The end of September saw the quarterly get-together of GovIntranet Club members. This time it was hosted by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), at the same venue where the original Whitehall intranet club meetings started, six years ago:
Referendum results, resignations and reshuffles have been causing government intranets to adapt and move quickly to keep staff up to date with changes.
Like previous government departments that I’ve worked with, the in-house team at the Cayman Islands Government setup their own intranet server and followed online instructions for installing the GovIntranet WordPress theme.
The team started the build at the beginning of May, aiming to get a beta intranet launched by the end of May. And they did it. Bang on target.
It's the dream of all open source project owners: get shipped to a tropical island for paid consultancy. @luke_oatham living that dream.
— Steph Gray (@lesteph) May 24, 2016
After some late-night emails and conference calls, I flew over to the Cayman Islands last week to provide some last-minute advice and training for intranet administrators and publishers. But some background details around this adventure.
The story so far
Until April, internal communications and support functions within the government pretty much consisted of all-staff emails and phone calls, and emailing documents as a result of phone calls. The all-staff emails could contain anything from new exercise classes, to sponsored events or important corporate announcements.
I heard several tales of automated email filters for diverting all-staff emails to archive, in favour of relying on getting important news from the grape vine.
There was an intranet of sorts, but it was used very little, stats showing just 300 visits in the last month, from a staff of 3500 people. The intranet was in a coma.
Green light for beta intranet
I met the core team on my first day and it felt like an emergency skunkworks with people drawn from around the offices, charged with building a working intranet in four weeks. One guy had setup the server, someone who had used WordPress before had setup the environment and GovIntranet theme, another guy was handling the Active Directory integration. By the time I arrived there was already a functioning intranet and I just needed to run through the theme admin and configuration interface, filling in the gaps with the administrators.
The CIG Cabinet Office wanted the new intranet to provide a central hub for corporate news and blog posts, allowing staff to comment on the serious topics as well as post more informally in the forums.
The “How do I?” guidance section will contain core policies and help pages, aiming to reduce the amount of calls to HR and the IT helpdesk. And they’ll make use of the events module, kicking off with the Queen’s birthday celebrations.
Having coached the core team using the admin interface on Friday, I worked with the wider publishing team on a training intranet during the following week, as the new intranet launched.
Publisher training kicked off with a “writing for the intranet” session, including several paper-based writing exercises covering plain English, accessibility and search engine optimisation.
Days two and three were for hands-on GovIntranet CMS training. Usually for me, this is more of a cross-training session with publishers who are used to working with another content management system. For some of the civil servants at the Cayman Islands Government, this was their first view into the world of creating and managing intranet content using a CMS.
Always lovely to see people who have used WordPress before discover how we’ve extended the platform, and to see first-timers start publishing with ease. It’s become a habit now when I’m training, to kick off with a news story about a new bagel shop opening in the building. This give me the chance to cover editing text, uploading images, and the publishing cycle. Class usually responds with their own stories about the office, sometimes sunsets, sometimes kittens. Refreshingly different to see stories about the impending rain season, record fish catches and genetically modified mosquitoes.
Launch and beyond
The new intranet went live on staff desktops on Monday 30th May. It will hopefully make a big difference to internal communications while allowing staff to easily find help and guidance, and to interact via forums and comments. It’s a big leap from all-staff emails and phone calls.
As I left, the core build team were busy integrating the intranet with their desktop sign-on and when done, they’ll have an automated staff directory on the intranet.
Content strategy documents and comment moderation guidelines were flying around, making it clear from the start how intranet content will be managed and what is expected of staff. Publishers were charged up and ready to take on their new responsibilities of managing content on the intranet.
The intranet is very much in beta. There’s more core content to create and manage. But from the analytics reports, we’ve managed to get a heartbeat back.
Update Aug 2016
Just had a quick peek at Google Analytics. It’s been over two months since the new CIG intranet launched. Looks like it’s alive and well.
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!