The Age of Seamless User Experience

Feb 26, 2010

In just a few weeks my colleagues and I will be launching the 2010 Intranet Innovation awards. What can we expect to see this year?

If 2009 was an indicator, we'll see some intranets that represent the very forefront and state-of-the-art in intranet design. State-of-the-art in this field increasingly means intranet design that's characterised by one thing: a seamless, super-rich user experience that's as good as anything you'll see on the Web.

This new trend, and some others, makes intranet design an amazingly innovative area to be involved in at the moment-but of course this wasn't always the case. Several years ago, in a briefing with a very large portal vendor that's long since been acquired (haven't they all), the vendor's representative explained, "Users don't care about the systems underneath. They just want to be able to complete a task, move to the next one and not even notice the applications and systems working away furiously in the box under their desk and on servers elsewhere."

At the time, those words didn't really reflect either what was going on in the vendor presentation, or the reality in many organizations. At that time, even good intranet and portal software was a little clunky, slow, ugly and a poor relation to its more glamorous web siblings. People got used to it, but what about now?

Now things are at a genuinely exciting phase, where intranet design and development - and by intranet I'm effectively grouping a whole range of internal, staff-oriented business systems - is screaming along at hyper speed.

Today, technologies that are being used to drive billions of dollars in transactions, generate terabytes of web pages and communication-based data, and produce highly technical collaboration suites on the web, are being redesigned and stitched together into business-wide operating platforms that people actually enjoy using. Intranet technologies and interfaces are getting up to speed with web technologies, becoming easier to use and more familiar and intuitive, yet allowing us to work in more satisfying and empowering ways than ever before.

With its intranet called The Tube, global design agency, IDEO, was one of the winners in the 2009 Intranet Innovation Awards. The Tube is an amazing intranet where a number of systems and platforms have been crafted together beautifully to produce a stunning user interface and a system that's built around the organization's people. It acts as the business hub for IDEO and houses project spaces, business knowledge bases, administration tools, staff pages and profiles, team spaces, blogs, news, videos, traditional intranet functionality, and more. The underlying data models are incredibly complex, but the user never needs to worry about that, and the graphics are unbelievably good.

The government agency, CRS Australia (CRSA), was 2009's Platinum Intranet Innovation Award winner. CRSA presented a wealth of business intelligence, combined workflow tools, and dynamic, integrated business data that presents itself to users as a seamless, unified, custom-built intranet, It's easy to use, and makes task completion faster, despite being integrated with a notoriously complex ERP system. In fact, the integration needs to be seen to be believed.

Danish engineering consultancy COWI is another Award-winning organization. COWI‘s intranet team tailored and integrated a sophisticated enterprise content management system and all its collaborative features to connect its entire business and all its offices across the world. The system enables faster working, and more effective cross-team and project work than anyone imagined, while also allowing employees to work and collaborate with external partners too. All of the tools are integrated and easily to hand within COWI's central ‘COWIportal'.

Intranets are now at that stage the portal vendor representative was talking about all those years ago, where users can enjoy seamless, super-rich experiences, and pay little attention to the technology underneath. You might not have that yet in your organization, but the potential, and examples, certainly exist already.

I'm looking forward to seeing how companies are pushing the intranet design boundaries in 2010.

If you'd like to know more about the 2010 Intranet Innovation Awards and be notified when the Awards open in March, register your interest at


Alex Manchester is a senior consultant at Step Two Designs, an intranet and information management consultancy in Sydney, Australia.