Your INTRANET is bad and you should FEEL bad

Truth is your Intranet is bad. But so are everyone else’s right? Yes, yes they are. And especially in NHS organisations.

Take ours for example:

It’s an in-house cobbled together classic-ASP mess that has been hacked up and re-worked so many times since it launched back in 2001 I’ve lost count of what ‘version’ we are on.

It’s utterly inflexible and impossible to improve upon without a complete overhaul. But who has the time, money and resources to put into such a project when in the general feeling is that - it works.

Familiarity is your enemy

In general staff at the hospital like our Intranet. They see it as a good way to catch up with the latest news and goings on and have a chat in our message boards.

It’s rare that anyone ever comes forward to criticise it. Even new staff seem to simply accept the inevitable and get on with using it.

The sad truth is we could use this Intranet for another 10 years and I honestly don’t think any of our staff would mind.

So why should I bother?

Because, as I said in the title, its bad and it makes me feel bad. Really bad :(

I feel bad that it has been left for so long since anything significant changed on the Intranet and I feel awful that the promise of shiny new tools like SharePoint have just come in and muddied the waters and added an extra layer of complexity for our users.

To me it’s a mess – a big ugly mess. A mess that I’m responsible for because I helped build it and I maintain the status quo by containing hack and slash at the code to keep it running.

Enter project Canopy

Project Canopy is just a name I’ve given to our new Intranet prototype (excuse the logo, I only had 15 minutes). I’m starting preliminary work on the project next week while at the WordCamp UK Retreat in Edinburgh.

I’ve worked with the marketing & engagement team to come up with some realistic objectives for this project. The key sticking point is that this will not replace our entire Intranet system.It will instead augment it and run over-the-top (hence the name) of our existing Intranet-based systems like SharePoint and our telephone book system giving our staff a clean modern and fresh portal (I hate that word but it’s relevant here) to everything we have on our internal network as well as a few external items like NHS Mail and our website.

It should also make things easier to find because we can build a new less-cluttered front-page and leverage the modern tagging and indexing technologies built into WordPress to make sure everything is searchable and attributed to the correct area.

The basic outline for phase one goes something like:

  1. Improve the way news & information is processed
    Allow for different ‘types’ of news such as events, documents, links andstatuses (think tweets). News should be properly categorised and tagged using extensive taxonomies. It should cut down on emails to the marketing team by allowing different types of news to be user-submitted via online forms so only the essential information is received before being published.
  2. Create a directory where all items on the hospital network can be added and indexed for quick access
    Sort of like a ‘human Google’ this will involve blitzing though all of the links off to SharePoint, shared drives, important documents, clinical systems, apps, tools, resources etc and placing them in an intelligently indexed database (like our A to Z only more flexible). Oh and it will be searchable.
  3. Implement a poll system to improve staff engagement
    Another no-brainer Quick and simple polls are a great way to gauge staff opinions and  emotions and gather feedback.
  4. Some slight Twitter an Facebook integration
    We recently were able to open up social-media sites to our staff by getting IT to unblock them. However, it’s still a challenge making staff aware that this service is available and it should be encouraged.

So, in essence Canopy will just be a news publishing system. But a modern and polished one.

Oh and it will be built using WordPress. In fact, I’ve spent most of the R&D into this project assessing if WordPress is right for this. And it is, for reasons that will be explained in more detail once the prototype is up-and-running.

Hopefully by the time this is over I won’t feel so bad.

About Kimb Jones

I design and develop the web infrastructure at Barnsley Hospital under the leadership of the Corporate directorate.
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12 Responses to Your INTRANET is bad and you should FEEL bad

  1. Pingback: WordPress Retreat and WordCampUK 2012 | Michael Kimb Jones

  2. Tony Yates says:

    The reason it’s been running so long is because it was built well. Quit your moaning and fall back in love with the beautiful thing that it is. Change for change sake only satisfy’s a few. Leave it and satisfy many :-)

    Great to see the ict status page is still being updated.

  3. Helen Stevens says:

    Tony, it’s dreadful! Impossible for staff to find anything or know what the hospital’s priorities are. We only recently connected electronic staff records to the telephone search, instead of relying on staff putting them in. Kimb’s WordPress development will make a MASSIVE difference to the daily lives of staff who just want to find stuff, quickly, to help them do their job. I, for one, cannot wait…

  4. Helen Stevens says:

    Btw, Kimb. Great blog. Sums our predicament up really well. I didn’t realise quite how guilt racked you were, though!

  5. Pingback: Intranet Lounge

  6. Seems like a good approach. We’ve used something similar before for an organisation that had a large legacy .NET portal. The site had major branding and usability issues, not to mention missing functionality. The approach we used was similar to yours, but we combined the old system (.NET) and the new bit (Plone) using a tool called Diazo:

    Diazo lets you re-theme existing sites (or any technology) without needing to actually touch them. So we managed to theme both parts with the same theme so the user experience was consistent across both systems. We actually went a step further and wrote a few filters (as python WSGI middleware) to sort out much of the bad HTML, transcode all the nasty .NET urls into more semantic ones, and tidy up a few bits. We then combined the authentications systems using CAS so that you could be logged in to one half and go to the other half without needed to log in again. We combined the search functions too so that a single search actually searched both systems and returned combined results.

    I presented this approach at a conference a couple of years ago, slides and audio here:

    Hope this helps!


  7. Hi Kim, better a clunky old intranet that is liked and used than a shiny sparkly SharePoint 2025 environment that nobody uses! :-) But I understand how passionate you feel about this; I also take criticism on intranet personally while I have not even built it…it is that passion and drive and perfectionism that all intranet managers appear to have.
    Word of warning: “extensive taxonomy”. No. Or in any case: not at the start. Taxonomy is something that you can have endless debates over. My advice: stick to 4 or 5 official “topics” that nobody argues about. I once used the following: Line of business, Country, Functional Area, Product Group and Fiscal Year. These were all established topics within our company, complete with their breakdown. These 5 already allowed us to sort our content in meaningful ways. You can always expand later.
    Good luck with the project and keep us posted!

  8. Apologies for misspelling your name, Kimb!

  9. Pingback: WordCamp, WordPress Retreat, WonderThemes and | Michael Kimb Jones

  10. Simo Hudson says:

    But surely an intranet that everyone loves and is built on powerful technology that takes the intranet beyond being just a website for staff and into being a full enterprise platform is better still.

    As for taxonomy, this can be granular, not just high level navigation – we like to see a taxonomy sitting behind the scenes that helps with tagging and categorisation. We like to simply apply the NICE taxonomy and use it to support keywords etc. – not long debates, it siomply drops in. And if you don’t do taxonomy and other important Infomration Architecture stuff up front an intranet can become horribly messy and descend into being unmanageable.

    Get it right and an intranet is a massively powerful and productive engine for organisations (we can find any document in under 80 seconds, we collaoberate in real time and offline, our business processes are actively supported and processes & content are appropriately governed).

    That’s been our experience, anyway.

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