The municipality of Aalborg; Denmark’s fourth largest city, recently relaunched their website using SharePoint 2007. They chose the unusual route of running the project in-house with minimal involvement from third party system integrators. I talked to the responsible project manager, Niels Højdahl Pedersen, about the lessons learned.
Accessibility for SharePoint 2007 will cost you
Q: Did the relaunch of the website on 18 June go according to the original plan?
A: "In the short term, yes, but in the longer term the project was delayed significantly, because of an ongoing expansion of the project scope.
The project started about 18 months ago with the ambition of revitalising the website by optimizing content and structure. We soon realised, that it needed a significant amount of work, so we decided that a new information architecture and design were needed. Unfortunately, our former platform; Microsoft CMS 2002, was not meeting our requirements and Microsoft furthermore proclaimed that their support would expire in April 2009. So we decided to upgrade to SharePoint 2007 with a plan to use it for our intranet as well later on.
When we asked system integrators for prices, they nearly doubled their quotes when we mentioned accessibility and standards compliance, which is legally required by public organisations in Denmark. So we decided to mostly do the project internally with our IT department, who had .NET experience but had never worked with SharePoint 2007. It was a major challenge to get the technical organisation up and running. We also soon learned that development and adjustments in SharePoint requires huge effort.
Throughout the process we kept a third party system integrator on the sideline for when our own people got stuck. They also did a quality review of the technical setup, which they actually complimented - particularly the speed with which the process had been completed."
Educate your users well
Q: Has it been necessary to make organisational changes during the project?
A: "First of all we have adjusted the number of content contributors from 200 to 60 [not a bad idea according to Janus Boye: Few web editors is better for your website]. These have been trained to write better for the web. Still, strange things happened when we opened up the system to them. We have also set up an informal network of about 10 people, who track changes and guide the editors. Another thing we are working on is an integration of Compliance Sheriff from HiSoftware to the editorial workflow to ensure that the editors comply with the rules we set up.
In the future we might want to get a more tight governance structure in place if we are to stick to our ambitions when it comes to quality and accessibility. This could also help us realise our digital strategy of making the website the preferred entrance point to the public sector for citizens and organisations in our municipality."
Don't underestimate the technical challenges
Q: What is your best advice to others using SharePoint 2007 for a public website?
A: "Do not underestimate technical maintenance of the platform. SharePoint is a cumbersome and complicated platform to work with and things take time – especially if you want to focus on accessibility and compliance.
You also need to educate your users well, because most things are not particularly obvious in MOSS. And even if you educate you users well you have to set up strict technical limitations to prevent undermining the accessibility rules."
Caveats when choosing a system integrator
I would stress, that even if you want to run your SharePoint project by yourself like Aalborg Kommune, you should still find an experienced system integrator. When choosing a partner, there are several caveats you’ll need to be aware of. My colleague Janus Boye has also recently shared a list of overlooked SharePoint success factors, which you might want to take into account. Another good resource is our report Best Practices for Using SharePoint for Public Websites, which gathers experiences from early adopters and provides decision support for business users in all project phases.
Our best advice is as always to talk to other users of the system and learn from their experiences.
Next step for SharePoint in your organisation
- Learn from the best: Join the SharePoint conference track at the J. Boye conference in Philadelphia on 9 May 2012
- Share with the best: Join one of our many J. Boye groups across Europe and North America, and share your SharePoint experience with your peers in other organizations. Aalborg Kommune is a member and they report that they benefitted greatly from talking to and visiting other users of SharePoint.
- How does your SharePoint intranet measure up? How strong are your social, collaboration and mobile intranet features? We'll tell you as part of our intranet benchmarking!