DOC's portal its own killer app

A typical day for 80% of the Department of Conservation's 2000 staff is to clear their email, check out a few items on the intranet, print some maps and head out into the field.

A typical day for 80% of the Department of Conservation’s 2000 staff is to clear their email, check out a few items on the intranet, print some maps and head out into the field.

This makes for a very small window of opportunity during which a corporate portal has to capture the staff member’s attention.

It helps to make the portal compulsory on start-up, as DOC has done. But for about 90% of the organisation’s far-flung staff to use the DOCnet portal regularly it has to put the most popular content — in effect its “killer app” — up front, says CIO Channa Jayasinha. DOC puts news, policies, a bulletin board, weather and fire information (third-party data that utilises XML), IT alerts and the like on or one click from the homepage.

Services include access to land register data and time records, and the site is searchable by natural language. Usage is monitored using Websense and staff — sometimes the recalcitrant non-using 10% — are polled on what’s useful and what’s superfluous. Early research found that all content must be accessible by three clicks or it’s unlikely to be looked at. Staff can personalise home page menus and maintain their own profiles.

The portal, which last month entered its third phase of existence, was first workshopped in late 1998. An RFP was issued in October, and Glazier Systems, which is no longer in business, won the job. DOCnet was an IT project until February 2000, when the content management side of things was passed to HR.

Despite being a largely Microsoft site, DOC’s system doesn’t use Sharepoint portal server; the server and authentication were instead built inhouse using Microsoft tools. Microsoft Exchange, SQL Server and a version-controlling document management application make up the guts of the system. The search application is off-the-shelf, and any new application must run through a web browser. The portal takes two-and-a-half people to run, split between HR and IT. A steering group, called Net.com, is supported by “site champions” at every office. Executive buy-in can be gauged by the CEO maintaining his own site through the portal.

DOC’s culture has changed because of the portal, says Jayasinha. More information is exchanged, duplication and paper use is down and staff spend less time finding the right information. The organisation is now fully networked and runs fewer stand-alone systems.

DOC plans to build into the portal a new HR application that it’s shopping for. A single search engine for all content is on the cards, as is building a portal link to its recently acquired SAP suite. A content management tool could in future allow remote staff to edit intranet and extranet content.

Planning portal projects

  • Determine sponsorship. Ideally from business units within the organisation.
  • Analyse drivers and expected benefits. Communicate needs as a business case.
  • Inventory desired features. Gear functionality to business needs and intended audience.
  • Conduct infrastructure impact assessment. How will the portal affect things and can anything current be used?
  • Select and implement products. Don’t begin your development here.
  • Manage post-implementation. Ongoing marketing, maintenance, measure will help evolution and success.

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