Best in intranet design applauded

A UK software developer who used Wiki technology was included in the list highlighting the best use of non-public facing Web technology
Written by Tony Hallett, Contributor on

A UK supplier of software to online bookies has been named alongside international giants such as Cisco and Procter & Gamble as operating one of the world's 10 best intranets.

The list was put together by Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g), which is headed by Web usability guru Jakob Nielsen. It found the winning companies saved between $200 and $1,000 annually per employee by improving their intranets, which are private, enterprise-wide networks typically of pages written using HTML code.

London-based Orbis Technology, a subsidiary of NDS, itself a News Corp company, was ranked in the top 10 alongside Banco Español de Crédito (Banesto) from Spain, Electrolux Group based in Sweden, NedTrain (Macaw BV) from the Netherlands and Cisco Systems The Integer Group, Park Place Dealerships, P&G, Schematic and Verizon Communications, all from the US. The top 10 was not ranked further.

Some of the winners employ tens or even hundreds of thousands of staff meaning language, global collaboration and availability in places such as factories and remote locations is critical.

However, Orbis caught the eye for its use of the Wiki concept of pages that are updatable by any member of staff, in a similar way to Web-based encyclopaedia Wikipedia.

Orbis technology communications manager David Bailey told ZDNet UK sister site silicon.com: "You have to make your employees want to use your intranet. I would stress that the Wiki approach best suited our requirements and culture. It's not the answer for everyone."

Orbis employs just under 100 staff, mainly at its west London headquarters in Chiswick, Around 60 percent are developers, Bailey said, with another 10 to 20 percent also technical.

"Almost anyone can update almost any page," he added.

Whereas some of the NN/g winners showed innovation by use of video, for example to relay important messages from executives, Orbis blazed a trail by allowing staff to interact with one another, with even a section devoted to look-a-likes — often relating to staff members and photos clipped from the Web.

Bailey said a goal moving forward is to engage non-technical employees.

The Orbis use of Wiki technology for its intranet is based on the open source structured environment TWiki. Other organisations are already advanced in the use of Wikis — for example several vendors use them to allow software developers to collaborate — but embracing this open approach for an intranet is a relatively new development.

NN/g's Intranet Design Annual 2005: The Year's Ten Best Intranets is available now.

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