With SharePoint, it's often best to just keep things simple

With SharePoint, it’s often best to just keep things simple

One of the benefits of doing intranet projects for dozens of clients is that we have learnt a thing or two about what makes a project successful. We know that 90% of intranet requirements are common to all organisations and we developed EasyShare, a set of configurable SharePoint Templates, based on the requirements of over 25 such clients. One subject that’s close to our hearts is the role of user-testing and user-research in delivering a great user experience.

User centred (or human-centred) design is the de facto best practice for the design of digital tools, be that websites, intranets, extranets, apps, or software. And while the need for usability testing is a given for designers, clients don’t necessarily share that view as time or budget constraints often mean usability testing isn’t an option.

For a website – especially a website that sells something – the impact of a bad user experience is very obvious – it’s lost conversion and lost sales, so the case for doing it is much easier to make.

User Experience and Intranets

For an intranet, the impact of the user experience is harder to quantify but shouldn’t be underestimated. A truly great intranet will unlock tremendous value arising from access to knowledge, collaboration, engaged and informed employees, efficiency…but according to this 2013 AIIM report (you need to be a member to download), only 6% of organisations have entirely met their intranet objectives and 22% of those that haven’t put that down to a difficult user interface. Clearly getting the user interface right is a big challenge.

But the challenge is this: How can you deliver a great user experience when you don’t have the resources to do extensive workshops and usability testing?

User Experience on EasyShare

One of the benefits of going with something like EasyShare is that much of the functional requirements gathering has already been done. Navigation structures are defined and templates are built. Additionally EasyShare was extensively user tested as part of its development so it is a well-designed solution based on the most common needs of most organisations. Since it allows you to extend it as much as you want it gives you the best of an out of the box and a custom built solution.

Of course you will still have to do some requirements gathering. Typically that will mean workshops with departmental owners, users and super-users to ascertain core business requirements and user requirements. How many workshops you do depends on how big your organisation is. We find that EasyShare suits our collaborative approach. Using wireframes templates in workshops gives stakeholders and users a feel for how the intranet could function which speeds up the whole process.

Pre-launch user testing and research gives you a great experience from launch, but often it’s just not viable. What happens then? EasyShare out of the box gives you at go-live most of what you need from an intranet, allowing you to refine through iteration based on user feedback and analytics. EasyShare can be rolled out in days, and in contrast with a custom built intranet where you are constrained to what’s been delivered, EasyShare’s customisable templates make changes simple. Intranet Managers or even non-technical people, in communications for example, can make configuration changes based on live feedback and without having to involve developers.

Omitting research and testing on a bespoke build is a big risk but with an out of the box solution like EasyShare you can achieve a great user experience by iterating your live intranet. It will take you longer, and you may have to accept some user dissatisfaction along the way, but by interpreting the analytics and putting in place a good feedback mechanism – along with the right expertise – it is quite possible to quickly deploy a top class intranet for a very reasonable cost.