Is Your Intranet Headed for Extinction - Part II: Planning for Success

by Toby Ward — Complex and expensive, intranets are no longer relegated to just- another-IT-project status within the highly competitive corporate hierarchy. A successful intranet’s scope and reach should permeate all aspects of the business in every corner of an organization. And the rigor and execution required to build and maintain a successful intranet is massive.
Part I of this two-part series on intranet planning underscored and underlined the critical importance of understanding your users, stakeholders and business requirements and mapping plans and solutions to those requirements.


Once the needs and requirements are identified, the planning – or the answer to the expressed needs – may begin. The planning phase maps out the strategic and tactical approach to building or redesigning your intranet and/or portal. Once the planning phase is complete, the end result should be an expansive blueprint with many elements including:
  •       Strategic plan
  •       Success measures & measurement plan
  •       Organizational recommendations
  •       Functional brief and plan
  •       Change management plan
  •       Marketing and promotional plan
  •       Funding model
  •       Business case and ROI plan
  •       Governance recommendations
  •       Content management plan
  •       Information architecture
  •       High-level wireframes
  •       Design concept
While the technology phase has been separated from the assessment and planning stages in the methodology described above, the audit and the mapping of the required specifications are in fact assessment and planning exercises. In fact, it is not uncommon to lump this phase into the assessment and planning phases. In this critical phase, the current technology – infrastructure, hardware, software, capacity, etc. – deployed within the organization is documented. A gap analysis is then performed to determine what is required to deliver the specified functionality in the plan prior to undertaking and vendor evaluations or demos.
By committing to a formal and thorough planning phase, the uncertainty and risk of undertaking large-scale intranet endeavors, often involving multiple stakeholder and user groups inside and outside the organization, is greatly reduced or eliminated. The assessment stage also serves as an important political measure for securing stakeholder buy-in and support. This buy-in is critical for delivering value, motivating use and maximizing return on investment (for a free copy of the white paper Intranet ROI, please email Most importantly, assessment and planning provide a foundation for creating a sound and leading edge model for the building phases of your intranet.
If the end intranet or portal solution is not acceptable to all groups that will use it, the solution may require reengineering or termination – expending far more time and money than if the intranet was properly planned from the start. As the value of intranets grow so to do user and management scrutiny as well as the required investment to meet demand. If you fail to properly identify your business requirements upfront and assemble the necessary plan to address them your intranet will surely face a slow death. It may take a couple of years, but termination is almost certain and will spur the need for yet another round of costly investment. Worse still, the people who launched and steer the intranet may face the same grim demise.

Case Study

Toronto-based Manulife Financial is a global insurance and financial services company. With its global reach and need to remain competitive, Manulife decided to evolve its current Lotus Notes database system into one that will a true, web-based portal. Before undertaking any coding, design or choosing any software or technology, Manulife undertook a thorough business requirements assessment of their internal environment to serve as the foundation for developing a comprehensive strategic plan. The assessment included internal research and interviews with 35 key stakeholders at Manulife.
The final Plan served as a strategic and functional blueprint with more than 250 pages and 50 recommendations for the development, governance, and management of the proposed portal. Included in the plan are detailed functional recommendations, the information architecture schematic detailing the portal's navigation, case studies and benchmarks of leading intranet companies, governance and content management recommendations, the portal's creative design, and a business case with a planned return on investment (ROI).
Prior to launching Phase 1.0 of the portal, additional user research was undertaken including a pervasive employee survey (sample: 3500), regional focus groups, and individual usability testing on a portal prototype.
“Ask employees what they want to see on their intranet, and then deliver,"
says Donna Morrison, Vice President Corporate Communications at Manulife, who spent considerable up front time with employee surveys and focus groups to learn what issues needed to be addressed through the Company's first corporate intranet.  "Once you've delivered, ask them what they think of what you've done. . . . it not only helps create a better, customer-centric product, it wins over the skeptics, raises awareness, and ultimately begins to shift the culture to one that is more self reliant and more productive."
Just prior to launch, the portal Governance Model was completed and committed to paper as was a Content Editorial Policy – each developed with input from all of the portal stakeholders.
Since the successful launch of its portal, @mfc, Manulife is planning the next phase and currently conducting a new round of employee research in anticipation of a portal product and more robust content management system rollout.

Toby Ward, a former journalist and a regular e-business columnist and speaker, is the President and Founder of Prescient Digital Media. For more information on Prescient’s CMS Blueprint service, or for a free copy of the white paper “Finding ROI”, please contact us.