For the third time, we’ve had to restore a backup from the previous night because an intranet lost a big bunch of pages, images and documents.
I was browsing through the WordPress media library of the soon-to-be-launched ONS intranet and came across a large batch of freshly-uploaded images. At first glance, I thought that the publishing team had purchased some flashy stock images to use on the intranet. And then I thought, Hold on! That’s the room where I spent a day training a bunch of new intranet publishers. And that’s the entrance gate for visitors, and that’s the Costa Cafe, which is my first port of call when I arrive at ONS!
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.
I collect examples of “click here” and similar word as hyperlinks on web and intranet pages. You’ll find them in the Click here gallery. “Go there”, “more info”, “can be found” or “this link” are all common words that people use when adding hyperlinks to web and intranet pages. There are many reasons not to do this.
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.