Website makeover lessons drive intranet redesign

Taking lessons from a revamp of its public-facing website, the Los Angeles Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) is looking to redo its intranet.

Even though staff-facing websites are “probably the least innovative websites you’ll ever see in your life,” DPSS wants an intranet with a user-centered design, rather than the current “smattering of applications all over the place,” said Michael Sylvester, DPSS’s chief information officer. 

Currently, DPSS organizations cannot create personas to communicate what they do and how they do it to other parts of the department. With the new version, which Sylvester expects will start rolling out in October and be fully operational by year’s end, operating units will be able to create their own pages.

“Our IT organization can actually have their own page and advertise out to the department the kinds of things that they offer, what the standards are,” Sylvester said. 

Additionally, DPSS is integrating a centralized request portal into the intranet so that any administrative requests, whether they’re for furniture, information technology or public services, will all go through a single portal.

What’s more, both the external- and internal-facing sites will use a single analytics platform, making it easier for DPSS to pull reports, Sylvester said. Before, the team took a patchwork approach to analytics and spent a lot of time deduplicating information. Now, they can see which pages get low usage and determine whether they need to be refined or moved farther down the chain of the service.

DPSS is partnering with Adobe on the project. It used Adobe Experience Manager Sites, Adobe Analytics and Adobe Asset Manager when it replaced its public-facing website in June 2020. That effort condensed more than 600 web pages into fewer than 200, improved usage monitoring and simplified navigation.

“We had complaints about where things were on the website, and sometimes the answer to that was put more stuff on the website, and that’s not exactly what we wanted to do,” Sylvester said.  Plus, the website design didn’t translate well to mobile devices, forcing users to scroll side to side to find out where to click, he said.

Another  problem was that the website was “littered” with program names, which most people didn’t know. Now, the site has a user-centered design and search function that understands common, simple language. For instance, someone can search for “food and nutrition” rather than CalFresh, California’s name for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or “health care” instead of Medi-Cal, which provides health services.

“It puts it in terms that the user, the consumer, can understand and gives them a good jumping off point so they’re not trying to search our organizational structure on the website,” Sylvester said.

The new site also puts the information in about a dozen languages to better serve the county’s diverse population of 10 million residents.

In the past two years, DPSS has been further finessing the external-facing site. For instance, it has a substantial policy library that it integrated into the website, Sylvester said. “We used to have some of the policy re-rendered on the website,” he said. We’ve eliminated that … so that we could use the policy site as a single, maintained area for all policy, and it becomes referential to the website,” he said. That saves  having to re-render data and then keeping both versions sync.”

The pandemic gave the team an opportunity to learn how to better promote DPSS services. It used toggle screens and rotating advertising components to let people know about food giveaways, vaccination clinics and what services were available over the phone.

While the public-facing website revamp made DPSS more effective during the pandemic, the intranet redo will ensure that the department can support remote work into the future by making it easier for caseworkers and others in DPSS’s 14,000-person workforce to access what they need to work wherever they are. 

“It’s like planting a tree: Once you have the roots in, the branches and everything will grow off of that,” Sylvester said of the two website efforts. “Once you [have] a solid foundation, all good things grow from that.”

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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