The Forestry Commission and associated organisations used a bespoke content management system for their intranet and it was due to drop out of support early in 2019. The search for a new intranet platform was on, and I first heard from the Forestry project team towards the end of 2016 when they were exploring options. Continue reading “Roots: the new intranet for Forest Enterprise and Forest Services”
Referendum results, resignations and reshuffles have been causing government intranets to adapt and move quickly to keep staff up to date with changes. Continue reading “Government intranets acting fast”
I’d been waiting with anticipation for our latest client intranet launch. It’s the nearest I’ll ever get to fatherhood, but these past weeks I’ve been acting like I’m looking after a newborn.
After a little intensive care, the CCS intranet is up and running. A real staff-centred intranet, it has a staff directory, forums, blogs, commenting and feedback forms. Looking from the outside, the launch seemed like it was first day at the sales. Okay so that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but what I’m trying to say is that staff haven’t been backward about coming forward.
The trusty feedback form, at the bottom of every page, is producing a steady flow of comments from staff. Broken links, missing documents, factual corrections. And the comms team have been straight on the case, correcting problems, adding new content, keeping in touch with staff.
Perhaps more unexpected, are the positive comments coming in. The intranet launched with a blog post by the Head of Comms, and the comments make me smile with glee. “Brilliant!”, “I love it!”, “So easy to use!”
Apart from the general positivity, staff are pointing out specific areas that they like; the staff directory, the search function, the simple content and IA.
Google Apps integration
Being part of the Cabinet Office, CCS uses Google Apps. The majority of forms, policy documents and templates are stored on Google Drive. In hindsight, this was probably a blessing when it came to content migration as all those documents still live on Google Drive, leaving the intranet free for some good ol’ plain English content.
The CCS intranet is behind a firewall, but staff still have to login to view the intranet. The good news is that it’s just a button click to login via their Google accounts. A combination of plugins handle the security authentication, and automatically create staff profiles on the intranet, pulling information from Google accounts, including avatars. It’s been amazing to sit on the sidelines and watch the staff directory grow from the dozen or so editors who first attended training, to the full workforce of around 500 staff. All with a click of a button.
The plugins also allow editors to insert links to documents, or even embed documents in intranet pages using a simple search and click interface, integrated with Google Drive. A great way to maintain one source of truth, documents are kept up to date in Google so the intranet doesn’t become blocked with numerous versions of documents.
Content training and migration
I spent two days training the comms team on the GovIntranet theme. Intranet training consisted of:
- Content training: half a day of writing for the web, plain English, accessibility and SEO
- WordPress administrator training: half a day covering GovIntranet admin and configuration
- WordPress publisher training: a full day of CMS training on the GovIntranet theme
The team have had the usual challenges when departments are faced with rewriting content. The usual objections from HR staff who are used to writing in official language and stock-piling documents into some electronic receptacle. But the comms team have triumphed. The intranet is not filled with endless left-hand menus representing the HR policy structure. Staff are finding information. Bite-size pieces, helping them to do their jobs.
With the number of government intranets that I have a window into, it’s a little hobby of mine to compare content, to see how teams do things. This exercise can be useful when trying to demonstrate that content doesn’t have to be written like a policy document. Take whistle-blowing for example. On one of my client intranets, the guidance for this is a few short paragraphs; this is what it is, this is what you need to do, this is how you do it. On another client intranet the guidance is a mile long, starting with an introductory letter by the Perm Sec, followed by all the clauses of the policy, nicely numbered of course, ending with what you actually need to do. Which version helps staff and which helps the HR department, with their commitment to excellence, to tick their boxes?
After initial ideas of creating an intranet launch video (and me getting excited about the chance to appear on Ellen’s wall) the team decided to go with an intranet treasure hunt instead. Being the geek that I am, I spent a weekend afternoon planning and plotting a complex operation involving time-locked pages and a secret safe, within a vault, within a building. And having been reminded that staff are actually awfully busy and that maybe I should have been a games designer, they’ve opted for a simple mission of finding four keys, hidden around pages on the intranet. The mission takes staff through four sections of the intranet as they collect keys containing the combination to unlock the vault (or the password to unlock the WordPress page, to those in the know).
We didn’t want to plaster the intranet with treasure hunt posters, should there be any staff not game enough to take part. So we did it with intraverts, a feature of GovIntranet that allows targeted messaging. We created a new team called “Intranet Explorers”, to last for the duration of the treasure hunt. We encouraged staff to add this team to their staff profile if they wanted to take part. Then we crafted some intraverts to appear on selected pages around the intranet, only visible to members of the explorer team.
For me, it’s been a mission of my own to come up with the concept and orchestrate the pages and intraverts. For the comms team, it’s been a way to introduce staff to sections of the new intranet and to familiarise them with searching and navigating the intranet structure. Hopefully, it’s been a bit of fun for all of us.
The end of the hunt contains a very quick satisfaction survey where staff are asked to choose from a list of positive and negative statements regarding the intranet. As I write, the survey hasn’t closed but, the initial results are overwhelming at 95.3% positive sentiment.
I have a dozen clients now all using the same WordPress theme for their intranets. The intranets are all different. They have their own tones, from cosy and friendly to vibrant and alive to formal and reserved. Sure, they all have their own style, typeface and colour scheme too. But it’s the content and what staff do with the theme that makes them different. Once you delve beyond the “look and feel”, what’s really important is the content. Both corporate content and staff-generated content. It’s the difference between a lonely news story and a blog post filled with comments, between a letter from the Perm sec and a phone number to call.
You know that a project is going to go well when the first paragraph of your client’s brief calls for ‘focusing on key user needs and using open source platforms and technologies to deliver improved value for money.’
I wrote a case study about the new Parliament Week website, on the Helpful Technology site. Please take a look at it for the main information about the project. On a more personal note, I wanted to write more about what went on behind the scenes during the rebuild of this website.
Parliament Week is an annual, week-long set of events around the UK that has taken place for the past few years. The team who organise the whole programme had to cope with an inflexible CMS for their website, in addition to all the administrative tasks of running such a site; liaising with partners, managing online submissions and updating manual spreadsheets of partners and events.
Here are some snapshots from the Wayback Machine for the past 3 years:
After our first meeting with the team, our interface designer drew up some wireframes to illustrate our proposed layout and functionality for the new website. After we discussed these with the PW team, we agreed appropriate changes and built a working prototype in WordPress, which we tested with members of the public. We made changes based on the results and then applied new visual designs to the prototype site, used for a second round of user tests.
We designed the new homepage wireframes, copying the carousel from the old site, with space for a full-width image to highlight events. The team wanted partners to be able to submit their own events on the site. With hundreds of events anticipated, expecting partners to upload a high resolution image in large enough dimensions to fit a big desktop screen, was a little over-ambitious on our part. And we don’t like carousels, anyway. So we replaced this main section of the homepage with metro boxes, which we had used successfully on other websites. I think that using fixed boxes is better than a moving carousel. Boxes show everything at once. They don’t move without cause.
After the first round of user testing, the PW team wanted to make it easier for partners to get on board and so for the second round of user tests (with the visual design in place) we replaced the space for blog posts with an area for partners. There wouldn’t be many up to date blog posts on the site when the new site launched.
We also made a few usability tweaks. Some people didn’t scroll. They thought the top 6 boxes were the homepage. This didn’t happen in the prototype testing, but the boxes in the visual design appeared in a solid band of colour and on desktop monitors, it filled the screen nicely, but some people didn’t realise that there was more beneath. With a bit of resizing and some jaunty angles, this improved in subsequent tests.
The wireframe of the events page contained a full-width, interactive Google map. We used this in the first rounds of user testing. It soon became clear that people had trouble scrolling. With a wheelie mouse, people got stuck while trying to scroll the page and ended up scrolling the map and making it zoom in and out. We rearranged the layout for the second round of user tests.
We also needed to come up with a way of showing events that didn’t last for a single day, but which straddled days, weeks or even months. But Parliament Week is only on for a week, I hear you say. However, some organisations have longer promotions that last for a month or two before the actual week. So we split the events listing page into 2 columns showing single day events on the left and longer events on the right. Single day events list in date order and as events pass they will drop off into the archive. Longer events list in order of those ending soonest.
The interface allows people to filter the events, down to a single day. In this case, the left hand column shows all the events on that day and the right hand columns shows all events which are taking place on that day but which might have started weeks earlier or finish days later.
And we had the same issue as the homepage with the “below the fold” problem. After filtering events on a location and getting the results, people thought that the map next to the filter criteria was all that was available. They didn’t scroll down the page to see the resulting list of filtered events. The positioning of the results area felt like an end of page boundary. Again, a bit of resizing and literal signposting improved this.
I thought “below the fold” had gone away. I thought we didn’t have to worry about that golden line any more, because people scroll. And of course, they do. But it just shows how design can either help or hinder the user flow depending on the cognitive aspects.
Event submission form
In the initial round of user testing, people needed a little more help with filling out the form. They made incorrect assumptions about the address, entering their organisation address instead of the event venue and they were confused about dates. The new form, while having more text, aims to be more helpful.
The Parliament Week 2014 website is now gathering momentum with under 2 months left until the week of events this year. We launched with a few events already in place and it has been satisfying to see new pins appearing on the events map as partners sign up and submit their events.
The online partner registration and event submission forms are streamlining the former administrative processes. The team now just have to tick a box and publish an event. They can export up to date spreadsheets of the data. And notification emails are handled automatically.
And the team will soon be reaping their value for money rewards again, as we work with them to reuse the custom WordPress theme for a similar website, saving substantial development time and having learned a few lessons along the way. This time the website is based around tea parties and commemorating 800 years since the Magna Carta – ‘The Great Charter of the Liberties of England.’ Hurrah!
A move to a new CMS is an ideal opportunity to tidy the intranet, remove the clutter and possibly present things in a better way. You can choose to use your existing content as a basis for the new CMS, or wipe the slate clean and create new content. This guide covers moving content to a new CMS.
Methods of migration
There are several ways of moving content. It usually boils down to a combination of automated scrapes, exports and imports, and manual copy and pasting.
Using the bulk methods of scrapes and imports you end up with your existing content in the new CMS, and this means that you can do any content rewriting, culling and reorganising within the new CMS.
If you can’t use any automation then you’ll need to manually migrate content. This gives you the chance to rewrite and reorganise the content before it hits the new CMS, or you can still migrate everything over as is, and then do the rewrite work in the new CMS.
Whichever method you choose to move content over, it will help to know what you’re dealing with. A content inventory gives you a detailed account of your intranet pages, documents and images.
I’ve written about my content migration spreadsheet before. It’s a combination of the content inventory and a migration dashboard, showing the live rate of migration and projected finished date. It’s a great tool for keeping an eye on migration progress, for keeping migrators motivated, and because it’s in Google Docs it means that you can work in realtime with other content migrators. I’ve shared this spreadsheet:
Creating the inventory involves similar choices to the migration method. It may be possible to get an export of your site structure and assets from your old CMS that you can use as a basis for the inventory spreadsheet. Or you could produce a folder listing from your intranet server or from a scrape of the intranet. Or you can manually create rows in the spreadsheet.
Once you have the content inventory spreadsheet complete, you can start to sift through deciding if the content is still required or not, whether it needs to be rewritten or combined with other pages. This is also an opportunity to move content around and to categorise and tag pages.
The finished audit will give you a spreadsheet that you can use for migration and ongoing content maintenance. It could also be adapted for an automated import.
Migration planning and practicalities
For manual migration, the order that you move things across can help to speed up the process. I have found it best to migrate documents and images first so that these are in place for linking up to pages.
You will generally need to do two passes through the migration spreadsheet. The first round will get all the content in place. The second round is for linking up the content. Attempting to get it all done in one go can be difficult because you may come to a page containing links to other pages that don’t exist yet. Keep a note of these pages during the first round of migration. And then whizz through them in the second round to link them.
Think too about your different types of content. For example, if you have a news section containing news stories that mainly link to your publications section, then it makes sense to migrate your publications section first. You save time when you come to the news stories because you can already link to the publications in the first round of the spreadsheet.
If you are pressed for time, you can leave older content such as news stories until after launch.
The main pitfalls to watch out for are all caused by copying and pasting. The first problem is that whether you copy from a Word document or live from an intranet page, you sometimes copy more than you bargained for. Hard-coded styles, font sizes, colours and tables may all be lurking behind your page and need to be tidied up. If this is a constant problem you may have better luck by pasting into a simple text editor first and then copying again before pasting into the CMS.
As well as hidden styles, you may also copy over HTML including embedded images and links to documents. Pages will display the image because they are still pulling it through from the old site. When the old site disappears the image will no longer display. In this case you need to link up the new page to the new image. The same can happen with documents; you copy over a link to a document on the old site, it still works when you test it, but it will break when the old site disappears.
Once all the new content is migrated, a final broken links check will make sure that everything is linked up okay.
You can also setup some rules for redirections so that people with bookmarks or following links to the old site will be pointed to the new site, and preferably the relevant page in the new site.
How to use the migration spreadsheet
The spreadsheet is setup with 2 tabs. The Dashboard tab shows the high-level migration progress. The Main tab is for the content inventory.
On the dashboard, set your start date and target finish date. The rest of the information will update automatically using formulas in the cells. Key points are the projected finish date, which is calculated on the start date and the rate of migration. The dial shows percentage complete and the graph at the bottom shows where the projected finish date lies in relation to the target finish date. The dashboard does not count documents and images.
On the main tab, enter each new page, document or image to be migrated on a new line. During migration, enter your initials in the first column as each item is completed. This will feed into the dashboard to show progress.
Note: Columns D and E are used for the dashboard calculations. When inserting new rows, copy cells D and E from a completed row to the new rows. If you mark rows as completed and the dashboard doesn’t change, the likely cause is blank cells in columns D and E.