools." Additionally, many intranets offer few incentives to change established work habits and do not reflect and support specific roles and responsibilities.

The symptoms of an ailing intranet are not hard to recognize: poor adoption, irritated users, failed tasks and ingenious (but unproductive) workarounds in order to avoid the intranet altogether. The diagnosis of the precise causes of the intranet's ill-health is typically much harder. Well-meaning intranet teams may end up fixing what isn't broken - and will gain a reputation for wasting money without improving the intranet experience.

Forrester's Web Site Review for intranets allows enterprises to pinpoint the causes of an underperforming intranet. Since 2001, Forrester's evolving Web Site Review methodology has been applied to more than 1,100 sites of all types: B2B and B2C, as well as intranets and employee portals. Intranet teams can use heuristic reviews such as this to identify specific problem areas where the application of scarce resources will deliver the greatest improvements and increase the intranet's value to the organization. To get started:

  • Apply Forrester's Web Site Review to your intranet. Begin by identifying three target users and their goals. If you have developed design personas in the past, they can be applied here. Otherwise, look for frequently occurring user profiles and tasks. Create a detailed description of each user and goal to guide the evaluator in scoring each of the 25 criteria.
  • Ensure objectivity in your site reviews. Site designers and owners know too much to be effective evaluators. Recruit other employees, but remind them to test the intranet in the guise of the described user, not for themselves. The most accurate and valuable results are attained when the review is conducted by a trained evaluator.
  • Don't limit reviews to existing sites. In the context of intranet site launches or redesigns, the methodology can also be used to test prototypes and wireframes. As long as you have a representation of the intranet that allows you to test user goals, you can apply the methodology.
  • Use your scorecard to prioritize incremental or wholesale improvements. A total score of 25 is considered a passing grade. As a rule, a negative score for any of the 25 questions indicates a likely problem that should be addressed, regardless of the overall total. Use the scorecard and evaluator's comments to construct a matrix that shows the value of an improvement versus the effort required to implement it.

TIM WALTERS, PhD, [twalters@forrester.com] is a senior analyst at Forrester Research, where he serves Information & Knowledge Management professionals. He is a leading expert on web content management, intranet design and Microsoft SharePoint as a content and collaboration platform.

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