Creating an award-winning intranet with Unily and Cathay Pacific

June 22, 2021 Updated: June 1, 2022


In a June 2021 DWG Technology and Research Institute Technology Exchange, we partnered with Unily and Cathay Pacific to hear about Cathay Pacific’s award-winning Unily intranet and how it is supporting everything from employee experience to hybrid working. Featured in the session were:

  • Matthew Boyd, Product Evangelist, Unily
  • Carly Nankin, Head of Internal Communications & Engagement, Cathay Pacific
  • Steven Yong, Head of Digital Employee Experience, Insights Governance, Cathay Pacific

This post explores several takeaways from the session. A link to a recording is also included.

Who will be interested in this Technology Exchange?

This DWG Institute Technology Exchange recording will be of particular interest to:

  • anyone interested in the Unily platform
  • anyone managing an intranet or working on an intranet implementation
  • anyone looking at creating a mobile-first intranet.

Creating an award-winning intranet

Unily is an employee experience platform that powers many of the world’s leading intranets. In fact, four of the most recent Nielsen Norman Group’s top ten intranets are based on Unily, one of these being Cathay Pacific. In this latest DWG Technology and Research Institute Technology Exchange, we partnered with Unily and Cathay Pacific to get the story behind what it takes to build an award-winning intranet.

Since its creation in 2006, Unily has evolved to become a leading platform in the intranet space. The platform now serves more than 3 million users and the company has five global offices spread across Europe, North America, Asia and Australia. The offering is also now very mature, with a range of features and also achieving security standards such as ISO 27001 and SOC2.

Cathay Pacific is one of the world’s largest and best-known commercial airlines. Based in Hong Kong, the company has 20,000 employees (and a further 10,000 partners in the workforce). Seventy percent of employees, including pilots, cabin crew and operational staff work remotely, meaning they are neither office- nor desk-based.

During the session we heard from two key stakeholders involved in the creation of Cathay Pacific’s award-winning intranet: Carly Nankin, Head of Internal Communications & Engagement, and Steven Yong, Head of Digital Employee Experience, Insights & Governance. They respectively head up the internal communications and digital teams, which worked together to create, launch and manage The Hub, a global intranet based on the Unily platform that was launched in 2019.

The intranet is very much regarded as a key channel in helping to drive a better employee experience. The team try to take a holistic view of the entire employee journey from the point when a person joins Cathay Pacific to the day they leave, echoing a similar commitment to customer experience at the airline. Since the pandemic hit and more employees have been forced to work remotely, as well as the uncertainties in the travel industry, it has been even more important to focus on employee experience.

Here are eight takeaways from a great Technology Exchange with Cathay Pacific and Unily.

1. Cathay Pacific desperately needed a new intranet

Before The Hub was introduced, Cathay Pacific had an intranet that was nearly 20 years old and simply not fit for purpose. The look and feel was very outdated and difficult to use, representing more of a ‘link farm’, and the site was also not optimized for mobile access. There was very little content governance in place so much of the content was out of date and served no useful purpose. All this had led to very low levels of trust among employees and consequent low levels of adoption.

Furthermore, there was no personalization to support the airline environment in which groups of employees have very differing needs. The intranet was difficult to maintain and manage, with very poor findability, resulting it being extremely difficult for employees to find the information they needed.

With so many pain points for users, internal comms and the IT function, it was clear there was a desperate need for a new platform.

2. The new intranet is based on user research

To ensure that the new intranet would be really focused on the needs of the diverse workforce, the team carried out extensive user research to define the goals and priorities for The Hub. Key to this approach was to develop seven personas, each with quite different needs, representing, amongst others, pilots, cabin crew and back-office staff.

To really get under the skin of these personas, the team carried out user journey workshops that defined individual needs in terms of content accessed, information needs and systems used throughout the working day. This included the period before and after work as well. These user journey maps provided an essential research resource that was used throughout the project.

3. Personalization is key

Personalization is regarded as critical to the new intranet to ensure that the experience and related content are relevant and provide value for different groups, underpinning healthy adoption. To enable this to happen, each persona, such as ‘cabin crew’, has its own separate homepage. While there are some global widgets (web parts) that are common to all seven persona homepages, all are slightly different.

For example, the cabin crew homepage has a prominent widget based on an integration with Cathay Pacific’s roster system, so employees can view the latest personal roster information right from the homepage. But this page is quite different from the homepage aimed at flight operations crew.

4. Content governance is critical

With employees having lost trust in content on the old intranet, it was important to establish useful, high-quality content from day one, and then put governance measures in place so that quality would be maintained.

As the vast majority of the content on the old intranet was out of date, the team avoided a ‘lift and shift’ approach to content migration for the new intranet. Instead, they made an inventory of existing content, asked content owners to review what they owned, and then ended up ditching most of it. Carly estimates that more than 70% of the existing content was not taken over. The remaining content was extensively rewritten for The Hub, with copywriters hired to help local content owners with the rewriting process and to achieve a consistent tone of voice.

Ongoing content quality is achieved through a content governance framework with clear ownership of content. For example, a local communication resource embedded in the business is responsible for each of the persona homepages, with global communications and related widgets controlled by the central team. Where necessary, approval processes are in place for communications-related content. A series of annual content reviews/audits help to ensure that local sites and areas are kept up to date and relevant.

The content governance model has also supported better findability, providing easy access to central documents like policies and forms.

5. There’s a real emphasis on mobile-first

Seventy percent of Cathay Pacific’s workforce do not have a fixed desk, so mobile access was essential for the new intranet. Since launch, the mobile access has become even more important and now 73% of all views of the platform come from mobile devices. The percentage of mobile views can vary across different personas, with the highest coming from fully remote groups such as pilots and cabin crew.

The mature Unily mobile app has helped to facilitate a strong mobile experience and the team have switched on some product features to support the remote workforce. For example, the Unily app has the ability for offline reading, meaning that cabin crew can read news items and other content when they are up in the sky.

6. The Hub helped during COVID-19

The Hub has also supported the workforce during the pandemic. In order to create a central place for all pandemic-related guidance, the team created a ‘COVID Corner’ that includes up-to-date resources. This has proved invaluable as guidelines, operations and health and safety measures change frequently. Personalization also proved important so that different groups could find the content relevant to them.

To support remote and flexible working, the team created an area relating to new ways of working with guidelines, tips and tricks; this will continue to prove valuable in the future as hybrid working patterns become more prevalent.

The Hub has also been helping to engage employees so that they feel more connected and has already been used to encourage vaccinations, share uplifting stories and prepare staff for return to work. An ‘Arms Up’ campaign has focused on storytelling and competitions to engage them.

7. A cross-functional team delivered The Hub

With an intranet project of this size, a cross-functional team was essential for success. The comms team, led by Carly, and the digital team, led by Steven, both worked as an integrated project team, with colleagues from IT involved as well.

Moreover, a wider network of Hub champions across the business was also responsible, acting both as advocates for the new platform, working on content and helping to train different team members. Each section of Cathay Pacific had a nominated Hub champion; the central project team worked closely with this group through a range of training, support and engagement activities.

Support from senior leaders and managers was part of the recipe for success. The team had endorsement from the CEO, and also targeted directors and managers to keep informed and engaged, as this helped build support for preparing content for the new intranet.

8. A good partnership with Unily was important

As well as the importance of a cross-functional team, there is clearly a good relationship between Unily and the Cathay Pacific team that helped to deliver the intranet. The team leveraged Unily support during the implementation and are in conversations about further integrations and evolution.

Interestingly, Matthew Boyd from Unily also talked a little about how clients like Cathay Pacific influence the Unily product roadmap. In Unily’s customer portal there is an ideation feature where customers can submit ideas and requests for future improvements; these are then voted upon by other customers. This has a major influence on the feature roadmap, helping to drive the overall success of the platform, as well as keeping customers engaged.

Our thanks to Matthew, Carly and Steven for a great Technology Exchange.

Programme notes

This Technology Exchange was broadcast in June 2021. Joining DWG’s Nicole Carter, Kevin Olp and Rose Miller were Matthew Boyd, Product Evangelist, Unily; Carly Nankin, Head of Internal Communications & Engagement, Cathay Pacific; and Steven Yong, Head of Digital Employee Experience, Insights Governance, Cathay Pacific. The recording of the session includes the following items:

  • Introduction and housekeeping
  • About the Unily platform
  • Introduction to Carly and Steven
  • About Cathay Pacific
  • Challenges around employee experience
  • The old intranet and related pain points
  • Research and user journey mapping
  • Seven personalized homepages
  • Mobile-first platform
  • More on personas
  • The team behind The Hub
  • Leadership buy-in
  • Governance in place
  • COVID-19 response
  • New ways of working
  • Future plans
  • Advice for others
  • Q&A
  • More detail on the intranet team
  • Content governance and approval
  • Content migration
  • Hub champions
  • Upcoming DWG events
  • Overtime discussion
  • Integrations
  • Unily product roadmap
  • Multi-language
  • More on the content migration
  • Other digital comms channels
  • Unily mobile app and email designer
  • Mobile vs desktop
  • Planning content and news
  • Finding out more about Unily
  • Wrap-up


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Categorised in: DWG Institute, Employee experience, Remote working

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