The primary theme of many of the ‘strategy’ presentations at Intranet Italia Day 2022 was the importance of a structured approach to defining user and business requirements. Many speakers emphasized the importance of in-depth interviews to gain an understanding of the information culture of the organisation rather than relying on surveys, an approach emphasized by Nigel Williams in his presentation on the development of the intranet at the Royal Society of Chemistry. However there is a role for surveys, and Christiaan Ludwig described his very powerful top task approach, pioneered many years ago by Gerry McGovern.
My presentation was about the importance of integrating search into the information architecture. In my experience many intranet and web designers pay little attention to this integration, perhaps mainly because it is so difficult to prototype it in a wire frame beyond adding in a search box in the top right- hand corner. None of the case studies made any reference to the way in which they had incorporated a search application, and none of the strategy papers alluded to the potential value of using search analytics in intranet development.
Looking at the search analytics will quickly highlight topics and tasks that employees have found difficult to find through the browse mode of an intranet. In one of my slides I showed how in one client the most searched term was ESS, which stood for Employee Self Service but which over the course of a couple of years had been given three different brand treatments. As it could only be found in an alphabetical list of some 30 core applications but in different order depending on the brand at the time it was little wonder that ESS was top of the list.
Not only can the analytics highlight discovery challenges they can also be a very good measure of the success of the new intranet. There could be objectives to reduce the query count on specific topics over a period of time. It is not just a case of eliminating the need for search but of using search and browse as is most effective for the employee. This is especially the case for new employees and for employees taking on new roles.
Another important aspect of search that is overlooked is the role of search-based applications (SBA). Search is not just about ‘keyword search’. In the case of applications the SBA will have a record of when, and how many times, an employee has searched for a particular application. If this is frequent and has a periodicity a search for the application can be presented in a way that the employee can immediately gain access. If the SBA detects an infrequent (if at all) search then the response could be an introduction to the application, with a user guide and FAQs.
When it comes to selecting an intranet solution, whether based on Microsoft or not, in my experience I have to work very hard to highlight the importance of having effective search functionality. There is invariably not enough expertise in the team to specify the search requirements, and that includes analytics, to a satisfactory level of detail.
For more information on this topic there are good articles from the Nielsen Norman Group here and here.