Ease-of-use may seem like an obvious criteria when selecting a new intranet, but identifying an easy-to-use solution isn’t as simple as you might think.
No intranet vendor is going to admit their product is challenging to use. This means it’s up to the buyer to do the work and discern the true usability of a solution.
Below we’ve outlined how to determine if an intranet is easy to use, the benefits, and why we prioritize ease-of-use at ThoughtFarmer.
What do we mean by easy-to-use?
Think of the last time you downloaded an app on your phone. Was it easy to immediately navigate and benefit from? What if you ask a friend or colleague? Would they report the same level of usability?
An easy-to-use solution is usable by everyone. Not just technical users.
The terms ease-of-use and usability are often used interchangeably, but usability is a broader concept that encompasses ease-of-use. The ISO 9241-11 standard defines usability as:
The extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals, with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use.
In the case of intranet software, if your intranet users cannot achieve their goals efficiently, effectively, and in a satisfactory manner, they won’t use your intranet, and it will become a wasteland.
Signs an intranet solution might be easy to use
It’s easy to get fooled with marketing. Website photos that depict smiling happy customers can easily trick us into believing a vendor offers an easy-to-use solution. Here are a few ways to know for sure if an intranet is easy to use:
Customers highlight ease-of-use
Sifting through customer reviews sites, like Capterra or G2, are an excellent way to gauge the usability of each intranet vendor. Look for quotes that touch on quick deployment, easy for all employees to use, or quick time to success. Reference customers are also a great way to determine ease-of-use. Ask in-depth questions relating to adoption, time to complete tasks, and any barriers to success.
Core functionality is simple
Tasks within an intranet can vary—from liking content, to setting up comprehensive workflows. However, the core functionality of creating and managing content should be simple enough to figure out by even the most beginner users. As detailed below, you can easily gauge this by inviting a core group of users to test drive the core functionality before implementation.
Mobile experience resembles desktop experience
Most intranets offer some level of mobile functionality, but you will need to dig deeper than just ‘mobile accessible’. An app will definitely make things easier, but the navigation and structure need to be intuitive. As remote or frontline workers will attest to, the functionality on the app needs to mimic the desktop experience. Look for a solution that has a fully functional native app and offers the same feature set functionality on mobile as provided on desktop version
It meets accessibility standards
It isn’t just the visually impaired who benefit from accessibility. If you want to ensure every employee uses, and benefits from your intranet, it needs to be accessible by every single user. Look for a solution that adheres to usability guidelines and standards and includes responsive design. For further reading on accessibility, check out our post: Accessibility: What it is, and why it’s a priority at ThoughtFarmer.
It’s easy to deploy
Ease-of-use begins long before your end users begin interacting with an intranet platform. If the install is extensive, or the platform is difficult to integrate into existing processes, that's probably a sign that it’s not what you’re looking for. One advantage of cloud over on-premise is that users access information from the cloud and no local installation is needed.
How to determine if an intranet solution is actually easy to use
The best way to know for sure if a solution is easy to use, is to test drive the solution yourself.
Most intranet vendors offer a free trial, which is a bit like sampling ice cream—you get a small taste of a flavor before committing to the entire cone. Here’s how to get the most out of your free trial:
Step 1: Test drive your own instance
Once you have a free trial set up, you can begin poking around, and seeing for yourself how simple it is to complete core tasks. Learn for yourself how easy it is to navigate, how many clicks it takes to locate information, the effectiveness of the search engine, and whether the design meets accessibility standards.
Step 2: Set up a group of additional users
It’s great that you may have easily navigated the platform, but what about other potential users? You probably will want at least three users, but feel free to add as many as you want—keeping in mind that you will also need to manage their feedback. Consider inviting users with varying This could be users of varying technical acuity, or random users from different departments.
Step 3: Assign users individual tasks to complete
Your sample tasks may be specific to your industry or department, but it’s worth being strategic here and finding tasks that ultimately relate back to why you sought out a new intranet in the first place. Regardless, here are some you might want to consider:
- Knowledge management: Ask users to locate a specific document or find a subject matter expert.
- Communication: Ask users to create a news announcement. You could also request that they target it to a certain department, or make it required reading
- Content: Request that users set up a page
- Business processes: Ask users to create a form and set up a workflow.
Step 4: Make it a competition
Many of our customers have designed treasure-hunt style competitions where users (or departments) are rewarded for all the tasks they complete within the trial instance.
Step 5: Conduct a bake-off
Now that you understand the usability of one vendor’s platform, it’s time to see how it compares to the competition. Otherwise known as a technology shoot-out, a bake-off is an evaluation involving two or three vendors, in a product test with specific and defined rules. It’s a popular way to compare competing technologies, and a quick way to gauge the usability of a platform.
Step 6: Collect feedback
The last step in the process involves collecting and analyzing user feedback. While you could book individual sessions with test-users, it’s probably easiest to collect data through an online form. As shown below, one of our customers recently took advantage of the online form builder within our platform, and created a form asking test users how they felt about the trial.
What are the benefits of an easy-to-use solution?
The benefits of an easy-to-use intranet go far beyond the obvious goal of having users achieve specified goals, and satisfaction with their new intranet.
Adoption is one of the easiest (and obvious) ways to determine if your intranet is easy to use. When users can easily perform all relevant intranet functions, they will repeatedly return, and quickly rely on an intranet for the majority of business processes and communication.
Launching a new technology can be an exercise in patience, as you most likely want it up in running yesterday. Usability is so much more than just how end users interact with a solution. It’s also about how well an intranet integrates with other technologies, and how easy it is to deploy throughout your organization. As mentioned above, cloud solutions don’t require a local install, and are therefore easier and faster to deploy.
Intranets have long been associated with productivity, but if an intranet isn’t easy to use, you won’t reap the rewards of productivity. Easy to use intranets help employees quickly find the information—and people—they need to be successful in their roles.
Finally, an intranet that is easy to use will save you money. Why? Because when employees adopt an intranet, they will rely on it to seek out internal knowledge and expertise.The faster they can find the information, the less time (and money!) they spend looking elsewhere for information and subject matter experts.
Why ease-of-use is a priority at ThoughtFarmer
Many buyers have had bad experiences using complicated, hard-to-use solutions so they appreciate how easy it is to create an intranet quickly and easily. Or, sometimes buyers don't value usability until it’s too late. For example, they may be so stuck on a checklist of required features, that they lose sight of simple usability. But all the shiny and innovative features in the world won’t make a difference if your end-users can’t figure it out.
At ThoughtFarmer we rely on customer feedback to ensure our product is easy to use. By reaching out to customers and having them test-drive features, designs, or prototypes, we can be sure our platform remains easy to use so users can achieve their goals efficiently, effectively, and in a satisfactory manner. Watching users interact with a new design or feature is also the best way to ensure that we catch usability issues early.
We additionally pay attention to what our customers say, and use that feedback to improve the functionality and usability of ThoughtFarmer.
Have questions? Get in touch! We're always happy to hear from you.