Wellington-based Provoke Solutions won the Microsoft Partner Solution of the Year Award last month for one of the country’s first implementations of Sharepoint 2007, at the Ministry of Transport.
Following a transport sector review in 2003, the Ministry of Transport increased from 50 to 140 staff, opening extra offices in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch. An IT strategic review in 2005 revealed a need for an intranet for collaboration, content management, centralised communication and stakeholder management.
Claire Johnstone, GM-corporate at the Ministry, says it wasn’t that the ministry had a business problem but was seeking a communications solution.
“We wanted to develop an intranet that was easy to use, something modern and flexible, attractive to use — a communication tool people wanted to use as a first source of information,” she says.
“It also needed to provide information on ministry policies and processes and provide a social forum for staff.”
The work was put out to tender and won by Provoke Solutions, who carried out the contract over several months last year. Johnstone says the main challenge was making the intranet user friendly and balancing the expectations of users.
Since its completion, the intranet has been reliable, with staff enjoying its use; complaining greatly when ministry servers failed and the intranet stopped working. “The main thing we did right was to make sure the solution solved the business need and the social need. We are pleased Provoke won the award. They always kept us informed of developments, they understand partnership. They look at things as a relationship and we work better with organisations that treat us as a partner rather than a purchaser,” Johnstone adds.
Now, Microsoft Sharepoint 2007 is seen as a core strategic platform by the ministry, which is evaluating the technology to deliver its public website.
Provoke Solutions Managing Director Mason Pratt says after his firm won the tender, it considered using Management Server CMS 2002 or Sharepoint 2003.
Realising neither met the needs of the project, Sharepoint 2007 was discussed, which was then at a beta stage. While Provoke had implemented Sharepoint 2007 at the Civil Aviation Authority, there was little technical support for it, and it was unproven as an intranet.
But Sharepoint 2007 was chosen, having a defined solution and identified functionality, which was then customised.
“There was heavy customisation of the user interface. We spent much time working through a suitable information architecture, which resulted in a number of customised templates,” he explains.
Pratt says Provoke was able to prove the flexibility of Sharepoint architecture to customise the presentation layer, breaking down a misconception that Sharepoint is difficult to customise.
The project also involved integrating with other platform products, after the ministry decided to replace Lotus Notes with Microsoft Exchange and install Microsoft CRM 3.0 and Active Directory.
“There was quite a high degree of integration with other systems. We had to work with other vendors to ensure seamless integration,” Pratt explains. He credits project success on working closely with the ministry, plus Microsoft, who provided support and resources.
Such projects also need a solid understanding of Sharepoint and customer needs.
“Given this was the first public sector intranet on Microsoft Sharepoint 2007, the project provided us an advantage in terms of experience — not so much ready-to-use templates, but key learning around generic intranet functionality and how Sharepoint works,” Pratt says.
“The challenge of the public sector is universal. They look for the same level of functionality, the same level of integration with other systems,” he says.
Now, Provoke is talking to other government departments about Sharepoint requirements and working on three other public sector intranets.
A Microsoft Gold Partner, it also won the overall supreme partner award at the Microsoft Partner Awards and was a finalist in the technology advocate category. Provoke, created in 2001, employs 40 staff in Wellington, and in August opened an Auckland office employing three, which it plans to increase to 15.