Intranet/Portal Redesign: The Research Phase

j0422527.jpgAs mentioned in a previous post, research is one of the phases of an intranet initiative. In fact it may be the most important part if the goal is to develop an intranet that meets the needs of its users. This phase allows you to learn more about what your organization needs, what platform is best for your needs, and what resources you will need to deliver a new portal or intranet. Yet the research phase of an intranet implementation is often overlooked for several reasons:

  • There is often a need to get the project done and involving the end users in the process slows the implementation down
  • There is a limited understanding of what an intranet can provide to a firm – if the concept of the intranet is narrow, implementer’s may think they can develop without involving others
  • The intranet team is putting a portal in place and thinks the portal as is, will be all that the firm needs
  • Decisions about platform and development tools have been made without consideration of needs

While I may have put a negative slant on some of the reasons, the simple point is, developing an intranet without spending time on research can set the project up for failure. Besides giving the end users what they need, involving them in the research phase will create better adoption and use of the intranet.

Given that we all agree that research is important, how does one go about it? It’s done by reviewing the successes or failures of the existing intranet, communicating internally to determine needs, looking at what other firms are doing, and reviewing potential technology. To break it down a bit further, let’s look at each task separately.

Current Intranet/Portal Review

  • Metrics – Review web statistics to determine what parts of the current intranet had the most use and alternatively, what had little or no use
  • Help Desk System – Review help desk calls that involved use of the intranet
  • Surveys – Survey end users to determine what they think needs to be kept and what can go

Internal Communication*

  • Individual interviews – talk to individuals to determine what they find most important, what new functionality is needed, what doesn’t work, what long term need they might have, etc.
  • Focus Groups – similar to individual interviews but in this case the audience is a group which might be based on roles, practice areas, or offices
  • Usability Testing – conduct testing of how functional the current intranet is – hiring an expert in usability will pay dividends in the long term

External Research

  • Benchmarking – contact other firms with a set of questions that will illicit what they are currently doing with their intranets
  • Published surveys – Find and analyze publicly available surveys – your firm library should be able to assist you in locating these useful tools
  • Case Studies – Case studies are readily available from vendors and publications – your firm library should be able to assist you in this as well

Technology Review **

  • Best Products lists – Many technical publications publish lists of the best products available for given needs. While these lists are useful for finding alternative products, realize that many times the products aren’t necessarily the “best” but are on the list for a fee
  • Product Reviews – Find and read articles reviewing the technology you are considering
  • Whitepapers – many vendors provide written information about their product in this format
  • Demos – Ask vendors for demonstrations of their products
  • RFIs – Responses by vendors to requests for information can provide valuable insight into how the product meets your needs

* this will include review of the existing intranet as well

** Don’t limit yourself by narrowly focusing on technology you already know about


  • User Requirements Document – The result of the end user research should get documented as the user requirements for the intranet
  • Usability Test Reports – This provides the results of the testing
  • Summary of Technology Review – This document lists the technology that could be used, what each product does, pros and cons, and other information regarding the technology. This information gets used during the design phase as the technical requirements get developed

How the research process get’s done depends on the team you put together to plan the research. The research planning team should consist of the intranet team and representatives from lawyer, professional staff, and support staff ranks. The technical review team needs these representatives as well in addition to IT staff. If you haven’t already involved librarians on the intranet team, please note that librarians have information management skills that often go untapped. They understand information, how it is used and the best way to store and retrieve it.

Look for the next posting of this series soon: Intranet/Portal Redesign: The Design Phase.

Additional Reading

Conducting Intranet Needs Analysis, KM Column, September 2005.

Designing an Intranet User Survey, Intranet Journal, 12/13/2004.

Intranet Review Toolkit, StepTwo Designs, March 2006.

User Requiments Analysis: A Review of Supporting Methods, Proceedings of IFIP 17th World Computer Congress, Montreal, Canada, 25-30, Kluwer Academic Pulishers, August 2002.

Web Site User Centered Design: Techniques for Gathering Requirements and Tasks, Internetworking, June 1998. While the article is almost 10 years old, it still has information worth knowing.

~ Nina Platt


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  • Purchase Creating a Successful Law Firm Intranet

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