It’s just over a month since we launched the JISC intranet. Dust has now firmly settled, issues resolved and users trained. Time for a spot of reflection.
First of all, I’m pleased we didn’t go for a heavyweight solution, such as Sharepoint or Lotus Domino. We did look at them as they are the market leaders for intranets but they just seemed overkill for a small organisation of about 100 people. Using our existing web CMS also seemed a fairly cumbersome option. No, we wanted to make it as quick and easy for everybody to contribute to the intranet as possible, even tech-unsavvy staff. There’s no central resource for producing intranet content; it will live or die by people using it, so it was requirement number one that it was dead easy to add/edit content.
So we chose Atlassian Confluence, which we had already been running as our wiki platform. As the project progressed, the more this felt like the right choice. ‘Enterprise’ wikis, such as Confluence, suit internal knowledge sharing requirements perfectly, with versioning, acccountability, commenting etc built in. Confluence also has an active dev community and there are plugins for just about everything, including major, supported plugins to provide custom themes and or social aspects. If what we wanted didn’t exist, we were able to build it.
One cool bit of dev work that I was particularly proud of was that we managed to build an app to pull calendar data out of MS Exchange and expose it in Confluence with a custom-built UI – the first successful integration between 2 internal JISC information systems as far as I am aware :-). It uses a third-party app called JEC which does the heavy lifting with Exchange – not freeware but it’s a one-off fee and not very expensive. The UI is not as pretty as GCal but it does the job! This was also my first really successful experience of agile dev; as a manager, it required a lot of my time to constantly direct and provide instant feedback but the product didn’t go off course and it didn’t require extensive UAT. Also, I saved time in other ways because I didn’t have to write a wearisome spec. Instead, we worked together to refine the high level vision into a usable product.
On the downside, it’s a wiki and it doesn’t have as powerful workflow or granular permissions as, say, a CMS. It’s also primarily an information sharing and collaboration tool and it will be hard to satisfy some of the work management aspirations that JISC staff have, like being notified of actions that are required of them. Personally, I think these requirements are beyond the scope of an intranet anyway, but the need is there and maybe the intranet could be a way to link systems together (like we have done with Exchange).
I was also pleased with the user-centred approach we took to system and interface design. Together with our consultants, we worked closely with representative users to build up a profile of high priority goals and needs, used card sorts to group and label types of content, and built a prototype to test our assumptions through user testing.
There were the usual problems and frustrations. Main one is it took a lot longer than I hoped. This was perhaps inevitable; we are a small team and our priority must always be the website. It so happened that the intranet project coincided with a fairly major relaunch of the website and it played second fiddle to that for nine months.
Anyway, it’s live – JISC intranet 1.0. We’ll formally evaluate it in six months time but you can also leave any comments below.