For enterprise use, you pay for every minute employees waste slugging through a bad UI.

Usability expert Jakob Nielsen reports on 19 new case studies of enterprise portals which showed slow growth in new features and a focus on robust integration and formalising governance.

For some enlightened organisations the distinction between intranet and portal appears to be diminishing as they increasingly adopt a portal perspective for their intranets.

The main aim of achieving a full portal vision is to save countless, costly staff-hours that would otherwise be wasted hunting for information on various systems and learning incompatible user interfaces. However, the ideal vision rarely occurs: “ The sad fact that portals are not adding mobile features at the expected rate. Outside the firewall, the mobile space is teeming with innovation, but inside companies, mobile progress seems to be progressing at a snail’s pace.” Most intranet user interfaces are still optimised for desktop use.

Nielsen’s intranet research suggests that most companies are still struggling with governance issues. He claims that “portals need a strong governance structure to support them”, but I would maintain that organisations will continue to struggle (and struggle to achieve any significant employee buy in) if they continue to enforce a top-down, command and control approach. Genuine employee engagement and activity will only increase if a bottom-up approach is implemented – i.e. if the main content is produced and driven by the employees rather than management. If that doesn’t happen most organisations’ intranets will simply constitute glorified noticeboards which most employees will try their best to ignore – and these intranets will not realise the significant organisation-wide benefits that a more enlightened approach could achieve.

One important development in intranet development appears to be the incorporation of personalisation and customisation features. Breaking down the barriers in siloed organisations can be beneficial, but could also lead to information overload: “The more the portal serves up to the users, the stronger the need to curate what each person sees, or they’ll truly be overwhelmed.”

Nielsen’s research also found that some of the more advanced and forward-looking organisations are running portals which are evolving into collaboration platforms in their own right, paralleling the growth (and providing the networking benefits) of social features on the open internet.

The Nielsen Norman Group report, a 570-page report on intranet portal usability, can be accessed here: Usability of Intranet Portals – A Report from the Trenches: Experiences From Real-Life Portal Projects

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