GovIntranet Redesign Search

It’s not just the Temperate House that’s been revamped at Kew Gardens

My latest client intranet project to come to fruition is Kewnet, the intranet for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

GovIntranet Search

Open source open intranet

I’ve been following the progress of Devon County Council’s new intranet build and was pleased to hear news that the beta version was launching.

GovIntranet Search

GovIntranet breakfast meeting

Last week, we held a breakfast meeting for our intranet clients from government departments and agencies, councils and charities. The breakfast meeting was an ideal opportunity to compare and contrast how they use the GovIntranet theme and to share ideas and experiences.

The meeting took place at our office in the Clerkenwell Workshops where we have just enough room to comfortably accommodate around a dozen people. We displayed paper printouts of intranet homepages around the office and we have an Apple TV screen to airplay live demos.

This was a very informal meeting. No speeches or presentations. Open between 8.30 and 10.30 for clients to drop in. I was prepared with a list of topics to cover should there be any awkward silent moments, but by 9.00 the majority of our invitees were present and the chatter and general hubbub was in full-flow. In fact, it’s very hard to stop intranet managers from voicing their opinions and showing off their intranets.


“The Search Box” was a common topic of discussion. Some staff just don’t use the search function, and there were various opinions as to why, ranging from general distrust of search due to years of poor experiences, to simple banner blindness. I’d definitely like to explore this further, perhaps with some A/B split testing.

On most development projects, be they website or intranet, I generally have to negotiate to make the search box more prominent, or in some cases just for a search box. During development of the GovIntranet theme I made sure that there is a visible search box, position top-right where people expect to find it. When content is written well with good titles and appropriate keywords, the search engine works really well. The overwhelming positive feedback from our latest intranet launch has been on the subject of the search function. It’s disappointing to hear that staff are missing out on this helpful feature.

Jargon buster

There’s a firm divide between use of the jargon buster module. Some organisations are making extensive use of this to explain acronyms and commonly used jargon in the workplace. Others feel that this only encourages the use of acronyms and jargon on the intranet and would rather concentrate on stamping it out.

Homepage layout

Client homepage layouts begin with a default configuration showing news and blogs in the left hand column, most active and most recent content in column two, with forums, events and twitter feeds in column three. Most intranets have stuck with the simple choice of main menu options including About, How do I? and News. Some also have a Home option. I’ve kept screenshots from client intranet homepages at launch and at subsequent points throughout their development. There are some patterns to their evolution.

Most active

The “Most active” widget is a feature of GovIntranet that pulls in live data from Google Analytics in order to show what is trending on the intranet. There are options to set how many items to display, how far back to look, and which types of content to show.

Some intranets stay pretty much fixed to the default configuration showing the seven most popular tasks in terms of unique page views, trailing the last three days. This is the combination that we found to be most effective when testing the DCMS intranet. Seven options allows the consistently popular tasks, such as booking a meeting room, to take root in the top three or four spaces in the list. Seasonal or topical content can then bubble up throughout the year, such as performance management. Trailing three days ensures that the information is “realtime” for the current working week.

Some client intranets don’t use the widget at all. I *think* this is through fear of what might appear. I always tell the scenario to new clients of how open and transparent the DCMS intranet was on launch, when the resignation guide was the most popular task on the intranet.

On other client intranets I notice that the “top tasks” area is gradually taking a demoted position further down the homepage, generally in favour of ongoing HR and IT promotions.

And I’ve spotted one intranet where there’s only three items on the most active list. It’s my prediction that this will only serve to create a self-promoting list of links that will never change.

I was interested to learn that intranet managers have used this widget as a method to dissuade fervent requests for links on the homepage. The message to departments wanting to promote themselves is clear; if staff really are interested in your content then it will appear in the most active list.


More areas of the homepage are becoming devoted to news. What started as a simple news listing has evolved into a larger set of content types and taxonomies to support the different flavours of news required for central and local government organisations. I’m now seeing mini-listings of alerts, updates, IT announcements, HR announcements and building announcements. While, in addition to the regular news listing, that sounds like a lot of news, the widgets are designed to appear and disappear as specific types of news are available. So, if there’s no building-related news, the area on the homepage is freed up. In theory you shouldn’t see masses of listings at one time. However, this relies on managing these types of alerts well and ensuring that they are only published for as long as necessary.

Ongoing development

Our group of supported clients have all participated in the development of the GovIntranet theme and I look forward to working with them as we develop the ongoing roadmap for the theme. Until now, I’ve been the only person with a birds-eye view of how the theme is being used across the different organisations. The breakfast meeting has given them all the opportunity to have that viewpoint and will hopefully encourage further ideas and developments.

Further reading

Search: visible and simple

Mental models for search are getting firmer

Search and you may find


GovIntranet Search Social

The intranet staff directory

It’s interesting to hear that the digital team at the Ministry of Justice have developed a new staff directory. I know a few departments are already opting to use this service and it will be interesting to follow progress.

The staff directory was a big problem at the Ministry when I worked there. People used a combination of looking someone up in Outlook, or resorting to the internal staff directory, originally developed by the IT department.

The problem with looking someone up in Outlook is that you had to know the name of the person. The Outlook directory was notorious for being out of date as there was no integration between IT and Human Resources systems.

The internal staff directory at MoJ was similarly useless. Staff who left years ago were still present. And although people moaned that they could never find anyone in the directory, they didn’t bother updating their own details either.

At one point we had a big push on getting the directory up to date, with adverts on the intranet, and a serious clearout of data as control of the directory moved to Communications and sat with the Public Enquiry Line team, who made most use of the directory while taking incoming calls and connecting the public to people within the Ministry.

Although it was possible to update your own record in the staff directory, it required a separate login, which involved the inevitable arduous forgotten password routine and setting a new password with stupidly harsh naming restrictions leaving no chance of remembering it again. The staff directory wasn’t integrated with your login to the network or with your HR Shared Services account or with the intranet. It’s good to hear that the new people finder won’t require a login. From what I’ve heard, MoJ are planning to allow open access to all profiles, which raises different kinds of data quality issues.

I remember thinking, when I worked at MoJ, that the key to keeping the staff directory up to date would be to allow staff to have their own rich profiles on the intranet which they can update with more than just a phone number and job title. Make the people real, with personal interests, hobbies, skills and job history. All searchable. I wrote a business case to integrate our Google Search Appliance (used on the intranet) with plans for an extended staff directory, which would have allowed people to search the staff database, with Google intelligence, direct from the intranet. ITC and external suppliers wanted around £60K to do this (presumably write a few lines of code to allow the internal Google box to talk to the internal staff directory database). So it didn’t happen. I’m glad those days are over and that developers can create their own systems unrestricted.

I took a lot of this experience to the table when I developed the staff directory with DCMS.

Here’s how we’ve done it in the GovIntranet theme:

Integrate the staff directory into the intranet and give staff control over their profiles

We’ve integrated the staff directory so that everyone has a WordPress account on the intranet and their own staff profile. They can post in forums, write blog posts, vote in polls, comment on stories, collaborate in wikis and update their own profiles (but not each others’). Incidentally, none of my clients call it a social intranet. In fact, they don’t call it anything but “the intranet,” even after staff naming competitions. Staff profile avatars and links appear around the intranet in comments, forum posts, page footers, blog posts, search results and in the actual staff directory.

Integrate people search with the intranet

You can search for people from the main intranet search box (without having to tick a special box), or from the staff directory pages on the intranet (not an external system). You can search for names of people, teams, skills and telephone numbers. Handy if you’re looking for someone who speaks Spanish, or maybe someone who can create a video, but you don’t know their name or department.

Staff search

Nudge staff to update their details

We also have a “Profile nudge” widget which reminds staff to update elements of their profile if anything is missing. Intranet administrators can configure which elements to nag about and whereabouts on the intranet the widget should appear. Staff can update their details straight away without disrupting what they were doing.

Profile nudge

This integration increases the chances of keeping the information up to date and makes the intranet alive with real people woven around the content. See a blog post from a senior staff member, with an associated avatar and staff profile. Read a forum post from the organiser of the staff choir, with an associated avatar and staff profile. Check out the new joiner in the comms team.

Data, beautiful data

A network of connected user profiles and intranet content means that we can create a social graph. While we are nowhere near this with GovIntranet, the potential is there. When we have data about our staff, their browsing habits, their likes and dislikes, we can produce targeted content. We can anticipate their moves, offering information when they need it, where they need it. My first stab at tapping into this is the new “Intraverts” widget, released as part of version 4 of the GovIntranet WordPress theme.


The plugin integrates with the staff directory giving a targeted messaging system across the intranet.

So instead of the blanket campaign messages from internal comms that appear on the homepage regardless of who you are, the widget allows you to target groups of staff, on specific sections of the intranet over specific time periods. If you want to get a message out about flu jabs or giving blood, you could place an advert on all pages in the health and wellbeing section of the intranet, where staff are likely to be browsing related content. How about targeting just Band A managers on the homepage with updates about forthcoming performance reviews? Or if Band C staff are logged on we could remind them about a forthcoming series of Freedom of Information training seminars that they’ll be required to attend.

What others are doing

The staff directory across our GovIntranet clients is being used, although are all system security staff trained to add a photo of HAL as their avatar???


The DCMS comms team page is a bit different, as all staff in the team have posed for photos in Brady Bunch fashion, so their staff directory entries show them looking up and down and across at each other!

The British Business Bank are racing ahead though in the league of GovIntranet clients, with the largest proportion of staff profiles voluntarily completed with avatars.


I wonder if the new MoJ directory will ever achieve this, and if there are plans to integrate with some form of social profile on the new MoJ intranet? While it will be a great resource if everyone in the Civil Service used it, would it be maintained and kept up to date? If anyone can edit profiles, will it get abused? Will it get used? Or will it be another Civil Pages?

GovIntranet Search

Intranet predictive search test results

I recently posted my comparison of search results across 2 similar intranets. In this post, I use the same set of 21 search phrases to test the GovIntranet predictive search feature on the recently released Northern Ireland Office intranet. Some of the search tasks are not really applicable to this department but I have included them for completeness.

This is a newly-launched intranet and content is still being added. The test results reflect the functionality of the predictive search feature using the content 2 weeks after going live.

The gallery below shows results for each search phrase: