Prescient's Approach to Intranets

Prescient has a five-phased approach or methodology that our intranet consultants use to creating highly effective intranets. The first two phases are Assessment and Planning.

Prescient understands the importance of strategy, planning and measured success. We have incorporated processes into our methodology to relate strategy to planning and incorporate strategy in plans and provide the means to measure success. Our five phase approach also incorporates several stages, according to client requirements, so that we can offer tailored services to achieve strategy, create effective plans and measure success.

The Prescient methodology is a collection of tools and techniques that enable each project to benefit from previous experience, successes, and leading best practices. Key advantages of our methodology include consistent terminology across projects, streamlined and repeatable processes, and most importantly, predictable results. The methodology is built upon the understanding that initiatives must often run concurrently to meet immediate needs. For all intranet and portal undertakings, there are generally five major phases:

  1. Assessment
  2. Planning
  3. Technology
  4. Implementation
  5. Adoption

Despite the traditional focus on technology and integration, the most critical phases are the initial ones: Assessment and Planning. At the heart of an intranet’s success is the strength of the plan that governs it.


Before undertaking any intranet plan or build, an extensive needs or business requirements assessment is necessary to identify, develop, prioritize, and document goals and current practices.

The assessment should include stakeholder interviews and input, as well as user research, and possibly stakeholder workshops. When building a leading-edge intranet portal, a detailed strategic blueprint can be crafted with the acquired data and knowledge including:

  • Creative
  • Information architecture
  • Technology
  • ROI plans
The assessment serves two important needs:
  1. It documents the needs and requirements of the user population, for the purpose of answering those needs.
  2. Addresses the politics of intranet ownership and governance by engaging everyone who has a business stake in the intranet.

In the majority of organizations, technology is not the biggest intranet challenge. The biggest challenge is politics – most specifically, the political challenge of who owns or should own and manage the intranet or corporate portal. As such, it is frequently recommended that any organization consider engaging a third-party or consultant to conduct the assessment. While the cost may be prohibitive for organizations with tight budgets, a third-party may be more successful in gathering sensitive opinions and feedback as a third-party, unlike stakeholders, have no personal attachment or stake in the intranet and do not have any political agendas.

As the intranet is not just a single internal site, but the sum of the internal infrastructure including all sites and the enterprise email system, it makes no practical business sense or reason for it to be wholly owned or managed by one group – be it IT, Communications, HR or anyone else.

The enterprise portal is no different. The intranet and the organization’s portal should serve the business needs of all users, not just the users in one area of the company. Therefore, the needs and requirements of each stakeholder and user as relevant and each needs to be engaged as part of the assessment process. However, this does not mean that every single employee needs to be asked his or her opinion. It does mean that a representative sampling of user opinions is crucial to gathering an accurate reading on user needs and requirements.

Engaging Users, Identifying Needs

The first two phases, assessment followed by planning, are perhaps the two most important phases: without undertaking rigorous and thorough assessment and planning stages, the subsequent three phases will not realize their potential.

The purpose of the assessment is to identify the organization’s needs and requirements. Steps in the assessment phase should include:

  • Current state evaluation
  • Business requirements interviews
  • User surveys
  • User focus groups
  • Review of existing research (surveys, etc.)
  • Benchmarking (best practices)
  • Usability testing

Business & Needs Assessment

The assessment serves two important needs: it documents the needs and requirements of the user population, for the purpose of answering those needs; and it addresses the politics of ownership and governance by engaging everyone who has a business stake in the project.

Before undertaking any site or portal design or redesign, regardless of the size of the project, a requirements assessment is necessary to identify, develop, prioritize, and document goals and current practices. As mentioned above, each engagement begins with an assessment that concretely identifies and documents the project’s goals and objectives, aligns those objectives with those of the sponsoring department and the enterprise as a whole, as well as documents the needs and requirements of the user audience and stakeholders.

Armed with the acquired data and knowledge, a detailed strategic blueprint – including creative, information architecture, and ROI plans – can be crafted to build a leading edge site/portal. Individual modules in the Assessment Phase may include Stakeholder Engagement, User Research Review, User Survey, User Focus Groups, Benchmarking (sometimes conducted in the Planning Phase) and the delivery of the Key Findings Report.

Removing the Risk

By committing to formal and thorough assessment stages, the uncertainty and risk of undertaking large-scale intranet endeavours, 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. Without undertaking proper assessment and planning stages, an organization will run the risk of not securing the needed consensus to deliver a solution that is acceptable to all – which is critical for delivering value and motivating use.

If the intranet solution is not acceptable to all groups who will use it, the solution may require reengineering or termination – costing far more time and money than the recommended route of properly assessing and planning your intranet from the beginning.

Most importantly, the assessment and planning stages provides the foundation for creating a sound and leading-edge model for the building phases of your intranet.

Benchmarking & Best Practices

While the assessment phase identifies and documents requirements of stakeholders and users, benchmarking and best practice research documents the practices and success stories of competitors and leading companies. User and stakeholder input is critical to a site/portal’s future success, but it is also invaluable to learn from the success stories and best practices of other organizations that are leading the way. Together, the combined knowledge from both stakeholder/user requirements and the best practices of competitors and leading companies can provide a powerful amalgam of insight that is ideally suited to drive a highly valued site/portal plan and design.

Prescient has considerable intranet benchmarking knowledge and has worked with or gained first-hand knowledge of leading intranet portal companies such as Cisco, Microsoft, Sprint PCS, Oracle, AT&T Canada, Bell Canada, Pitney Bowes, Con Edison and many others. As part of the benchmarking exercise, Prescient has and can make available benchmarking intelligence on client competitors.

At the conclusion of the Benchmarking module, Prescient will produce three to four page reports on each company and incorporate those best practices into specific recommendations of the final blueprint as well as include each benchmark as stand-alone case studies.


Once the needs and requirements are identified, the planning – or the response to the expressed needs – may begin.

The planning phase is intended to map out the strategic and tactical approach to building or redesigning your intranet and/or corporate portal. Once the planning phase is complete, the end result should be an expansive strategic plan with many elements including:

  • Strategic planning
  • Functional brief and plan
  • Change management plan
  • Marketing & promotional plan
  • Funding model
  • Business case and potential ROI
  • Information architecture
  • High-level wireframes
  • Design Concept
  • Governance & organization recommendations
  • Content Management plan

Specific highlights:
  • Strategic Planning
  • Information Architecture
  • Content Management
  • Knowledge Management

Strategic Planning

As defined by renowned authors and leading strategic planning experts Leonard Goodstein, Timothy Nolan and J. William Pfeiffer in Applied Strategic Planning (1993, McGraw-Hill), strategic planning is defined as “the process by which… an organization envision(s) its future and develop(s) the procedures and operations to achieve that future.”

This stage is unquestionably essential to the site/portal’s future success as it provides the strategic direction for building, governing/managing and measuring the site/portal after the launch. The strategic plan provides the high-level direction including the mission and vision of the planned portal. It also determines the goals and the CSIs or benchmarks for success. In essence, it provides the criteria for developing the portal blueprint.

The end result of this stage, for inclusion in the final blueprint, will be a defined vision and mission, and definitive goals. Included in this stage will be one to two half-day workshops to develop the vision and mission statements as well as critical success indicators (CSIs) for measuring the future success of the site or portal. Prior to these sessions, each stakeholder participant will be expected to complete a short questionnaire regarding their requirements and vision of the site/portal.

Information Architecture

A common, unified look-and-feel and content experience is vital for improving the user’s experience. Information architecture involves the design of organization, labeling, navigation, and indexing systems to support both browsing and searching. It plays a central role in determining if users can easily find the information they need.

Many of today's Web sites and portals lack the effective foundation of an intuitive information architecture. Despite attractive graphic designs and a solid technological base, these sites fail to provide intuitive access to the site's content.

The process of information architecture design begins with research into mission, vision, content, and audience during the assessment phase. This initial strategy consulting provides a foundation for the development of a successful information architecture design that supports long-term growth and management. A well designed information architecture minimizes the time that users spend looking for information.

Finally, if properly planned, an initial investment in a scalable architecture (one that can adapt easily as the site grows) will prevent costly redesigns in the future.

Content Management

Content management is simply defined as the means by which content is created, stored, accessed and reused to accomplish corporate goals. Effective content management requires the same major elements of Knowledge Management including:

  • Defined rules (taxonomy)
  • Engaged and participatory users
  • And the appropriate technology to support content processes and workflow

An effective content management process is critical to optimal, structured and timely web publishing. Since this process can only reflect and automate human workflow, it is vitally important that it be considered carefully both in terms of usability and the means in which it improves or reinforces business processes. Content management planning takes into account:

  • Content publishers, needs and content types
  • Content structures & current practices (workflow)
  • Measuring the effectiveness of the publishing process (e.g. ROI)
  • User requirements and access/rules (e.g. customization/personalization)
  • Content processes and guidelines for management, review, and development
  • Content storage/retrieval mechanism & review software (e.g.  content management system)

For a content management consultation or a copy of the free white paper, Finding ROI, contact us.

Knowledge Management

Knowledge Management (KM) is the way and means that organizations create, store and access (reuse) knowledge to accomplish organization goals.

KM requires:
  • organizational processes and rules (taxonomy)
  • innovative and participatory individuals
  • the appropriate technology to support knowledge sharing

Prescient works with clients to build the appropriate framework and processes, as well as identify technology solutions (taxonomies, search engines, etc.) for establishing sound Knowledge Management processes and systems.