I have a scenario that I'm trying to work through and would appreciate your thoughts...

Imagine you have a corporate intranet with about 50k pages and a really outdated information architecture. You want to put a new (task focused) IA in place and install a new CMS with improved templates and publishing workflow, but any changes to content are out of scope. There will be no content migration and the intranet site must be fully functional throughout.

How do you improve the IA and add new CMS functionality to an existing site without throwing away or migrating thousands of pages of existing content?

EDIT: Thanks for your great comments so far... As Rob says, this is not a new problem and I'm sure that organisations don't slash and burn their old intranets before replacing them with new shiny portals, intranets and wikis.

  • 1
    I honestly had to check your profile to see if we work for the same company. Ropey intranets seem to be a common affliction
    – Rob
    Jul 6, 2010 at 12:53
  • 1
    A site redesign where content changes are out of scope is akin to building a house where framing is out of scope.
    – DA01
    Jul 6, 2010 at 13:58
  • just to clarify: are page contents unchangeable but the meta data attached to the pages, that can be changed?
    – colmcq
    Apr 23, 2012 at 11:06

4 Answers 4


You want to put a new (task focused) IA in place and install a new CMS with improved templates and publishing workflow, but any changes to content are out of scope. There will be no content migration and the intranet site must be fully functional throughout.

This is one of life's paradoxes. A new IA will typically mean a good amount of new content is needed, but content changes are out of scope. Strike 1.

No content migration, so people will still have to use the old IA to find the magical bits of content they really need to use, but can't find on the new site, because content changes are out of scope. Strike 2.

New templates are needed and somehow a new publishing workflow is going to be implemented, supported, but not retrofitted to old content (I'm guessing) because changes to content are out of scope. That's strike 3.

Game over. Go to the pub. Drink beer.

  • 1
    Agreed. This is a total bag of worms. Either 'Do It Properly' - and that involves getting the MD to sign up to doing it properly. Or don't bother
    – PhillipW
    Jul 6, 2010 at 9:26
  • I'd love to be able to go to the pub! But sadly we've got to find a way to improve the site. We can update SOME of the content as part of the redesign so main landing pages and other core areas are in scope. But we still have a long tail of content (much of it ROT) that needs to remain accessible...
    – richcb
    Jul 7, 2010 at 0:11
  • 1
    Ok so if you are dealing with genuine ROT the best technique I have ever used is to archive all the old content and remove all access to it by redirecting users to a form, an email address or a phone number where they can contact the central publishing team and get the old content 'unlocked' at this point you work out if its something that should have been migrated, or you could remove the redirection, temporarily or for a limited time. Natural selection at its finest.
    – Nathan-W
    Jul 7, 2010 at 7:17
  • This depends on whether the 'intranet' is just pages of HTML or a more active system. When I had to do this I did an audit first. I found out that a seemingly 'dead' database was actually hooked up to the billing workflow system. Closing down access to that one database would have killed the billing workflow...
    – PhillipW
    Jul 7, 2010 at 9:11
  • It always scares me just a little to find these sorts of gems hiding in intranets. A billing system? Would have thought that was migrated if it was a critical system....
    – Nathan-W
    Jul 7, 2010 at 9:25

Is there some way to create a new IA and CMS that accesses the same content as the old ones?

Then you have a new and an old way of accessing the same content, and you can change the content through either 'skin'.

Then you can slowly migrate people to the new approach, eventually making it the default.

  • I did use a CMS a few years ago that was capable of storing any content object, file, script, image etc and then you could convert bits at a time to the new templating engine and migrate the content. It didnt actually allow for a new IA though, you just migrated the entire content into a new repository. We did that for 29 websites and then progressively converted everything. As more CMS applications adopt open standards like CMIS repurposing content will become easier, but only a few system support this feature at the moment, and its still a draft standard? (I think)
    – Nathan-W
    Jul 7, 2010 at 9:33

Use a staging server. Also, while you're at it, add a Google Mini search appliance.

Disclaimer: I'm not affiliated with Google.

  • Thanks Jerome By staging server, do you mean as an abstraction layer?
    – richcb
    Jul 7, 2010 at 0:23
  • Maybe he meant use staging server as another web server hosting another version of the website. You could do A, B testing to see if people find things in the new IA.
    – Leah
    Jul 7, 2010 at 2:02
  • Thanks Jerome. I know what a staging server is and I did click your links to check. What was not clear was how you were suggesting that a staging server would help. We're already using the standard dev/test/stage/prod environments.
    – richcb
    Jul 12, 2010 at 16:41
  • I re-read your question and I see I jumped to a conclusion about the "fully functional throught" question. I thought: "Don't they know how to keep a site running while they prepare the enxt iteration...?" I obviously misread and have nothing useful to contribute. I'll shut up, now. :P
    – JeromeR
    Jul 15, 2010 at 14:14

I have done something similar to this.

(1) work out your target audience and recruit card sorters who represent the target audience.

(2) make an inventory of all your existing content. Create a card for each page of existing content.

(3) Conduct a card sorting exercise.

(4) Design your new IA based on the results of the card sorting

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