An Intranet Success Story

For years I, and my colleagues at BA Insight, have been promoting the core idea that enterprise search and intranets are not about the search engine technology, but about the user’s experience with the implementation of the overall application.

We advocate that the internet experience sets the bar for user’s expectations. Intranets and enterprise search are different animals than Google, but it’s still effective to learn from what works on internet sites.

We’ve distilled a set of principles that make internet experiences successful, and we focus on showing people how to apply those principles to intranets and enterprise search implementations. It’s always great to see truly successful implementations and reflect on how the patterns and practices we preach roll out.

Great Video About Nationwide’s Intranet, “Spot”

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with folks from Nationwide Insurance, who have a great story to tell. Take a look at this video about Nationwide’s journey with Spot, Nationwide’s social intranet built on Yammer and SharePoint. The segment from 17:45-21:45 is of particular interest and relevant to this topic. Their intranet has won awards, generated clear business results, and sparked employee excitement.

So what went right? They understood that the consumer experience has a huge impact on enterprises and that search was a key element.  Listening to their story was, for me, another great validation that the principles we’ve been preaching for years really work.

Search that Actually Works

Nationwide’s video highlights search that actually works. They looked at why this is rare in the industry: “Why doesn’t it

work? We never invest in it, we never pay attention to it. We think of it as Google, in fact it’s the opposite of Google: looking for the needle in a haystack.” But after understanding this, Nationwide paid attention to search and has an award-winning intranet that employees love. Their “Find Anything” locator, navigation search bar, and extended refiners are all great examples of the proven patterns we preach at BA Insight.

The focus for SPOT was clear.  It’s expressed in three points:

  • Simple consumer-like experience
  • One-stop shop for knowledge
  • Things to make our jobs easier

All three of these connect directly to search that actually works.

The Nationwide project has generated clear, documented business results:

  • Engagement – Associates at Nationwide are more engaged, better connected and have access to the expertise needed to get work done
  • Efficiency – Spot enables teams to work faster and reduces the duplication of work
  • Cost Savings – Nationwide is saving $1.5 million year over year

Of course, there are many people and many factors that contribute to the success of any complex project. Nationwide was an early and enthusiastic Yammer adopter starting in 2008, and has an astounding 50% contribution rate. They chose an approach that matched their culture and grew a tight-knit core team through successive phases. Talking with me, though, they cited their focus on making search successful as one of the most important factors of all.

Still a Need to Spread the Word

In the Nationwide video, when the audience was asked “who has search that actually works?”, only five people raised their hands. I see this every day – despite it really being possible to make a great intranet experience, very few people actually do – and it makes me sad. There are still too many organizations that don’t apply the proven principles we preach to their intranet implementations – resulting in too many failed intranet projects in the industry. So we keep on spreading the word – whether you call it education, evangelism, or changing mindsets.

If you are reading this and struggling with how to create a great intranet, just take heart that it’s really possible. Focus on the lessons you can learn from internet sites, and on – as Nationwide sums it up simply – “search that actually works”.

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