From the 60-plus organizations who have taken part in the Web-based intranet benchmarking service, the Worldwide Intranet Challenge (WIC), the Discovery Health intranet has recently become the new #1 ranked intranet.

Of the 44 questions that comprise the WIC survey, Discovery Health rated either #1 or #2 in the following:

  • Intranet home page
  • Overall look and feel
  • Ability to complete forms online
  • Access to policies and procedures
  • Information about our products and services
  • Understanding of the organization’s values and culture
  • Using menus to find information
  • Access to templates
  • Access to reports
  • Access to business applications
  • Ability to personalize the intranet

So how did they do it?

Discovery Health is the largest private health care insurer in South Africa. Major products include life insurance, health insurance, the DiscoveryCard and Vitality -- a program which rewards healthy behavior.

The Discovery Health Intranet, known as Discovery Net Access (DNA), supports approximately 6,500 employees. 2,500 of these staff comprise the Discovery Health call center.

The intranet consists of two main sections:

  • Discovery Net Access (DNA) -- includes the homepage used by most staff. This provides typical intranet-type content such as policies, forms, standard operating procedures, news and access to business applications.
  • PinPoint -- is a knowledge repository specifically for customer support staff. It contains all the information staff need to answer customer queries, including a detailed breakdown of every product provided by Discovery. This includes advice on how best to explain the products to members, brokers, health professionals, and other employees. It is used heavily on a continuous basis by around 2,500 call center staff.

The intranet was developed in-house using a Weblogic backend, Java frontend and Apache webservers. Much of the infrastructure that was developed for the public-facing website was re-used on the intranet. This helped minimize development and support costs.

The new intranet was launched in February 2010.

[Editor's note: You may be interested in reading The True Nature of a Social Intranet.]

Approach to intranet design

The first phase in designing the new intranet consisted of base-lining the current intranet. Key findings from this baseline showed that:

  • There was a lack of trust in the information -- staff were not sure if information was accurate and up-to-date.
  • Staff wanted to find information more quickly and to be sure the information they had was correct, trusted and complete.

The development approach taken was a mixture of the agile and waterfall methodologies. A formal scope and requirements document was defined at the beginning of the project but most of the functionality was implemented incrementally. The main benefit of this approach was to ensure regular progress was made throughout the project, while at the same time clearly defining the scope of the project.

Approach to authoring

Discovery Health uses a centralized approach to creating content. Only a small group of nominated staff can add content. The advantages of this approach include:

  • Reduction of the risk of exposure of providing incorrect information to customers (which has the potential to be costly).
  • Reduction of CMS licensing costs (less authors require fewer licenses).
  • More rigorous controls -- through structured work flow and approval processes -- can be applied to the way content is published, ensuring a higher level of quality.
  • Easier review of content quality -- content is reviewed every six months to ensure it is still valid. If not validated by content owner, it is removed.

Since this new approach to content quality, the number of reports of out-of-date or inaccurate content has decreased dramatically.

Home page, look and feel and personalization

Discovery Health rated #1 for both the questions, “I like the intranet home page,” and, “I like the look and feel of the intranet.” They also ranked #2 for the question, “I can personalize the intranet.”

We asked Jamie Whittaker, the development manager who was responsible for this launch, the reasons why he thought this was the case. His key points include:

  • The home page is fully customizable with “widgets” that can be dragged and dropped and placed where staff want them. There are three basic types of widgets available to staff:
    • Human Resources -- this includes a prosperity point counter where staff earn points for living a healthy life, where they can leave information, and where they can access career and training information.
    • External feeds -- this includes local and international news and social media RSS feeds.
    • Internal content -- this includes recently updated content, and content that is rated highly by staff and that appears often in search results.
  • Staff can choose their own home page -- they are not forced to view the same “corporate” intranet page. There are a number of potential home pages that staff are likely to choose including DNA, PinPoint (for call center staff) and TechPoint (for technical information).
  • The PinPoint page provides an alerts widget that cannot be moved. The alerts widget provides updates about key content that has changed, such as a product description updates or the addition of a new product. This content is pushed out by a knowledge management team. Staff have two options available when dealing with alerts:
    • They can acknowledge the alert, which is then archived (reports are pulled on all reports to assess compliance).
    • They can indicate they don’t understand the alert, and someone will get back to them and provide them with more information.

The home page was designed by an internal graphics team including usability experts. Several wireframes were proposed to users and eventually narrowed down to the final solution. The usability people conducted some testing by asking staff to complete tasks using the proposed wireframes.

[Editor's note: You may be interested in reading The Business Case for a Social Intranet.]

Work tasks/forms/templates

Discovery Health rated highly in many of the questions related to using the intranet to complete work tasks, including the use of online forms (#1), templates (#2), policies and procedures (#1), access to business applications (#2) and completing tasks online (#3).

The high rankings can be attributed to the following reasons:

  • PinPoint is needed to process all customer calls. It provides the detailed product and process knowledge needed to respond correctly to customer questions.
  • Staff rely heavily on online content. Printing is discouraged because content can change and there is no guarantee that the printed version is the latest.
  • DNA contains all the standard operating procedures -- for example, applying for leave, approving leave, updating personal details and monitoring health. Many of these procedures can be completed online.
  • A Learning Management System enables staff to manage their own training and career development.
  • All internal applications are accessible through DNA. They are not all necessarily built and hosted using the intranet technology, but they are accessible through the intranet. Examples of these applications include the internal recognition system (the Star Awards) career management, book a meeting room, Lexus Nexus (a news service), lead management, SMS management, a prescription calculator and crime reporting.


Discovery Health rated in the top four for each of the four survey questions about finding information. Tips about how to improve the way staff find information include:


The intranet menu has two navigation tabs -- menu and index. Staff can navigate using either tab.

  • The index list provides a predictive search -- after staff have entered the first three letters, the predictive search narrows the number of matches in the index list to match what staff have entered.
  • The search technology used is Google minis. This also provides predictive text after three letters -- more letters will minimize the list. Matching terms can then be further filtered by content type or category.

Browsing or navigating

  • The new intranet replaced a cumbersome “fly out” method with a modern “iPod”- like functionality.
    • A marker at the top of the navigation tells you where you are in the intranet hierarchy.
    • A breadcrumb trail shows where you have come from. Staff are able to click on each item in the trail of the breadcrumb, and a drop down of menu list items appears.
    • A limitation of the old site was that it was only possible to navigate three levels in the hierarchy -- this was not enough. The new intranet enables the hierarchy to go beyond three levels.
    • In effect, they have moved from two methods of finding information to four, and have tried to cater for all of our users’ navigation and search preferences without making the site cumbersome or cluttered.
  • The DNA menu was aligned with an existing structure identified by the HR Group. This consisted of grouping content by:
    • You -- benefits specific to staff
    • Your work -- tools and applications -- profiled to the user and the team and function they perform
    • Your Company -- general information about the company, including policies and procedures
  • PinPoint comprises 80,000 content items. High-level navigation is classified according to the various products offered by Discovery. Sub-level navigation items were classified according to the card-sorting technique, and a team of information architects categorized every item over five full working days. After the content was mapped, it was audited to ensure that it was still relevant. This resulted in a reduction in the amount of content by around 20%.

Other comments

  • Every page on the intranet can be rated. The benefits of rating content are that:
    • Good content can be found more easily.
    • Poor quality content can be detected so that remedial action can be taken.
    • A widget available from the homepage shows highest rated content and topics that people are searching for the most.
  • Quick link tabs are available on every page –- content that is referred to on a daily basis can be easily added to quick links.


The Discovery Health intranet provides an impressive range of services and functionality that clearly meets the needs of its staff.

Research from the WIC has shown that an intranet that supports business processes is one of the keys to providing an effective intranet. The Discovery Health intranet clearly meets this requirement through the PinPoint product knowledge repository. This feature alone adds real value to Discovery Health by making sure frontline staff have the ability to effectively support customers.

[Editor's note: You may be interested in reading The Importance of Aligning Corporate, Intranet Strategies.]