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If usability offers so much potential, why does it seem like there's still resistance to doing usability reviews?

There is resistance. It comes in many different ways, and often it's from the highest-level executives who don't even realize how bad their intranet is, because they don't use it themselves.

I'll just pose a very simple challenge to your readers: When is the last time you did your own expense reports, as opposed to handing it off to an assistant to do it? If you had to find out, you know, the rules for getting reimbursed for taking a client out for lunch, and how to actually take the receipt from the restaurant and enter it into the system—it may involve many steps. Well, most executives never actually do those things, and so, therefore, they don't realize that many of these steps can be quite cumbersome. So you really have to go on the intranet, not just to check it out, "Does it look good?," but to actually accomplish a specific task. So that's one really big issue right there.

Then a second issue is that the people who work in IT departments, even if they do try these things themselves, they don't necessarily recognize how difficult the processes are for mainstream employees. For someone in the IT department, the intranet may make a process much, much easier than it is for, let's say, an attorney in the legal department who might have a very high hourly rate, but who is not particularly a computer person.

The third barrier is that even when it is accepted that something needs to be done to improve usability, it often falters on more political barriers. Within the organization, it's not always clear who is in charge of [the intranet] and can say, okay, we're going to make it this way. Very often, it's a very distributed responsibility, and so a lot of people have to be brought on board, and they might drag their feet, or say that's not their problem this year. And if you have to get 50 departments to do it, it never happens.

It becomes a major coordination problem.


Last fall, you published your most recent survey of "Best Intranets." Any surprises from that research?

You might say that the lack of a clear technology platform was in some ways a surprise because you read so much about this and that solution being supposedly the way to great intranets. In fact, when we go and talk to those companies that have done great intranets—first of all, they all use something different, and, second, all of them say of whatever [technology] they happen to be using, "Well, we had to make a lot of changes ourselves to make it really work for us." So I think there is a big contrast between advertising and reality, and that these technologies are not all there yet. You really have to take responsibility yourself if you want to get a good solution.

Another thing that was quite striking was that several of these best intranets had reduction of e-mail as being one of their priorities in their project, finding ways of taking information away from e-mail and sticking it into a more kind of organized and searchable space on the intranet. It was probably because you can provide better features on the intranet than you can an e-mail reader, but it's also partly because people are just getting so buried in their e-mail, we've got to take things out of e-mail if at all possible.

The goal used to be the opposite: to put things into e-mail.

That's right, and people have done it too much. Now we've got to retract.

B2B Tips

To make the most of your B2B Web site, nielsen recommends that you "Help your fans help you" win their business. Provide the resources prospective clients' need to sell your products and services internally. Offer these aids:

Downloadable product photos, preferably ones that show the product being used.

White papers that demonstrate ROI. Make these short, and don't use PDF; standard Web pages make it easier for advocates to cut and paste text and images into their memos and presentations.

Links to external press coverage that demonstrates that independent sources have covered you positively.

Downloadable tables showing your product's main specifications, benefits and price, along with competitive comparisons.

Downloadable slide shows, preferably in PowerPoint format.

Ongoing updates through an e-mail newsletter, which can offer advocates hints about tidbits to feed their bosses.

Source: Norman Nielsen Group Inc.

This article was originally published on 06-01-2004
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