Intranet strategy - planning a successful intranet

By Toby Ward — I once asked an intranet manager if they had a defined intranet strategy. His response was to say “sort of... it's mostly up here” (pointing to his noggin). Ummm... no, they didn't have a strategy. Unfortunately, most organizations are not disimilar and do not have an intranet strategy.

A strategy has definition, is well documented and shared by all stakeholders, and has key performance indicators (KPIs) or metrics. The strategy provides direction for executable actions (in the context of this article, we will treat strategy as synonymous with plan, though a strategy in the broader definition might contain many plans). For an intranet, a typical strategy would include the following elements:

  • Vision
  • Mission
  • Target audience definition / segmentation
  • Governance 
  • Goals
  • Objectives
  • Action plans
  • KPIs (or CSIs)

Strategy is independent of technology, and should precede the selection, architecture, and implementation of the technology. In fact, any choice for or work on technology before the development of the intranet strategy is synonymous with putting the cart before the horse; except this horse is massive and dam expensive. Regardless of the technology, most intranets risk failure without a well-defined strategy. Even the most successful and complex intranet platform, also known as SharePoint (MOSS 2007, though not the most complex, certainly the most pervasive), requires a strategy or plan. “Without proper architecture and governance, I can guarantee you that SharePoint will fail,” says Bob Mixon, President of Mixon Consulting.

When looking at strategy as it relates to the process of developing or redesigning an intranet, strategy encompasses the first two phases of Prescient Digital Media's Intranet Project Methodology © 2012, Assessment & Planning.

2012 methodology


During Assessment (Phase I), the current state of the intranet is documented and the needs and requirements identified. Assessment serves two important functions: it documents the needs and requirements of the user population, and those of the business and its stakeholders while aligning project goals with corporate goals and objectives. This phase often includes the following activities:

  • a heuristic intranet evaluation (gap analysis)
  • business requirements analysis (and stakeholder interviews) 
  • user reviews 
  • user survey 
  • focus groups 
  • technical infrastructure analysis 
  • benchmarking and best practices


Phase II, Planning, addresses the needs documented during the Assessment. Intranet planning incorporates both the strategic vision and the functional plan and maps out the strategic and tactical steps for designing the site or portal including:

  • the high-level vision and mission
  • goals and objectives
  • governance
  • critical success indicators (PKIs)
  • business case and ROI
  • content management plan & policies

As well, detailed tactical plans are drafted, including:

  • the functional plan
  • site or portal information architecture
  • page wireframes
  • design concepts
  • usability testing

Model for Success

It is easier to look at strategy from the top-down, beginning with the vision and 'visualizing' the end state or model of success for the intranet. While a successful intranet 'looks' very different from organization to organization, another way to visualize success is as a model or mental construct (the elements of success). The model or construct I developed some years ago, which guides the work Prescient has done with dozens of intranet clients, is called the Nexus of Intranet Success. Nexus [‘nEksIs] comes from a Greek word meaning ‘meeting place’ (a fitting label given the intranet’s importance as the only true, universal meeting ground or ‘water cooler’ in the average organization).

The most critical determinant of an intranet’s success – and I cannot stress this enough – is people. In particular, the crucial participation and support of senior management (the heart or inner ring of the Nexus model: Executive Support) and the end users (the all encompassing factor represented by the outer ring ‘Motivated Users’ of the Nexus model). The model therefore visually depicts the significant importance of people. Ironically, the engagement of both senior management and end users are critical tasks during the intranet strategy.


The Nexus model therefore represents the desired end-state, not the process for getting there.

I’ve been known to say that the intranet is not a technology system or IT project, nor is it a communications vehicle or channel; the intranet is a business system that should represent and support all areas of the business. In fact, the intranet is really only one part technology, and many parts people and process (which begins with intranet strategy).

Toby Ward, a former journalist, prominent writer, speaker on intranets and intranet planning, is the President of Prescient Digital Media. To learn how to undertake effective intranet strategy please see our intranet service offering The Intranet Strategy, or download the free Good-To-Great Intranet Matrix. For more information, contact us directly.

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