The Nielsen Norman Group has just announced its list of the 10 best intranets for 2013 and again, as in previous years, companies in the insurance vertical take three of the top spots followed by utilities, government, biotechnical and -- surprisingly -- the finance vertical only providing one.

Nielsen’s Best Designed Intranets

For those who thought intranets were a bit passé, it seems that social features and information filtering are creating considerable appeal, particularly among large companies where the size of intranet teams has doubled.

SharePoint is also playing a substantial role -- with 70 percent of the winners using it with what Nielsen describes as extensive customization (what will happen with SharePoint 2013 is anyone’s guess, as Microsoft warned against this practice with the new release last year).

While there was a strong presence of companies based in the US on the list, it also had a substantial non-US presence with a number of European companies represented and even one from Saudi Arabia. Without further ado, the top ten are:

  • Acorda Therapeutics, a US-based biotechnology giant
  • American International Group, a global life insurance and retirement group with a presence in 130 countries
  • AT&T -- need we say more?
  • Hager Group, a Germany-based manufacturer of electrical installations
  • Luzerner Kantonalbank AG, one of Switzerland’s biggest banks and wealth advisory services
  • ONO, a telecommunications company based in Spain
  • The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, a government agency that regulates the tourism and antiquities industry in Saudi Arabia
  • Swiss Mobiliar Insurance & Pensions, a Swiss-based insurance company
  • WorkSafeBC, an organization dedicated to promoting workplace health and safety for the workers and employers of British Colombia
  • XL Group, an Irish-based insurance company for the commercial and industrial verticals around the world.

While most of the intranets provided by these companies are full-scale, designed for entire organizations and for employees in a number of different job roles, two of them this year are specialized for a narrower scope.

AT&T has developed a knowledge management portal for employees who are working with the company's customers while Luzerner Kantonalbank’s intranet caters to its customer advisors.

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Neilsen's intranet design winners 2013: growth in the average size of intranet teams

Intranets 2013

It also seems that the development of a full intranet or redesign of an existing intranet is still a very long process, even if some of the winning designs this year took less time than usual. In previous years, the winners took, on average, 42 months, or 3.5 years to complete this process whereas this year the average was 27 months, or 2.3 years.

Also of note this year is the fact that the size of the companies that are taking the top spots are getting smaller and smaller, with this year’s winners coming from organizations that have an average of 18,800 employees. This covers companies as small as Acorda with 350 employees to AT&T with 127,000.

SharePoint and Intranets 2013

There is a lot in the 373 page report from Nielsen about the winners and the winning designs that any company interested in developing their intranet should take into account. However, with SharePoint now being used in 70 percent of companies and SharePoint 2013 on the way, the report has some choice tips for SharePoint users.

The tips, the report says, come from the winning enterprises themselves that have lived through the “gladness and anguish” of building SharePoint intranet sites. Among the tips are:

  • SharePoint features are designed to tackle usability issues. Search, for example, can be improved using the embedded indexing of all content, while document creation and management can be tackled with Microsoft Office Integration.
  • Plan to customize SharePoint to get the best benefits for your organization, even if this requires bringing in external SharePoint consultants
  • Workers need to be educated around collaboration spaces, when to use them, when to create new ones and when to leave well-enough alone.
  • For those that are looking to implement their own branding, remember that it can take time and will require the services of a SharePoint specialist.
  • Keep permissions as simple as possible. While documents and content need to protected, this year’s winners suggest that there isn't too much granularity.
  • With all the enterprise 2.0 currently available now, it is essential that employees are educated in how to use all these features. While SharePoint makes it easy to switch on powerful features, employees need guidance on how to use these features on intranets.