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Designing an Award-Winning Intranet

Background and Context 

Charleston Area Medical Center (CAMC) is a non-profit regional referral center with 8,000 employees and more than seven hundred physicians with admitting privileges. CAMC’s former intranet, CAMnet 2.0, was used frequently, and surveyed users overall found it useful and informative. However, they also struggled to navigate and find content, found the document management difficult to use, and were frustrated being unable to access CAMnet 2.0 off the CAMC network. Join me as we walk through designing an award-winning intranet.

TSI SharePoint Intranet Demo Build
Figure 1 – TSI SharePoint Intranet Demo Build

The legacy intranet, CAMnet 2.0, was initially launched in 2014 and used ASP.NET to serve up webpages while presenting documents from the web server in a page-based experience. There were over seven thousand pages in CAMnet 2.0 at the time of the intranet redesign project. CAMC wanted: 

  • A new intranet accessible from any location with internet without using a VPN.  
  • Improved design to make key information more accessible. 
  • Improved security hosting the intranet in Microsoft 365 and SharePoint Online 
  • To empower more of the business with the capabilities to create and edit pages and content. CAMnet 2.0 required ASP.NET code skills to create and modify pages, and SharePoint Online provided a visual interface for page design. 
  • Improved search capabilities over CAMnet 2.0 
  • The ability to browse the intranet from a mobile device. 
  • Improved navigation and scrollable pages. CAMnet 2.0 pages were a fixed height, and it was a challenge to fit all the relevant information on the home page and department landing pages. 

Project Scope and Objectives 

To help CAMC achieve their vision for CAMnet 3.0, we proposed an intranet redesign project. 

Scope 

  • (8) Session of Collaborative Design and Stakeholder Interviews 
    • Home Page Design 
    • Department Communication Site Design 
    • Navigation Ideation and Card Sorting 
    • Site Mapping and User Flow 
    • Search Experience Design 
    • Replacing CAMnet 2.0 Webforms 
  • From discovery and design, created and refined an agile backlog. 
  • (4) Intranet Development Sprints, which included: 
    • Sprint Planning – Where CAMC defined the priority backlog and TSI committed to what we would deliver by the end. 
    • Sprint Development – Creating the CAMC 3.0 intranet areas, setting up navigation and permissions. 
    • Quality Assurance – Reviewing our work to ensure it satisfies the Why (user story) and What (acceptance criteria) for each backlog item delivered. 
    • Sprint Demonstration – Showing our work to CAMC stakeholders so that we can get rapid feedback to incorporate in the next sprint. 
    • User Acceptance Testing – Having CAMC users get hands on with the new intranet areas, collecting their feedback and rolling their feedback into the backlog. 
  • Technical Assessment – We mapped the legacy intranet file areas to SharePoint Online destinations. 
  • Migration Services – We scoped a limited amount of migration effort, where we migrated content CAMC identified as important or highly valuable. 
  • Refinements – After the last sprint, we reviewed feedback from the end-to-end demonstration and acted on the feedback and refinements CAMC identified as high-priority. 
  • Deployment – Putting into place the production permissions for CAMnet 3.0 Site Owners, Site Editors, and Site Visitors. 
  • Launch Video for CAMC User Community 
  • Training on SharePoint Online Content Management and Page Editing 
  • Coordinating CAMnet 3.0 launch communications 

Objectives 

  • Build and launch an updated version of CAMnet, using Microsoft 365 as the hosting platform, with: 
    • Improved navigation using mega menus. 
    • Improved search experience which includes results from page and file text 
    • Provide communication spaces for twelve core departments. 
    • Empower the business to maintain and grow their sites and content areas. 
    • Provide an intranet accessible without a VPN and on mobile devices.

Expected Benefits 

  • End users can better browse content with improved navigation. 
  • End users can use Microsoft Search to quickly locate a specific page or file. 
  • Improved intranet access across a variety of devices in a secure environment. 

Key Features and Functionality 

Vitals 

The legacy intranet home page featured a news section called Vitals, where each department could promote crucial news or information. To modernize this, we leveraged the news web part, and also created a template for each department. In the legacy intranet, Vitals creators were unable to directly post or edit their own news.

This lead to a longer publishing cycle. With the SharePoint Online Vitals experience we created, Vitals creators could easily create and edit Vitals posts. In addition, creators could also set an expiration date for a Vital so that it would fall off the dashboard after expiration, and the ability to schedule a Vital to publish at a future date. This enabled departments to get the news out quickly, with more control over how long a Vital was published and visible. We also included an experience to see past Vitals. This allows for new hires or those back from vacation should quickly catch up. 

New Navigation 

Due to the limitations of the legacy intranet platform, the legacy navigation was flat. It was limited to navigating users to department landing pages. Our team ran a card sorting activity to define the new navigation. We used the SharePoint Online mega menus to help users browse and get to the key information hosted within department pages. We also included the valuable information that already existed on CAMC’s public-facing website. 

Emergency Alerts 

CAMC also wanted to be able to use the homepage as a method to communicate urgent, time-sensitive information and envisioned an emergency alert as well. This temporarily appears as a visually prominent banner at the top of the homepage. To deliver this, we used a SharePoint Framework solution, which allows the intranet admins to create and style a message banner, to supplement other methods of communicating an urgent alert, such as network outages, application maintenance, or inclement weather updates. 

SharePoint Emergency Alert Banner
Figure 2 – SharePoint Emergency Alert Banner

Results and Impact 

The new award-winning intranet has been live for six months now, and we have seen increased traffic over the legacy intranet. Additionally, users reported improvements in their search experience and browsing for the information they were looking for. CAMC is about to re-engage with the intranet stakeholders to plan a second wave of development, refining and expanding on what we built together. 

Figure 3 – TSI SharePoint Intranet Demo Build Image 2

Lessons Learned 

I have worked on several dozen intranet projects over my 14 years as a SharePoint consultant, and it has been a journey of continuous improvement, iterating on our methods, and also adapting our approach as the SharePoint platform changed, evolved, and keeps adding new features. Even now, SharePoint Online intranet building is about to evolve again with the coming addition of new features to tailor the look and feel of SharePoint. Not to mention the use of Copilot to assist content editors in quickly drafting and revising SharePoint Online pages. In this time, I have learned there is no “one Intranet to rule them all,” no single template I could create that would satisfy every organization’s vision for their intranet. 

And having a vision for an intranet, in my experience, is one of the biggest factors on intranet outcomes. Without a clear vision and defined goals aligned to that vision, we are a blindfolded archer shooting at a moving target!  

We also must engage with our user community, as they are the intended audience for our intranet creation, and our intranet is supposed to solve day-to-day problems for our users. So, we must talk to them. Sometimes, we are engaged to collaborate with clients for this discovery, but our involvement is not a requirement. In this case, CAMC had already done their homework, and could articulate how the needs of a Doctor or Nurse persona differed from the needs of a Supply Chain Manager.  When the users are represented, that is when an award-winning intranet relaunch really succeeds. 

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