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Intranets: DCMS doing it right

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: GDS team

I've just got off the phone after talking to Andrew Simpson, the civil servant leading the redevelopment of the DCMS intranet. I've never met Andrew face to face, but I look forward to doing so, because he and his tiny team deserve a big thank you.

They have just created the exemplar for a government intranet in 2013.

The new DCMS Intranet
"How Do I?" - the DCMS intranet putting user needs first

To learn much more, read these two blog posts from Luke Oatham, a developer from Helpful Technology, the SME partner commissioned via G-Cloud. As you'll see if you read Luke's excellent posts, those DCMS staff already using the beta enjoy a simple, clear, fast experience. They get an intranet designed to understand and meet their needs, delivered swiftly and cheaply, and set up from the word go to iteratively improve based on their feedback.

A guide on the new DCMS intranet
A guide on the new DCMS intranet

The team reused the design patterns and formats established by GOV.UK. They prioritised on the most important user needs. They wrote for the web, using the style guide. They designed the site to be responsive to different screen sizes, using open standards. They launched the beta early, despite knowing it still had rough edges, because nothing beats real feedback from real users as early as possible.

Feedback form on DCMS intranet
A feedback form on the new DCMS intranet

In short, they used the same process espoused in the new Government Service Design Manual. They will remove the beta label and turn off the existing intranet in the coming days.

And all delivered using open source software (WordPress) for a fraction of the previous cost.

And I mean a fraction. Developing the new intranet cost £15k. The monthly hosting, support and iterative development cost is in the hundreds of pounds per month, less than a tenth of the monthly hosting and support cost of the intranet it replaces.

That's a 90% saving - the new normal.

Homepage of the new DCMS intranet
Homepage of the new DCMS intranet

Andrew, his team and their supplier have set the new benchmark for government intranets. They really have raised the bar. Anyone inside the civil service thinking about redeveloping their own intranet should talk to DCMS first.

When Mike Bracken talks about a new dominant culture, this is it in action.

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  1. Comment by Yons posted on

    I would love to know about the cost savings on this project. Is there anything published about this?

  2. Comment by Opening up | Helpful Technology posted on

    […] from their work through the services we offer our clients. So when people have understandably asked if we’ll be releasing the code behind our work for DCMS on the intranet, the memory of twenty years of lovely, exotic, time-consuming emails coming flooding back before I […]

  3. Comment by Time for revolution rather than evolution? | Helpful Technology posted on

    [...] wouldn’t have ripped apart its intranet in the same way without GDS’ inspiration and encouragement, for one. The quick answers that [...]

  4. Comment by Andrew Simpson posted on

    It’s been a month to the day since Tom’s blog about our new intranet, so it seems fitting to mark the anniversary with an update on what we’ve learnt so far and taken further.
    But firstly a thanks for all your kind comments and questions, keep them coming!

    Since its launch, our intranet has continued to evolve with user needs. For example we’ve focussed on what’s been driving our news and decided to separate out ‘need to know’ type content from the more feature based news (around new policies and procedures), to make sure vital information is clearly signposted.

    User feedback so far has been positive with most comments highlighting how the search tool and keywords can be finessed, combined with minor content changes. This tells us the overall concept is sound, and that we haven’t taken colleagues too far out of their comfort zone (despite this site being a giant leap from the site it replaced).

    Our user data (provided through google analytics) is key to helping us measure the success of the site, while simultaneously driving our homepage feeds. And we haven’t been afraid to be honest (as I write, our 2nd ‘most popular’ link flagged up on our homepage is our ‘Resignation guide’!).

    Our ‘your space’ forum (for non-business type content) is also proving popular. And because content is user-generated, this element draws minimal resource from the team. If staff want to publish or discuss, they are free and trusted to do so.

    What’s driven this project from the start and continues to is our clear belief in providing a service based on user needs, without being compromised by internal restrictions or archaic processers. And thanks to the tools available in today’s digital climate we don’t have to compromise, we just need to find innovative solutions that are already out there. Best of all, this approach is saving us money.

    But we’re not stopping here. Looking to the next project horizon we’re thinking about how we can bring our core briefing online into wiki, and how we turn our plethora of online forms into plain English html pages.

    Want to know more?

    For project and content type questions you can email me ( or DM @dcms.

    For questions about code, the site builders Helpful Technology are the gurus to ask

    • Replies to Andrew Simpson>

      Comment by Benjamin Rusholme posted on

      Thank you for the update.

  5. Comment by Mark posted on

    I would also love to get a hold of that WP theme for a Government project.

  6. Comment by Tony Scott posted on

    Hi Tom - Re my comment on open sourcing the WP theme (I can't seem to reply to continue the thread) I'll get in touch with Helpful Technology to ask them the same question.

    • Replies to Tony Scott>

      Comment by Steph Gray posted on

      Hi all

      Sorry it's been a while, but we've just written about our release of this code over here:

      We wanted to take the time to do it right, and though Luke's correct to say we're not able to provide unpaid support and consultancy, we recognise that others may have ideas and queries that we'd like to be able to help with, so we've been planning the best way to handle these.

      WordPress is a phenomenal platform and community, so while it feels a little scary as a small business to release a big chunk of code like this for anyone to use, it's clearly the right thing to do.

      Do let us know how you get on with it, if you've got any feedback or requests for future versions, or indeed if you extend it in ways others might find useful (hence: publishing on Github).


  7. Comment by Tom Miles posted on

    Looks excellent. I'd be interested to hear how they 'won the argument' to give the news content less prominence.

  8. Comment by Tony Scott posted on

    The WP theme for the DCMS intranet site looks great - will it be released to the public and open sourced?

    • Replies to Tony Scott>

      Comment by Tony Scott posted on

      Anything on this?

      • Replies to Tony Scott>

        Comment by Tom Loosemore posted on

        WIll nudge...

        • Replies to Tom Loosemore>

          Comment by Tony Scott posted on

          Many thanks, Tom.

          • Replies to Tony Scott>

            Comment by Tom Loosemore posted on

            Given DCMS commissioned the intranet (via G-Cloud) as a service, it's really down to the supplier (Helpful Tech) whether or not they choose to open source the WP Theme. I know DCMS has no objection, but we're not in the business of forcing suppliers to open up their code - it's entirely their choice.

  9. Comment by Scott K. Andrews (@ScottKAndrews) posted on

    I spent a year working alongside Andrew at DCMS on the recently switched-off DCMS website.

    Andrew and I spent most of 2009/10 trying to persuade the IT team in the Dept to allow us to use WordPress for the DCMS blog. Our hope was that once that was agreed, we could then use it for other things too.

    Eventually it became clear we had no chance of ever getting what we wanted. Apparently the 'security concerns' over using WordPress were considered so extreme that the DCMS IT dept refused to allow us to use it for anything at all.

    If I somewhat mourn the passing of the DCMS site I spent so much effort building, that is offset by my delight that the project is helping to sweep aside the kind of bureaucratic obstruction to innovation that blighted my time there, and has finally given Andrew and his team access to the tools they have been demanding for years.

    Given how long they had to fight for WordPress, it's no surprise to me at all that now they have it, Andrew and his DCMS team have done exemplary work with it.

    • Replies to Scott K. Andrews (@ScottKAndrews)>

      Comment by Pete posted on

      If anyone is interested - we've just begun the rollout of a (reasonably) large project at Warwickshire County Council along these very lines.

      As I write this, we are in the process of finishing off (and tidying up) the rollout of WordPress as our main CMS for

      The process has taken us a little longer than expected (but only by a few weeks), and we've managed to learn quite a lot during the project. If anyone is interested in finding out more, feel free to get in touch!

    • Replies to Scott K. Andrews (@ScottKAndrews)>

      Comment by Jeremy posted on

      Any update on open sourcing of this theme?