Local Government Magazine
Information Technology

How to improve your intranet

How to Improve your intranet: 3 councils share their stories Featured Image

Do you need to update your tired old intranet on the smell of an oily rag? Are you suffering from little staff engagement? Do you have clunky old technology? Three councils spelt out exactly how they resolved their issues at the ALGIM Web and Digital Symposium in Wellington.

HUTT CITY COUNCIL

Sonja Cabrera, Senior Web Advisor, Hutt City Council
Sonja Cabrera, Senior Web Advisor, Hutt City Council

What problem were you trying to resolve?

Our current intranet was launched in 2009 and lacked the required functionality that would make it user-friendly. The software we were using was outdated and difficult to use. We were so tired of it we decided to change the software completely.

How

We ran a council-wide survey, visited external organisations and other councils and put the call out for volunteers to be in our focus groups.

Technology

For the staff survey, we used Survey Monkey. We went face-to-face with our staff for the focus groups.

External suppliers

We work with Guru Digital Media, based in Thames Coromandel.

Results

Though our intranet has not yet launched our aim is to have our staff trust the website which, in turn, will encourage them to use it more and in a way that encourages collaboration and sharing. We want our intranet to reflect both work 
 and play.

Learnings

  • Consult, consult, consult, but don’t make promises you can’t keep – be realistic.
  • It’s difficult to combine a project with business as usual.
  • There’s no such thing as over-communication – keep everyone up to date with what’s happening.
  • Concentrate on needs more than wants.

Other

Our intranet will roll out in August. Even though we haven’t launched we know that the build and launch are an ongoing process. We’ve promised to provide a training regime, to keep the intranet up-to-date, and be flexible on content and functionality. For us the intranet will never be finished. It will continue to be tested and improved.

Source: Sonja Cabrera, senior web advisor, Hutt City Council.


WHAKATANE DISTRICT COUNCIL

What problem were you trying to resolve?

Our intranet, Whoogle, was running on an antiquated and extremely broken CMS, and only one person in the organisation knew how to update content. Information was badly out-of-date across the whole intranet, the design was subpar, and staff simply weren’t engaged with the intranet at all.

How

We completely rebuilt Whoogle on a new, more modern platform. We also decided early on to democratise the intranet in two ways.

First, our intranet is no longer simply a top-down comms tool for the chief exec to get information distributed to staff. We still provide that function, but we’ve put an all-access Newsfeed on Whoogle’s homepage which allows staff to communicate with each other in a simple and highly-visible way. It’s essentially Facebook for the council staff, and it’s allowed truly conversational conversations on our intranet for the first time.

Second, everyone in the organisation has the ability to update content everywhere on Whoogle. This is less well-known and somewhat underutilised at this stage, but the number of people contributing to our knowledgebase is slowly and organically growing.

Technology

We started with a bog-standard SharePoint 2013 installation. Because out-of-the-box SharePoint doesn’t perform all that well on mobile devices, we installed an open source Bootstrap framework that gave us a good foundation for a responsive design. With some heavy tweaking via custom CSS and jQuery, we were able to hammer Whoogle into the shape we wanted.

Authentication and user profiles are all handled via Active Directory syncing, so we have a “single source of truth” for staff information.

Suppliers

Our available budget for this project was essentially zero, so all scoping, design, implementation, and content migration work was done in-house. The closest thing to external suppliers we used was the previously-mentioned open source Bootstrap framework (which was free), plus a third-party SharePoint app called BrightBanner (which was also free).

Results

Staff response to the new design of Whoogle was overwhelmingly positive. Newsfeed usage has really taken off, and it’s regularly a hive of activity. Most of all, now that staff know the capability exists for regular content updates and continual improvements to Whoogle, requests for features and services have been pouring in – a stark contrast to the old Whoogle, which staff had pretty much given up on.

Learnings

We knew very little about SharePoint 2013 before the start of this project. Now that we have a fuller understanding of its capabilities, it’s slowly growing into an essential part of our digital toolset. It’s had knock-on effects throughout our other services, as well; for example, we were essentially forced into an early upgrade of our Active Directory services because our existing version didn’t support SharePoint 2013.

On the non-technical side of things, this project has confirmed that intranets don’t have to be a graveyard where content goes to die. Give people access to simple tools, and they’ll use them. Give them the opportunity to make their voice heard, and they’ll sound off.

Other

A project like this never really ends. Once your redesign has gone live, that’s really just the beginning. You have to be willing to commit to continually improving your platform – and the platform has to be flexible enough to allow you to do that. If the commitment is lacking or the flexibility isn’t there, you’re inevitably going to end up with what we had in the old version of Whoogle: the digital equivalent of a ghost town.

Source: Chris Rawson, web / intranet office, Whakatane District Council.


MARLBOROUGH DISTRICT COUNCIL

What problem were you trying to resolve?

To improve staff engagement with our intranet by making it a more appealing and fun place to visit as well as making information more accessible.

How

After discussion, we decided that a character would provide a symbol to facilitate engagement with our intranet.

Design concept: design as visual communication to promote engagement.

The brief: “conservatively funky” – appealing, fun, functional, professional but informal.

Brief for staff naming competition: short, catchy name suitable to transform into character.

Result: Sid (Staff information database).

  • Fun, digital – reflects our transition to a digital culture.
  • Friendly, approachable – works in multiple contexts.
  • Visual messaging – showing character in different contexts both differentiates and integrates content.
  • Relevance – ability to create various iterations for events/holidays. This both promotes engagement and feedback from staff and gives council a vehicle to recognise that holidays are a significant and important time for staff.

Design is supported by increased opportunity for staff to add content:

  • All staff can add announcements on the home page.
  • We run informal, topical polls that all staff can respond to.
  • Staff classifieds also now have a place on the home page.

Technology

SharePoint 2013 using shared service templates with the ability to add our own look and feel. This enables collaboration with the vendor and other councils on functionality and best practice, and shared collective knowledge. This cut down significantly on cost and time during the project as usability had already been tested by other councils.

External suppliers

Datacom Sphere team.

Results

  • Self-appointed champions – staff who love Sid’s visual appeal transitioned from active users to intranet champions.
  • Vendor relationship that fostered innovation and creativity.
  • Decluttered, visually engaging and easily navigable home page.
  • An aesthetically appealing intranet.
  • The capacity to use our character to create engagement at team levels of the site.
  • Opportunities with shared service model to continually evolve and to leverage ideas and functionality from all councils involved.

Learnings

  • Using shared services templates and an information architecture that we knew had worked in other councils freed us up to focus on how to make the site visually engaging.
  • Creating a character has given our intranet a personality. And our people like interacting with that personality.
  • Creating a different iteration of Sid for different areas of the intranet has helped teams take ownership of those areas.

Other

Sid is considering releasing his inner ‘movie star’ by featuring in a series of how-to videos on various topics both related to the intranet and other internal applications.

Source: Mandy Evans, online services solutions administrator, Marlborough District Council.


This article was first published in the August 2016 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine. If you are interested in sharing the digital version of NZ Local Government Magazine via your staff intranet please email charles@contrafed.co.nz with ‘intranet addition’ in your subject line.

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