Usability, content, search and analytics on the corporate intranet

Beyond Helpful

1 September, 2017 – Luke Oatham

It was just over five years ago, when I received a DM from lesteph asking how things were going at the Ministry of Justice, and if I fancied a coffee.

I joined Steph as employee number one at Helpful Technology in September 2012, in a tiny little office in Trafalgar Square. Next month, HT Headquarters moves on to what will be the 5th office location, if you count Steph’s home as the first. And I’m moving on too.

I spent five years at MoJ, working on the intranet in usability and information architect roles. I blogged openly about my work, my experiences, the usability tests, content rewrites, A/B experiments, successes and failures. Some of my blog posts didn’t hide my frustrations about working in a government department, the restrictive IT security policies and expensive service providers. I left MoJ feeling that I’d done as much as I could do.

But my blog posts demonstrated my passion for user research, good content and application of digital tools on corporate intranets. At Helpful Technology, I’ve been able to combine this with skills from a previous incarnation as a software developer to build and support cost-effective website and intranet CMS systems for clients.

Like most people who first come across WordPress, I thought it was just a blogging platform. But I’ve worked on around 20 website projects while at Helpful Technology, from my first WordPress build of the Wilton Park website (which we’ve since refreshed) to larger and more complex sites such as the Grantham Research Institute and the British Antarctic Survey. WordPress is more than a blogging platform.

Forging a solid path through the varied website projects, I’ve been the main point of contact for clients on all things intranet. It started with a request for a proposal from Andrew Simpson at DCMS, who wanted to develop an intranet platform based on the concepts of the GOV.UK website. During my time at MoJ, I’d been seconded to help out with wireframes and testing of the early GOV.UK website templates and so I was more than familiar with the approach, and super-excited about the chance to develop an intranet platform with WordPress.

After launching the new DCMS intranet, some of the team at DCMS have moved on, some have returned, and new people have come on board. But the working relationship has continued. Since the WordPress theme was released on github, it has continued to develop, with new modules, features and fixes. And somehow, I’ve managed to use the one theme to satisfy requirements across a number of different client intranets ranging from central government departments to councils, NHS Trusts and schools.

While I’ve had my head firmly wedged down the intranet rabbit-hole, Helpful has grown into a company with a fully-fledged build team, people who do accounts, management away-days, a social media crisis simulation team doing exercises around the globe and an ever-growing need for bigger offices! Earlier this year, we recruited the multi-talented Matty Maxwell to manage our busy helpdesk and I know that clients will be in a safe hands as I pass on my ‘Head of Helpfulness’ crown.

From the start of September, I’m operating my own business to concentrate on intranet and internal communications work. I’ll still be supporting Helpful’s intranet clients and in touch with the Helpful team as we finish client projects. The new company is Agento Digital and in addition to supporting government department clients, I’m looking to expand more into the internal world of NHS and local councils.

I’ve learned so much working with Steph and the crew, from starting up a new business, to coding CSS and WordPress plugins and dealing with government procurement. All which stand me in good stead for venturing out on my own, and following in Steph’s footsteps, planning for my own employee number one.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *