January 12, 1998

Judging Value of Intranet Requires Weighing a Hodgepodge of Factors 

By Steven L. Telleen

Q:There are numerous services and/or individuals that rate Internet sites. Are there any services/individuals that rate intranet sites?

Advisor: There are no directly comparable ratings or services for intranets. The main reason is that while Internet sites are readily available for viewing, intranets are, by definition, closed to the general public. Therefore, the only way to get a field of candidates is by self- nomination. The companies must be willing to identify themselves and open their intranets, or intranet stories and examples, to the judges.

Last year, WebMaster Magazine invited companies to enter their intranets in a contest called the 50/50 Awards. The award winners can still be found on the magazine's Web site. 

Rating intranet sites brings up an important question: What criteria make an intranet site successful, let alone outstanding? Even among the 50/50 winners there were very different goals, applications, and approaches. Because intranets can support so many functions, any single award begins to resemble a dog show, where every entrant is a separate breed.

Perhaps it is time to consider multiple award categories. I'd recommend evaluating an intranet in any or all of four areas: Functional, Structural, Infrastructural, and Human. Each area has several subcategories to consider during the evaluation.

Functional: The categories here include Access, Communication and Coordination, and Existential Dialogue. Access is judged on the elegance and completeness of browser-based access to directories and references, corporate memos, papers and articles, and structured applications and databases. Communication and Coordination are judged on the effectiveness of using the intranet to collaborate within teams, across teams, and across organizations. The more extensive the use, the higher the rating. Existential Dialogue is judged on the use of the intranet to involve the highest percentage of an organization in meaningful dialogue about the organization's vision and future. An organization cannot be considered for this category unless its president is a major participant in the dialogue.

Structural: The categories here include Attractiveness and Navigation. Attractiveness is judged on consistency, look-and-feel, cultural fit, and general effectiveness of the official home page at attracting regular visits by most members of the organization. Navigation is judged on how quickly and effectively the official site gets people to the right information.

This may include agents and dynamic pages, with extra points if these tools make it easy for the visitor to customize the activity to fit his or her own style and needs, and a loss of points if automation gets in the way.

Infrastructural: The categories here include Degree of Adoption, Support of Diversity, and Member Enablement. Degree of Adoption is judged on the extent to which functional applications utilize modularity and intranet interoperability standards as opposed to mere browser front ends to traditional, centrally integrated applications. Support of Diversity is judged on how easily and how often new vendors, products, and approaches are added into the intranet infrastructure and how easily content can be exported to other intranets.

Member Enablement is judged on how much the intranet architecture and tools enable the non-IT specialists to do for themselves, without direct IT involvement. 

Human: This area should be judged based on how widely the intranet is used, how people who use it feel about it, and whether the intranet applications increase or decrease the meaningfulness of the employees' work and their responsibility and control over it. This area could be judged using an independent survey or on the basis of how well the organization uses the intranet to continuously measure these factors in a meaningful way.

In the end, the most successful intranets are those that support the goals and needs of their organization, both today and into the future. 

Date: 19980112
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