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For several years now I have been an avid reader of these reports. This is because I help to manage an intranet for one of Ireland's largest companies - ESB.

Coincidentally, several substantial changes to this site are due shortly, as myself and my colleagues implement a new Web Content Management System (WCMS).

Benchmarking against other intranets

The most exciting aspect of this project is that it has given us the opportunity to upgrade the site in several ways. For example, the new version we are now building is fully Web Standards compliant (XHTML & CSS), accessible up to WCAG 1.0 Level-AA and features a number of design improvements.

Notwithstanding these enhancements, the real reason for buying the new software was to help improve our content. This applies not only to the quality of the language we use, but to the range and depth of services the intranet provides.

I am always interested to discover what sort of content is published on other intranets. This provides a means for benchmarking ourselves against industry practice. In this regard, the NNG reports provide many very valuable insights.

The 4 pillars of content

A graphic showing a square divided into four equal areas, each representing a pillar of intranet content. They are Work, HR, Corporate and Social

Having read several of these reports, I have come to the conclusion that almost all intranets contain exactly the same content. By this I mean that - although individual sites may differ in terms of specifics - the core themes are almost indistinguishable.

What I have found is that there are four major pillars of intranet content. These are:

1. Work Content

This encompasses all the information & applications that help staff do their day-to-day jobs. For example:

  • Content relevant to a particular roles, e.g. updates to accounting rules relevant to financial staff.
  • Content relevant to all roles, e.g. online phonebook.
  • Office support, e.g. mail services, printing services, meeting rooms, couriers & taxis, stationery, building services, security, dining, etc.
  • IT support, e.g. application support, IT security, remote access, etc.
  • Procurement, e.g. office consumables, IT equipment, contract renewals, etc.
  • Knowledge management, e.g. company library, journal subscriptions, etc.
  • Business Travel and insurance.

2. HR Content

This includes information & applications that staff need to support their employment with the company and to manage their careers. For example:

  • Pay, including pay scales, taxation, overtime, expenses, bonuses, etc.
  • Attendance & Leave, including working hours, flexitime, job sharing, annual leave, parental leave, other leave, etc.
  • Benefits, including medical benefits (insurance, free services), financial benefits (pension scheme, staff loans) and other benefits (discounted merchandise).
  • Career, including training, career development, job switching, new jobs, etc.
  • Union representation and membership.

3. Corporate Content

This encompasses information that tells staff what their business is about, what it is currently doing and any other relevant news. For example:

  • Basic information, e.g. business overview, business lines, office addresses, etc.
  • Corporate governance, e.g. mission statement and strategy, annual reports, organisation chart, senior management team, corporate policies, etc.
  • Corporate communications, e.g. press releases, internal news, etc.

4. Social Content

Almost all intranets include some element of 'fun' content that allows staff to organise social activities. Some common elements include:

  • Online discussion.
  • Sports and Social committee.
  • Social events.
  • Charitable societies.
  • Sports clubs.

The four pillars in practice

In summary, these four pillars comprise a framework for building intranet content. Indeed, it is obvious that many companies actually base the Information Architecture and/or navigation schemes for their intranets on this theme. Admittedly, a perfect one-to-one match rarely arises, but the basic pattern stands out.

Some clear examples of this from past NNG reports include:

  • Merrill Lynch (2006 report, page 158). This site is divided into:
    • Employee Resources  (HR)
    • Education & Career Development  (HR)
    • Business Support  (Work)
    • Technology  (Work)
    • Local Office Services  (Work)
    • A list of Merrill Lynch businesses, local sites and news is also provided
  • Bank of Ireland (2006 report, page 75). This site is divided into:
    • About the Group  (Corporate)
    • News  (Corporate)
    • Employee Centre  (HR)
    • Career Centre  (HR)
    • Life & Leisure  (Social)
    • Resource Centre  (Work)
    • Products & Customers  (Work)
  • Cisco (2005 report, page 36). This site is divided into:
    • About Cisco  (Corporate)
    • Learning and Development  (HR)
    • Support and Tools  (Work)
    • Products and Industry  (Work)
    • Security  (Work)
    • A list of Cisco businesses, news and locations is also provided
  • IBM (2006 report, page 127). This site is divided into:
    • Work  (Work)
    • Career & Life  (HR)
    • Links to news and corporate information are also listed

I can also add the Microsoft intranet to this list. I recently had the opportunity to view this site and was not surprised to discover the same content themes emerging.

  • Microsoft. The IA on their intranet is based around:
    • News  (Corporate)
    • Campus  (Work)
    • Employee Centre  (HR)
    • Workplace Services  (Work)
    • About Us  (Corporate)
    • A list of news is also provided

The reason for commonality

So why are intranets so similar? After a little consideration the reason is clear. Almost all companies uses their intranets to solve the same problem - to support the presence of staff by giving them access to everything they need to do their job and manage their career. The inevitable result is commonality in content themes.

The benefit of revealing this pattern is that anyone can now use the four pillars as a framework for evaluating the scope of their site's content.


*Incidentally, one of last year's winners - Bank of Ireland - is located next door to my office in Dublin. I can literally look out the window and into their staff canteen.