Usability, content, search and analytics on the corporate intranet

An intranet inspired by GOV.UK

25 February, 2013 – Luke Oatham

I started the new year by kicking off an intranet project with the very switched-on digital comms team at DCMS who wanted the next iteration of their intranet to follow the GDS design principles.

Brief

The project brief for this new intranet was to develop a CMS to enable the digital comms team to manage a task-based set of content, with design and style inspired by GOV.UK and the GDS design principles.

The team wanted to use tagging and categorisation to group, surface and link content across different parts of the intranet. And they wanted to radically reduce the amount of content and simplify navigation.

Design

I was very pleased to start work on this project. The team had already done a lot of the information architecture work in determining which elements of content will go onto the intranet, and how to organise it. Adopting many of the GDS design principles in their work, the intranet will be geared around staff. It will act as a source of essential and useful guidance and information, and a place to discuss topics. Where information already exists elsewhere on other websites or internal systems then the intranet will link to it. No duplication. And in terms of content itself, the intranet will contain clearly-written tasks and guides giving information to staff. No vanity pages or stacks of rubbish that tends to be allowed to accumulate and fester on a badly-managed intranet.

The intranet design is responsive, using GOV.UK-style fonts with big headings and large text. Clear signposting and minimal navigation makes it easy to use and read on any device.

We went straight into prototype design for this project. No wireframes. The team had a working prototype to preview and play with just one week after kickoff. We’ve iterated and tweaked until what we have now will be the new intranet.

Only three main navigation options and no left-hand menus on this intranet. No branches of pathways to navigate. Just a big pot of information, organised sensibly, accessible chiefly via a big search box, something that I have been longing to experiment with for ages. For staff who prefer to browse and navigate, and I still come across staff who shy away from search, there are lists of topics, organised by category and tagged to allow traversing across sections of the intranet. So it will be possible to hop around and browse, for example, all ministerial tasks or all broadband projects, or everything tagged building move whether it be news, tasks or job vacancies.

Content

The bulk of the content is made up of tasks and guides, taken from the GOV.UK idea of quick answers and guides. This is your typical guidance section of the intranet. But this isn’t organised into never-ending sections of intranet pages, with annexes from an employee manual that span nine levels deep into the navigation. No. It is essentially a databank of answers to typical questions asked by staff. Some answers are short and quick and we’ve called these tasks. Some require a bit more information and we’ve called these guides. They all sit in the pot and are accessible via search or by browsing categories and tags. Tasks are one-page answers to common questions such as “get a replacement building pass” or “book a meeting room”. Guides, such as “using your desktop phone” or “facilities in the new building”, are a cluster of individual, one-page chapters, split into discrete, digestible chunks.

The team will also manage internal vacancies through the intranet, linking these in closely with internal projects. In fact, this is the first intranet that I’ve worked on that will have a dedicated project area containing an overview of current programmes and projects in the department, high-level and detailed information, plus links to associated vacancies. This project section will highlight the actual work that is being done by DCMS and will help staff to feel involved in, and to understand the goals of the department and ultimately how this fits in with wider government policy.

Forums and blogs

Staff will also have the chance to hang out in the forums in an open and unmoderated environment.

In addition to the task-based content, there will be a blog for specific projects. And this seems to be the perfect answer to the age-old problem of vanity publishing. Wanna write about your department or project and showcase what you do? Fine. Not on the guidance section of this intranet, though. You’ll get your own area where you can write about what you do and get involved with staff who are interested. You’ll be responsible for keeping it up to date and for answering questions and comments from staff. Still interested? Sign-up here.

Search

Search works great because the intranet is not filled with piles of badly labelled rubbish deemed as absolutely essential intranet content by some un-digital head of department. The content is slick, well-written, well-titled and tagged. And there’s not mounds of it.

Homepage

Although there is a fair amount of room devoted to the corporate news feed, the homepage will provide aggregated feeds of the most active pages across core intranet content,  powered by live data from Google Analytics, and topical buzz from the staff forums. It will also feature freshly-published content, and the departmental Twitter feed.

CMS

From the publishing side of the fence, developing the CMS for the intranet in WordPress has been a dream come true for me. If you read my blog, you’ll be used to me moaning and complaining about the lack of an acceptable IT platform or not being allowed to use Open Source software or even a database when I worked at MoJ. Having these tools available to me now is like being the proverbial kid in the candy store.

Size and timescale

This is probably the smallest intranet that I’ve worked on. And it promises to be the most streamlined, task-based, user-focused and data-driven intranet that I’ve worked on, with well-managed content and governance for ongoing publishing. It will be a pleasure to handover this CMS to the content team, knowing that they will keep it pure.

This will also be my shortest intranet project. We’ve not launched yet, but working with Open Source software in an agile manner, with a switched-on team who have managed their own content population, has meant that this intranet will have been designed, built and populated from scratch, within a two month timeframe. And the cost? A mere fraction of a drop in the ocean compared to the millions of pounds of public money that I have seen wasted on repeated efforts to get an intranet right.

Project motivation and team working

The new intranet preempts a move to a new building location, and will be used as a major source of news and information for staff on the move. DCMS will save money by moving to an Open Source solution and hosting from the G-Cloud and severing contracts with existing IT providers.

Working agile in an agency environment means that we don’t have stand-up scrums every morning. But we do get the chance to develop, test and iterate in short sprints of work. Nothing makes for a great project like the people that you work with and it’s been a real pleasure to knuckle down with the DCMS digital comms team who have come up with a great concept for an intranet and obviously have the vision and backing at higher levels to make it happen, while doing other work on the public website move to GOV.UK.

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