10 Characteristics of a great intranet

I was participating in a discussion on LinkedIn recently when, out of nowhere came this great, challenging, all encompassing question: “What makes a great intranet?” I have seen hundreds of intranets over the years, each great in their own way, but as I’m not an employee in those organisations and nor have I had significant hands-on time with any of them, it’s hard to say if they’re genuinely ‘great’. (As an aside, I don’t envy the job that StepTwo or Nielsen Norman have in judging an intranet from screenshot alone).

Great means:

1. unusual or considerable in degree, power, intensity
2. wonderful; first-rate; very good
3. notable; remarkable; exceptionally outstanding
4. important; highly significant or consequential
5. of extraordinary powers; having unusual merit; very admirable

After some consideration, here are my 10 characteristics of a great intranet. These headings should be independent of the organisation itself.

1. An open, multi-way communication vehicle: Top Down, Bottom Up, Peer-to-Peer

An enterprise has a host of communication channels available, but the intranet is a critical one. A great intranet must facilitate all communication routes: Top Down, Bottom Up, Peer-to-Peer. There must be a channel to allow senior leaders to communicate key organisational messages and there must be a way for employees to let your CEO know what they think! Wherever you can, publish content provider’s names and, if possible, have presence awareness facilities so that peer-to-peer communication is maximised.

2. A facilitator of enterprise collaboration

How does your business collaborate? Email and shared network drives are still a default collaboration tool in many organisations but your intranet is superbly placed to assist. Through teamsites, knowledge shares, instant messaging, video tools, your intranet can be the key enabler of enterprise collaboration: great intranets are doing this now.

3. An executor of business transactions

A great intranet is a place of action and should be a part of business processes. Typically, these business transactions will include HR self-service tools (payslips, pensions, benefits, time off booking), expenses, travel booking and so on. British Airways has embraced the idea of the intranet as an executor of business transactions — a great example of what’s possible. Bringing these transactions to the intranet are tremendously valuable.

  • It brings dedicated, guaranteed traffic which, in turn, enhances your intranets communication and collaboration efficiencies.
  • Employees like having all these functions in one dedicated place. It’s just easier.

4. A tool that positively impacts every job in your company

In short, does your intranet make a difference to employees? If you were to take it away tomorrow, would people notice / care / cry?

5. A gateway to business knowledge

Where is knowledge in your company? My enterprise knowledge is in my head, on paper on my desk, on my laptop, on sharedrives and increasingly, in teamsites. But should I leave, nearly all of this would be lost to my current company. Indeed, even whilst I’m still employed, most of my knowledge is not in a place where it can be shared, used, learnt or redeployed. Intranets are a great place to share knowledge and make this knowledge work for the organisation.

A great intranet should also allow you to identify the people that have the knowledge you need. Time spent on developing skills and experiences sections as part of employee intranet profiles is rarely wasted. We should all know what we each know.

6. A digital reflection of the values of the company

Employees do not need their intranet to be liberally emblazoned with the company colours to know which company they work for, but a great intranet will be a digital reflection of the company values. It will embody the company ethos; it should feel the same as being in an office. A great intranet is in tune with the company way.

7. Serves to build enterprise community

Many companies are recognising the value of internal community building to facilitating collaboration and innovation, but also in driving employee engagement and connection with the company they work for. Allowing people to connect by surfacing interests, skills, experiences and hobbies on a profile page is the first step; the second is to provide intranet ‘space’ and company time for that community to thrive.

Community tools could extend beyond the current employee base. Consider community tools for your company alumni or even prospective employees who are still at University. Communities could co-exist across intranets, corporate internets and social media sites.

8. Transparent governance, management and strategy

It’s all well and good having this great intranet, but if no one knows the strategy, who governs and controls this space and what the rules of engagement are, then there’s still clear space for improvement. Be sure to publish the governance structure, your intranet strategy, the key personnel contact information and all the rules of intranet engagement on the intranet. Set up an ‘ideas’ section so employees can contribute to the organic growth of your intranet.

9. An engaging space

This is one is difficult to define but you know when you’ve got it!

10. Available where your employees need it

An intranet cannot just be a tool for those of your employees who have a laptop. A great intranet has a reach as broad as your employees day-to-day geography:

  • At home (for access before and after work)
  • At the office on a laptop/desktop
  • Via kiosks for production and distribution facilities
  • On mobile/smartphones
  • Whenever you receive an email link to intranet content, you should be able to access that content


How do you score? 10 out of 10? Remarkable! Let me know your thoughts on these headlines and do share your experiences.

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  1. Friday Roundup « The Law Firm Intranet

    […] 10 Characteristics of a Great Intranet  Intranetizen, Jonathan Phillips, posts a great list that demonstrates what makes an intranet great.  His definition of great is: 1. unusual or considerable in degree, power, intensity 2. wonderful; first-rate; very good 3. notable; remarkable; exceptionally outstanding 4. important; highly significant or consequential 5. of extraordinary powers; having unusual merit; very admirable […]

  2. James Robertson

    A great list! I’m a great believer that the intranet must serve the business in more ways than just making it easy to find the leave form …

    Just regarding the Intranet Innovation Awards:

    While it’s never easy to pick the winners, we thankfully do have more to go on than just the screenshots.

    We make the award entrants work hard to demonstrate the value of what they’ve done. Remember that we’re not judging who is “best”, instead we’re looking for ideas and approaches that “change how staff work” and “deliver business benefits”.

    Of course, these things aren’t easy to demonstrate! But that’s why strong winners are so valuable for the wider community… 🙂

    Cheers, James

  3. EphraimJF

    Great post Digital Jonathan!

    It’s amazing to me how different this list could have looked just three, maybe four years ago, definitely five years ago.

    Similar to how James Robertson has added “Community” and “Collaboration” to his list of fundamental intranet purposes, the Intranet Benchmarking Forum (IBF) has just refreshed it’s rigorous benchmarking methodology to cover more of the digital workplace than is traditionally considered part of the “intranet” (though it’s all really part of the intranet).

    I have to be a true intranet nerd to say this, but this is an exciting time in the intranet world.

  4. Julia De Meo

    Thanks – trying to revamp our one at work – only have 200ish employees to provide info to – new package Expression Web 4 2007 and a corporate style to emulate and the purchase of a book on how to do it to go. Should have it ready in a few months as I am fitting it round other stuff.

    • @DigitalJonathan

      Let us know how you get on Julia.

      It’s interesting that we wrote this post over a year ago and despite the rapid changes in intranet technology, we’d stand by these ten.


        Indeed it is still a quality list which companies should consider while building their intranets. I recently have read it, and wonder whether there is anything you would consider adding after 1 year evolving of the intranet technology.

        • @DigitalJonathan

          There’s nothing missing from the list since they’re mostly conceptual without reference to the technology itself. What has changed is how you might go about delivering these.

  5. Who owns enterprise collaboration? | Intranetizen

    […] Many an intranet expert has waxed-lyrical on the core characteristics of an intranet. Interact Intranet proposed a simple three-way model of communication, business process and collaboration; James Robertson of StepTwo spoke eloquently in his talk “Intranets that delight and amaze” about the need to make things simpler and to connect people; and we’ve also proposed our own top 10 characteristics. […]

  6. Geoff Talbot

    Great Blog Jonathan.

    I love the structure that you’ve outlined here.

    I also think that Number 9. An Engaging Space… only occurs when the culture of the organization allows for it. Is there a sense of mutuality and equality? Are opinions genuinely sort?


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