Case: Åbo Akademi implemented a bilingual intranet with O365

Intranets have been a hot topic for universities recently. When the technical platforms of intranets come to the end of their life cycle, it’s time to reassess the whole concept. This was done by The University of Helsinki with their Liferay Intranet which we wrote about earlier

Where the University of Helsinki decided to differentiate between the intranets of employees and students, the Swedish-language Åbo Akademi University, situated in Turku and Vaasa, took a different approach. Åbo Akademi University’s new intranet is for both staff and students, and it was implemented on Finland’s most popular intranet platform, O365.

North Patrol is a consulting firm specialized in the design of digital services and information systems. We shape ideas into a vision and service concept, find the best architectural and technological solutions, design a functional user experience, and compete to find the ideal partner for implementation work. We do not sell implementation projects, nor do we sell licenses; we are genuinely on the side of the customer.

24 April 2020

Camilla Heikkilä

Åbo Akademi renewed its public website in 2018 on WordPress. During the reform, the university's intranet remained on the old, technically behind platform. Therefore, after a while, Åbo Akademi University's communications and information management rolled up their sleeves again and began the intranet reform.

The fault list for the old intranet was long and very typical for a long-running intranet. The findability was poor and the structure unclear, and not all data was up to date. Intranet utilization had dropped and the organization’s internal email was buzzing. The old intranet was clearly frozen in the time it was created - it was not the modern and flexible solution for digital work that Åbo Akademi longed for.

Some of the main goals of the project were to reduce internal email and modernize work practices. Finding and sharing information needed to be easier. In addition, there was a desire to create more of a feeling of community within the university by supporting information exchange and discussion. The intranet should be the primary starting point to search for information, especially for employees. This also applies to students, who have another additional platform, Peppi, for their studies. Naturally, a well-functioning search possibility was on the list of requirements.

O365 was chosen after careful evaluation

At the start of the intranet project, Åbo Akademi was using SharePoint´s  on-premise workspaces and Teams had been piloted. From the beginning, it was clear that SharePoint would be used for workspaces, but there were more options for the communication intranet. Liferay, Episerver and Confluence were left out of the comparison due to their high license costs. The final comparison was made between MS SharePoint Online and on-premise versions and Drupal. As a joker in the deck, WordPress was included in the comparison, as WordPress is used for Åbo Akademi University's website and there are examples of it being used, to some extent, as an intranet. 

One of the goals of the reform was to reduce internal email traffic and provide new opportunities for internal communication and information exchange. For this, the O365 is unbeatable as it offers ready-to-use tools for information exchange and has mobile applications, which is always a plus.

Although O365 SharePoint Online was not the perfect answer to Åbo Akademi University's needs, there was nothing in the concept that could not be achieved with O365's modern page templates with small customizations.

It was important for the university that the intranet has Swedish and English language options. At the time of the project, O365 did not have language version support, but with a little tuning and customization it was possible to create the image of a bilingual service for the user. Additionally, Åbo Akademi wanted to allow personalization of news listings so that the user could choose which faculty news to follow. Also, this functionality was not available directly from the package at the time of the project, but with a little customization, it was possible. 

Conceptually, it seemed that the entire digital work environment at Åbo Akademi University could be implemented with O365 tools, but there was still work to be done under the hood. There was, for example, the need to make personal user profiles rich enough to meet the user needs and the concept.

Eventually, the choice of technology was clear. Despite the challenges, O365 was the best choice for Åbo Akademi University's communications intranet platform.

Medium-sized intranet, a lot of content work

Åbo Akademi University's new intranet has been implemented by HiQ, and Clair Helsinki's Hanna P. Korhonen assisted Åbo Akademi University with both project management and content work.

Åbo Akademi University's new intranet consists of one hub site and 21 sites per language version, making it a relatively compact O365 intranet.  Still, university-wide reform is always a big effort, and this goes for this project as well. Moving from a hierarchical intranet to O365’s site model requires its own work, and of course, updating content to be logical, discoverable, and readable on mobile is hard work. 

However, the end result is in line with expectations, and the change from the previous intranet is considerable.

Case: Åbo Akademi´s intranet

Customer:  Åbo Akademi

Project Price Range: approximately € 100 000, including initial survey and preparation of tender documents. This budget does not include the work of the project manager or team or maintenance fees of the intranet.

Service: Intranet

Technical platform: O365

Concept and specification:  North Patrol (October-December 2018)

Requirements specification, tendering and implementation partner specification: North Patrol (January-February 2019)

Technical implementation:  HiQ (2019)

Content work: Clair Helsinki (2019)

Publication: January 2020

(This article has been translated from the Finnish original. Read the original article.)

Camilla Heikkilä

Camilla Heikkilä is a specialist in web communications and digital services.

Camilla has a broad experience in communications, particularly in web communications and knowledge of digital services and service design.

Camilla has experience in web concept design, project management, usability testing, content strategies and training users. Camilla has specialized in content design and can help organizations crystallize the content into a working web service, where the users’ needs are taken into account.

Camilla has worked nearly 15 years in communications in different NGOs and with the government. During her career she has had numerous of responsibilities in web project of different sizes.

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