Approaching an Intranet Redesign in Microsoft SharePoint
Austin Wheelock | May 11, 2017
Intranets are hardly a new phenomenon within the enterprise technology platform of a federal agency – and that is exactly why many agencies are actively redesigning and updating this powerful tool. The combination of aging intranets, a younger workforce, and better technology has been the impetus behind many of the intranet refreshes across the Federal Government.
The majority of intranets in the federal space run on an instance of Microsoft’s SharePoint software. Since these agencies have a lot invested in their existing SharePoint platforms, upgrading to a newer version of the software (e.g. 2010 to 2013) and coupling it with a thoughtful redesign approach can provide all the improvements and benefits the agency needs for their intranet.
A few years ago, INTEGRITYOne Partners (IOP) began working with one such agency to unlock the benefits of its SharePoint intranet. Understanding the potential of the latest SharePoint technology, the agency’s technology and business leaders looked to IOP to improve web content management, enable cross-site publishing, enhance search capability, and create a robust workflow platform.
The IOP redesign team used a multifaceted approach to design, develop, and deploy the redesigned intranet. We first sought to uncover and understand the shortfalls of the existing intranet and ensure the new design addressed real weaknesses. We solicited feedback via an agency-wide user survey and received responses from nearly 4,500 employees across all staffing levels and geographic locations. Through careful analysis of the survey results, including 3,000 open-ended comments, we discovered some common trends in the needs of the agency’s user base. The data clearly showed that improving search and navigation capabilities; providing access to pertinent and accurate information; and delivering a standardized, user-friendly interface were paramount to the agency’s employees.
To improve search and navigation, our information architecture subject matter expert worked closely with stakeholders from across the agency to identify key terms for inclusion in the new mega menu – the primary method of navigation across all the intranet sites. Through the use of card-sorting exercises, it became clear that most employees search for information by topic rather than by organization. For example, when looking for information on retirement planning, employees would search “retirement” instead of “human resources”. Making the shift from an organization-based navigation to one that is topic-based is delicate and should be handled incrementally to accommodate users familiar with the traditional site structure
To ensure the intranet offered a standardized “look and feel” across all 1,600+ sites, the redesign effort included a custom-developed site template required for all divisions. The template provided each division the flexibility and space to create an individualized site highlighting its distinct products and services while maintaining sitewide consistency of layout and location of common content.
In addition, our team pre-developed dozens of SharePoint web parts, or “widgets,” that divisions could easily add to their sites to feature content. These widgets range from image sliders, to tabbed content, to accordions and more. These “pre-baked” widgets could be easily added to a site by content managers with no development or programming expertise. Our team then helped to craft an intranet governance plan and style guide to enforce the use of the widgets and template.
Lastly, to facilitate communication between our team and the SharePoint content managers and end users, we developed an intranet community of practice (COP) site. The COP contains valuable information, tools and resources like release notes, training presentations, and how-to guides that help users optimize their intranet experience.
The deployment of the redesigned intranet on the SharePoint 2013 platform resulted in a fresh, user-centric design that has enhanced employee productivity while providing tech-savvy users with the web experience they have come to expect from today’s technology.