Conference Notes

Notes on "Case Study: Northland Regional Council Express Portal and Intranet", Aug 23

The final session of the day was Case Study: Northland Regional Council Express Portal and Intranet, presented by Jason Dawson (Community Relations Team Leader) and Tracey Morris (Online Communications Officer).

Jason spoke first …

The Northland Regional Council has 130 staff, with four regional offices. There are lots of field staff … 60% of staff spend 1-2 days out of the office every week. The team had 5 weeks to implement a new intranet. Prioritized a set of deliverables, wrote much of the content prior to selecting a content management system, gathered data files prior to final selection, and took a semi-distributed publishing model. This meant that 4 final content publishers were in the team, with a few other content champions around the place.

Requirements for the content management system were alignment with our vision, didn’t want to be the guinea pigs, wanted “off the shelf”, and wanted support for Microsoft .NET. When assessing the solution, looked at it on three levels:

  1. Solution … interface, page management, etc.
  2. Capability … delivery, stability, referees, training, etc.
  3. Price … standard, customization, installation, etc.

The four key decision points that pointed to the solution were … alignment with our requirements, price, experience with local government, and the quality of the RFP response. After going through the selection process, the business was awarded to EPIserver.

Tracey talked about how it all came together. Key factors in success were equally divided across four quadrants … the technology, process management, the content, and promotion. For the Council, 75% of success was therefore focused on the user. Putting photos on people’s profiles was a key first thing to help with knowing who all these new people are.

Here’s a picture of the home page:

One of the cool things that the team did was link the intranet to calendaring in Exchange. Specifically, when someone visits the page that describes someone, if they are supposed to be in a meeting per their Outlook calendar, it will say that (hey Eric, we talked about this as “schedule-enabled applications” back in 1997! I clapped; no one else did though).

At the bottom of each page, the owner of the page is listed so people can go straight to the source for revision updates. Although people reading the page can’t update it directly (as per a wiki), it is made very clear who they should approach. This cut down on a lot of enquiries through to the help desk.

With respect to user testing, the most effective learning came from putting someone in front of a computer and watching them using it. Key learning points from testing … don’t be too defensive, be wary of hysteria, and sometimes it needs to be ‘in their face’. Tracey found that 85% of users navigate the intranet rather than searching. Was interested to note this, given all the discussion at the conference about the power of search. Search is broken into “Find Person”, “Find Topic”, “Find Who Does What”, and “Find Jargon or Acronym”.

Jason came back and talked about “making it part of staff’s daily routine”. As a plan for moving forward, there are three steps:

  • Content … the tone and imagery reflect internal values (having fun at work, good customer service), having a single point for announcements and events, and making announcements more than just press releases. Have to type into the social thinking and acting of the organization.
  • Marketing and promotion … prior to the intranet going live, there was an existing process for requesting content for the Monday newsletter. With the introduction of the Intranet, they’ve stayed on with the same process; new content is requested on a regular basis.
  • Service … see internal staff as our customers, and seek to publish information very quickly. We let them know when it is on, so they can check it. When we see an opportunity to make staff’s lives easier, we provide pro-active suggestions on how to make things and do things better and quicker.

The name of the Intranet … “Express” … signifies speed and efficiency. It provides some continuity with the previous newsletter that was called “The Regional Express”.

The social section of the Intranet provides a draw card for staff. We have a place where people can write about their travels, about cafe suggestions, about good (and bad) movies, and more. In order to teach people how to use some of the more exotic capabilities (eg, radio buttons on surveys), the social section would run a survey on something fun.

Tracey concluded with seven tips for a successful Intranet:

  1. Set high expectations in your RFP
  2. Think about usability for the publishers too
  3. Have protocols and policies in place before you launch
  4. Continually market your Intranet
  5. Have fun and create excitement around the Intranet
  6. Show and tell … get people to show you how they use it
  7. Make their life easier

My final take … these guys have done an outstanding job of making this happen. I’m highly impressed. Well done!

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