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What does an intranet strategy look like?

Millau Viaduct with blue sky

What does an intranet strategy look like?

This is a quick guide to the contents of an intranet strategy document. Think of it as a template for the main areas that it should cover. There’s no fixed recipe for an intranet strategy, but there are certain questions that a good strategy document should answer:

  1. Purpose – what is the intranet for?
  2. Scope – how does the intranet fit within your digital workplace?
  3. Measures – what indicates that the purpose is being met?
  4. Implementation – what will change in the next 1-3 years?
  5. Optional extras – costs, resources and governance

Strategy documents need not be long; the objective is to articulate what the intranet does and how it will change. That way others in your organisation can ensure alignment when making decisions that may either use the intranet or impact it in some way. Details should be saved for other documents, such as governance and a product backlog.

Organisations often create intranet strategies as the first step for a major intranet project, such as moving to a new platform. This is a great idea, but don’t let the strategy document blur into a platform specification that becomes too detailed and technology-driven. Keep the focus on the intranet as a service to the business.

1. Purpose – what is the intranet for?

What is your intranet for? This innocuous question can be hard to answer, but if you can get all your stakeholders to agree on this, then it stops an intranet being pulled in multiple directions.

a benefits map illustrates how an intranet supports strategic goals
A benefits map illustrates how an intranet supports strategic goals

Typically an intranet’s role will be a combination of internal communication, access to employee services, a way to find and share information and possibly a way for teams to collaborate (though this is less common than it used to be). 

A good Purpose statement will be more specific, however. For example, is it the primary internal communication channel or just one of several? Is it the main way employees will access self-service systems, or just an option? (See ‘What flavour is your intranet?‘ for more on this).

Where possible, the Purpose should make explicit links to the organisation’s business strategy. If your organisation aims to improve customer satisfaction, then part of the Purpose would be to help people serve customers, perhaps by: finding experts to solve problems; better tracking of issues to resolution; and providing more accurate information to sales teams, for example.

If your business needed to reduce the time taken to bring new services to market, then an intranet goal might be to help people collaborate more efficiently, perhaps by: providing ‘anywhere’ access to working documents and processes; automation (workflows) of review and approval processes; and structured space for problem solving and idea generation among peers.

We sometimes create a benefits map (see above) to make this explicit. However, the reality for many intranets is that their alignment with business strategy is much harder to pinpoint; much like email they are a general tool that will help a business in hundreds of small events rather than one grand one.

2. Scope – how does the intranet fit within your digital workplace?

Although the terms intranet and digital workplace are sometimes used interchangeably, when talking strategy it’s best to be really clear that an intranet alone is not a digital workplace, but it can often be a significant component of one.

An intranet is just one component of a digital workplace
An intranet is just one component of a digital workplace

It helps to think of a digital workplace as a set of capabilities or services rather than technologies. Our own digital workplace framework models ten dimensions (see below). Five of these are services, such as communicate & engage, collaborate, find & share (blue boxes in image). Another five are management capabilities to execute effectively day-to-day such as Governance & operations, adoption and user experience (the green boxes in the image).

ClearBox's digital workplace framework
ClearBox’s digital workplace framework

The job of an intranet strategy is to articulate the intranet’s role in delivering some of these services. It’s highly unlikely that it will deliver all of these services, which is why intranets are only a component of a digital workplace, but it may play a leading role in the ‘Communicate and engage’ dimension, for example.

We sometimes visualise it like this:

Intranet role in a digital workplace (intranet plays a lead role in 'communicate and engage' plus 'find and share'; a partial role in 'Collaborate' and title role in 'Agile Working'
Intranet role in a digital workplace (intranet plays a lead role in pale blue boxes, no role in grey boxes and a partial role in purple boxes).

The Scope section of your strategy document needs to make explicit what the intranet will do (the pale blue boxes in the figure above), and areas where there are dependencies or interfaces (the purple boxes). For example, under ‘Agile working’, the intranet may be one component for a mobile digital workplace, but HR services may be delivered through a dedicated app from Workday or Success Factors.

It’s also good to say what an intranet won’t do within your digital workplace (grey boxes) where there are areas for doubt. For example, in the past a SharePoint intranet may well have been pitched as the way a company collaborated via SharePoint team sites. Now it’s more likely that an intranet won’t have a collaboration role, as Microsoft Teams will meet the need for this in the digital workplace instead.

Note that if you are planning multiple changes across a digital workplace, it probably makes more sense to document a digital workplace strategy rather than an intranet-specific one.

3. Measures – what indicates that the purpose is being met?

It is tempting to tie intranet measures to whatever your analytics tool will tell you. ‘Hits’ can be useful for activity tracking, but they won’t inform you about outcomes that matter to the business. For a full picture, measure both inputs to the process (e.g. how many sales people use the information on the intranet) and the outcomes that matter (e.g. how often did the intranet play a role in improving customer satisfaction?).

The strategy document need not specify all operational measures, but this Measures section should highlight some KPIs that demonstrate that the intranet is fulfilling the Purpose set out in section 1. Even if there are no strong links to business strategy, if a purpose of the intranet is to be “the primary internal communication channel” than a pulse survey can assess employee sentiment on this by asking “How do you prefer to hear news about what is happening at AnyCo?”.

I’m often asked “what does good look like?” or for an external benchmark to aim for. I think this is a misstep, as all that really matters is the level of performance to deliver to your intranet’s purpose. If it is to improve employee-self-service, then a 20% reduction in calls to the IT helpdesk might be a good target, but the baseline has to come from the current number of calls for your company, not an industry average.

Some measures may be more inward-looking, such as ensuring 99% of employees can access the intranet. These are worth tracking, but won’t excite anyone, and may be better under Implementation (see below).

4. Implementation – what will change in the next 1-3 years?

With respect to the Purpose and Measures, your plan for Implementation needs to lay out how you will get from where you are now to where you intend to be, so this section of your strategy should be a very high-level roadmap or summary of phases. When producing strategies for clients, we visualise these against our framework to show some of the dependencies with other digital workplace projects too (see below).

roadmap over 4 quarters showing swim lanes for ClearBox framework (Communicate & engage, collaborate etc.)
An intranet roadmap (showing the first year) aligned to ClearBox’s digital workplace framework

How far out the roadmap needs to go depends on your organisation’s planning horizons. We usually find 24-36 months about right, but in some infrastructure-heavy industries, five years can be normal. Either way, the strategy should be reviewed periodically, and in most cases an agile approach, using a rolling programme of improvements via sprints works best.

See also Five Principles for Managing Intranets in the Digital Workplace

5. Optional extras – costs, resources and governance

In addition to the sections above, some intranet strategies also include the following:

Costs. Where the strategy is tied to a major upgrade or overhaul, then it may also set out a budget. The key to getting this right is to cost out the non-tangible elements such as adoption, governance and content maintenance as well as the obvious things such as software licenses. Even if no overhaul is planned, having an explicit “business as usual” budget can be a healthy discussion to trigger.

Resources. Most intranets fail not from technology problems but from a lack of love for the content. If your strategy is about getting an intranet back on track, it makes sense to include a model for roles and responsibilities in the strategy document (see also: How big should your intranet team be?). In other respects, this section more naturally belongs in an intranet governance document.

Governance. Intranet governance can go into withering amounts of detail and would dilute the punch of a strategy document. However, it can be appropriate to include a section on how the strategy will be governed. For example, to specify that there will be a sponsor and cross-functional steering group, that will be accountable for ensuring that the strategy delivers what it promises, and for revising it periodically.

For over 14 years we’ve helped organisations create clear strategies and roadmaps to guide their intranet and digital workplace evolution.  Clients range from small charities to multinationals with over 100,000 employees. We’re business focussed, vendor neutral and we don’t sell technology. Please contact us for an informal chat if you’d like to know more. 

Sam Marshall

I'm the director of ClearBox Consulting, advising on intranet and digital workplace strategy, SharePoint and online collaboration. I've specialised in intranets and knowledge Management for over 19 years, working with organisations such as Unilever, Astra Zeneca, Akzo Nobel, Sony, Rio Tinto and Diageo. I was responsible for Unilever’s Global Portal Implementation, overseeing the roll-out of over 700 online communities to 90,000 people and consolidating several thousand intranets into a single system.

  • Posted at 6:00 pm, 19 January, 2021

    A great overview and Visuals to help with Intranet Strategy. I hope that 2021 will push companies to see the value of a great intranet. It’s never been more important for companies to communicate effectively. The at home and report workforce needs a powerful full featured intranet.

  • Posted at 4:26 pm, 4 April, 2021

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