Intranet Portal Usability, From a User Experience Perspective

Posted by on July 25, 2011

The Nielsen Norman Group recently published a report on intranet portal usability based on 67 real case studies from enterprises worldwide. In contrast to other reports that typically offer vendor solutions, this report is seen from the user experience perspective, providing insight on what portals mean to users and how to deliver a portal solution that organizations need.

Jakob Nielsen touches on some important points from the report in his column. The overall trend for enterprise portals seems to focus on ways of making the existing features more robust and better managed as portals have become more widely accepted. The early definitions of portals being gateway access points have evolved; today’s portals can be thought of as a dashboard integrating all enterprise information and applications that employees need to do their jobs through a unified interface.

Interestingly, but maybe not too surprising, the biggest finding is that portals aren’t adding mobile features at the expected rate, at least not when compared to consumer apps. Most of the companies studied saw true mobile portals as being at least a few years out. Research has found that good mobile usability requires a separate design with a reduced feature set for mobile use cases, focusing on time- and location-dependent tasks, so it’s not enough that an existing portal is made accessible through phones since the UI is optimized for desktop use.

Since this report focuses on the user experience, it comes as no surprise that personalization is a critical component of a well-designed portal. The ability to integrate information from multiple sources can have its own disadvantages as the information can be overwhelming for the users, especially when it’s irrelevant. The more the portal serves up to the users, the stronger the need to curate what each person sees. Allowing users to customize what they see through individual user profiles provides an effective way display content relevant to each user.

Portals have long been known for its social features, but now they have also evolved into collaboration platforms. While most companies didn’t see a sharp distinction between the two, an easier way to distinguish the two is informal vs. formal collaboration, where formal content is officially managed and informal content is left to emerge on its own. This contributes to the issue of governance, which many organizations already struggle with. While governance may be a greater issue for larger enterprises, a key lesson learned is that organizations should plan the governance structure before starting a portal project. While there is no general governance solution that fits all organizations, they can look at governance solutions that have worked for others and adapt them to their own specific corporate culture and circumstances.

So while the portal industry has matured over the years, the focus now shifts to the user experience to create a solution that can be easily adopted and optimized. The full report can be found here, http://www.nngroup.com/reports/intranet/portals.

On a similar note, in one of our own recent webcasts (and at the Liferay East Coast Symposium back in May), we spoke on the topic of building and deploying a global intranet with Liferay, which touched on some of the same challenges that enterprises face when starting this type of initiative – personalization, governance, employee search. Our presentation is available for download here, http://www.slideshare.net/rivetlogic/building-and-deploying-a-global-intranet-with-liferay-8459841, and the webcast is accessible on our website, http://rivetlogic.com/resources/webcasts.

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