Case Metsähallitus: Small customizations ensured a better than expected intranet

Customizable tool links, improved search and people search functions – these features don´t come standard with the modern SharePoint Online intranet, but are all small customizations which took the intranet of Metsähallitus to a whole new level. 

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.

29 August 2022

Camilla Heikkilä

Metsähallitus is a state-owned enterprise that is responsible for the management, use, and protection of state-owned forestry, nature conservation, and wilderness areas.

Like with almost all intranets, the amount of content of Metsähallitus intranet has grown over the years. The old intranet had about 1500 content pages and hundreds of documents. The biggest problems with the old intranet were related to information search, keeping the info up-to-date, and difficult mobile use. 

Enabling mobile use was particularly important as although many of the over 1000 employees of Metsähallitus work at the office, there are also many employees working in the field in forest and nature reserve maintenance for example. 

After changes, the management and content structure of the old intranet had become quite a task. The visual look was also not inline with the new graphical guidelines of digital services of Metsähallitus. On top of everything else, the intranet was not accessible and, as a public organization, Metsähallitus is required by law to fullfil the requirements of accessibility of digital services. Therefore, there were many good reasons to renew the intranet. 

Search was one main focus

Metsähallitus asked North Patrol for help in planning and tendering the new intranet.

Metsähallitus has long used the M365 tools. The old intranet that has been in use since the summer of 2017 was implemented on M365 SharePoint, but with the classic page templates. Additionally, Metsähallitus already was using Yammer and also Teams was being implemented into more active use.

The design of the intranet started with the modern M365 SharePoint Online page templates, the aim being on planning an intranet that utilizes the features of the selected platform as cost-effectively as possible. The technical implementation and maintenance is done by Cloudriven.

However, it was clear from the beginning that some customization was needed as the goal was to create an intranet that serves the people at Metsähallitus as well as possible.

Metsähallitus organization is very broad and most of the employees work in one of the key areas that are Nature Services, Forestry, Wilderness Services and Property development. With the new intranet, we wanted to bring the organization closer together and avoid siloing into different units. One way to help this was to make it easier to find colleagues with a good employee search.

In the M365 environment every user has their own Delve profile, which can be used as a staff profile on the intranet. Since staff profiles are not part of SharePoint, the intranet search function does not include them. For this reason, a separate people search that searches Delve profiles was implemented.

- The staff search has received good feedback, says Satu Sorjonen, the Online Communications Manager responsible for the intranet project at Metsähallitus.

Basic information of personnel can be added into the Delve profiles from Active Directory which is linked to the HR system.

Sorjonen tells how more customization was needed than initially planned so that search filters are more versatile. The search can be used to search employees for example based on responsibility, team, unit, title, or location.

Additionally, the people search has a free word search function that searches additional information from Delve profiles, granted that the user has put information on their profile. Also information about absences is searched from the HR system so that staff that are absent for longer periods do not show up in the search results.

Users also have a free word search function that reaches the whole intranet (not just staff profiles). This function required some customization because when searching from a single communication site in the modern SharePoint Online, the search only targets the content of that specific site.  This might be challenging for users to understand. Therefore, in order to have the best possible search experience, the SharePoint search should be targeted to the whole intranet, regardless of where the user is searching information from.

The customization was taken one step further also in this case as Cloudriven implemented the Metsähallitus intranet a separate search center with good filters.

The accuracy of the intranet search is good. The search functionality was a pleasant surprise for Satu Sorjonen, even though Metsähallitus intranet does not add keywords to the contents, which makes the intranet admin work easier.

Users are happy with customizable tool links

In addition to the search function customizations, Cloudriven implemented a customizable tool listing on the front page of the intranet.

One of the most important features of an intranet is to act as a starting point for information search and to offer staff direct links to other systems and tools. The employees of Metsähallitus are using various different information sources and digital tools in addition to the intranet. Also the old intranet had a tool listing that was in popular use.  

Different employees however have different needs and, therefore, all tools are not relevant for everyone. This is why the intranet got a customizable element for the front page that allows the users to choose all the important links for them from a list of all links. 

– Editing the tool listing has received a lot of praises, Satu Sorjonen comments.

Intranet orienteering competition helped staff to get familiar with the new intranet

The content structure was renewed completely with the intranet reform. This was partly due to the logic of SharePoint Online, partly because the users thought finding information in the old intranet was difficult.

In the old intranet, content such as financial, communication, and information management matters produced by admins played a key role in navigation where in the new intranet they are bundled under one heading. This gave more visibility to other content which is now easier to find.

The content structure was outlined already during requirement specification work, but the actual content work was done together with the implementation. The final content and structure was only clarified during the implementation according to Sorjonen.

Satu Sorjonen explains how Metsähallitus formed an extensive content team that met every month. As the implementation progressed, the content creators got to closely see how the new intranet was put together, which helped to understand the entity and its possibilities while planning the content. Sorjonen believes it was important that the content creators got to see in good time how the new intranet would be like.

Content creators were considered throughout the whole process. They were offered content creator training sessions and, after those, some quick instructions for different needs have been available in Teams. The old intranet was perceived as difficult to maintain but with the new one the experience is more positive according to Sorjonen. 

The new intranet of Metsähallitus was published in the spring 2022 and Sorjonen mentions that the feedback has been surprisingly positive. Of course, there have been some odd negative comments too, as often happens with any intranet. With big changes, some people think the content is difficult to find now - regardless of the good search functions. 

In order to evaluate the content structure and content findability of the intranet and to teach staff how to navigate the intranet, Satu Sorjonen came up with a playful intranet orienteering competition. During the competition, the employees had to search the intranet for answers for different tasks. Feedback about the new intranet was collected at the same time.

Short experience with the new intranet has shown that it is much better than the old one was.

Project information:

Technology: M365 Sharepoint Online

Specification and tendering: North Patrol, March-June 2021

Technical implementation: Cloudriven, October 2021 – April 2022

Content: Metsähallitus, January – April 2022

(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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