In 2015, Nacka Municipality began the journey towards a new digital solution for its internal and external communications. For several years, the municipality had an external website and an intranet built on SharePoint that had reached their best-before dates. This meant challenges like cumbersome legacy technology, compromises and technical “patchwork quilts.” The solutions no longer satisfied the needs of users, and Nacka Municipality realized the time had come to tackle the question of its digital presence.
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After an extensive procurement process, NetRelations was awarded a prestigious contract to lead Nacka Municipality through an exciting project that culminated in a future-proof, lightweight, transparent and accessible solution for both external and internal communications. The solution, a combination of a citizen-facing website and an internal digital workplace, aims to guide employees and citizens alike as well as other vital stakeholders through an innovative digital experience.
Where accountability and courage unite
Early on in the project Nacka Municipality indicated a strong desire to stand at the forefront, with a clear ambition of finding fresh opportunities to encourage dialogue with its stakeholders, both internal and external. It was important for the municipality to summon the courage to try new, modern solutions while addressing key priority issues like sustainability, safety, security and control.
A common goal for the new solution quickly emerged during the project. It became clear that Nacka Municipality was prepared to take the first step towards a modern, service-based and task-oriented approach, where measurable business benefits and clear returns on investment formed its guiding principles.
Unlike municipalities with traditional websites, Nacka Municipality wanted to bring transparency into focus and had a clear vision for achieving this goal. It wanted to increase the transparency of its operations and break down the barriers between the different stakeholders. And it wanted to make clear to visitors that they were visiting one Nacka, a municipality where residents and other stakeholders work together to create a great local community.
NetRelations’ vision of a modern municipal website
We believe that modern government websites should be built on a powerful conceptual approach to service design. Successfully weaving together a personalized, task-solving digital workplace that promotes cooperation between employees and transparency for citizens represents the key to success for tomorrow’s digital solutions for local governments. By choosing market leading, proven platforms that create a solid technical foundation and that offer the chance to work long-term with key ingredients like sustainability and safety, Nacka is sure to create a recipe for success.
In Nacka Municipality’s case the choice of platform became central, since the basic requirement for the new solution was to avoid separate website and intranet solutions. Instead, the solutions were to be intertwined with regard to user experience and technnology. Managing such a solution places great demands on the selected platform.
Before we created Nacka Municipality’s new digital presence, a number of principles were formulated which guided our work:
- Nacka.se should be a common entry point regardless of the type of visitor — citizen, employee or other stakeholder
- Nacka.se should not choose what people want, but instead create the conditions for freedom of choice for everyone
- Nacka.se stands for transparency, trust and long-term improvement
- Nacka.se aims to promote interaction, knowledge-sharing and dialogue
- Nacka.se aims to be the entry point of choice for services and self-service
The following sections describe how we succeeded in uniting Nacka Municipality’s website with the internal elements of Nacka.se to attain one accessible, common solution.
Website and digital workplace in one accessible, common solution
The experience for Nacka residents: Service in focus
We know that a critical part of any modern local government site is its service offerings. Often, we see municipalities treat their websites more as an inward-to-outward information channel than as an interactive channel through which citizens can request, consume and interact with the municipality’s service offerings. As a result services often end up out of focus, hidden behind news feeds and long paragraphs of explanations. Yet at the same time, we know from experience that it’s precisely the services containing relevant information that visitors are often searching for on a municipal website.
As more and more e-services are rolled out in Swedish municipalities, the service offerings have come more sharply into focus than in the past. The e-services are often presented separately from the service offerings, as if services that can be requested digitally are a bit more special than the municipality’s other service offerings. But a service is a service, regardless of whether or not it can be requested electronically. For visitors who come to the site to apply for building permits, it doesn’t matter whether there happens to be an e-service or not — the service still needs to be ordered. The e-service is often just a nice-to-have extra. That’s why it’s the service itself (like daycare or garbage collection) that represents the natural starting point, rather than how the service is offered (like applying via a form or an e-mail service).
For Nacka Municipality’s new site, we started from the point of view of a Nacka resident and went on a “journey” through the municipality’s service offerings. We took on the role of a young couple who move to Nacka, get married, and later have children and need a daycare spot. We were someone who wanted to apply for a building permit but didn’t know beforehand that we needed new-development maps. We identified and gained an understanding of all these journeys as well as the different points of contact between residents and municipality in different situations and across different channels. This gave us a clear picture of what site visitors need at any given moment and in any given context, and what role the site therefore needed for it to be perceived as a continually relevant channel of communication.
Linked to this, the concept for Nacka.se placed great focus on the service offerings and how they were packaged, even though the services themselves did not happen to have related e-services. The services are, simply put, the expression of the municipality’s “products” and form the site’s main content.
Through a clear focus on services, we opened up the potential for residents to ask questions and submit their thoughts and ideas, contributing to a greater exchange of ideas and an open social interaction between municipality and citizens.
The employee experience: A digital workplace
Nacka Municipality’s intranet has grown from being a one-way channel and news platform to becoming a forum that supports users with their actual tasks, streamlines their day-to-day activities and promotes dialogue between colleagues.
Nacka’s new digital workplace is an extension of the real world that reflects the employees’ actual workplace and provides a platform that brings together the organization, employees and tools in one place. This digital workplace offers the same capabilities online as offline for collaboratation and knowledge-sharing among colleagues, access to necessary tools and relevant, timely information from the organization. Both the functionality and information at Nacka’s digital workplace aims to reflect the user’s reality.
The more internal elements of Nacka.se that replaced the old intranet are built from a task-based perspective. Starting with the user’s needs and job situation — Do employees sit at their office computers? Are they in the field visiting Nacka.se via cell phone? — creates the possibility to ensure that all employees can perform their tasks in the most efficient, satisfactory way possible. In simple terms, it’s all about conveying the right information to the right receiver at the right time.
The digital workplace “figures out” which information is of value to the employee based on the data we have about that user, and employees can also make custom adjustments to make sure that the content they see is relevant.
What to think about when designing a shared, accessible solution
Running the digital workplace and external site on a common technical platform is a good road forward, but there are a few challenges that should be addressed and resolved early on in the project.
Most of these challenges revolve around the great demands a common solution places on the concept and user interface, and on finding a design that works for both of these areas. In Nacka Municipality’s case, the customer wanted as many of the internal elements as possible to be fully accessible to external visitors. With this in mind, the solution had to be designed to be as useful and user-friendly as possible for both internal and external visitors.
But since a digital workspace and an external website cater to two very different audiences with distinct needs, it’s difficult to design a unified solution that is equally effective in allowing both audiences to reach their goals. This is because the amount of information and the features that have got to fit within the framework of the same design increase significantly, and so prioritization of the work must take into account many more factors. Information and functionality that are important for one target group can be more difficult to find and use when the other group’s information and functionality claim more attention.
Another challenge with this type of project is a purely communicative one: writing the content and creating information structures that work equally well for the different target groups. One language and format that works well within the municipality might not work well for an external audience, and vice versa. Visitors from both target groups can be exposed to content and features that simply don’t seem relevant to them.
In the case of Nacka Municipality, we decided not to let accessibility affect relevance. So, we assumed that the external website and the digital workspace would be designed primarily for the target group that each interface was targeted to. Through user studies we guided the design, rather than assuming a predetermined solution at the outset and assuming there should be a single interface for both purposes. As long as we succeeded in being clear about whom Nacka Municipality was reaching out to, accessibility as such did not pose a risk.
Nacka.se — A combination of Episerver, Microsoft Azure and Office 365
Nacka.se is built on several different products and services, each with its own role in the solution. For content editing and creating editorial content, Episerver DXC is used.
For the operation and licensing of Episerver, Nacka Municipality chose Episerver Digital Experience Cloud Service, a service that in turn uses Microsoft Azure for most of its infrastructure and that offers auto-scaling and a payment model based on application usage. The service also includes three environments, a CDN solution, advanced protection against various forms of attacks and a more or less unique SLA.
Collaboration workspaces in Office 365 are integrated with the web so that a user can access them via Nacka.se and do things like receive alerts in the workspaces.
So that users could move between the various systems and services and, for example, call different APIs from the new Nacka.se, an identity platform in the architecture was needed. The choice fell to the cloud service Auth0. The Episerver applications in the different environments only recognize Nacka Municipality’s Auth0 service, which in turn holds all connections and rules for the user directories that can be used to log on to Nacka.se. The municipality’s Azure AD, the most common social networks and its own directory, which can be accessed with an email address and password, are the current options for logging on to Nacka.se.
The overall result is a web platform that is always accessible and is perceived as stable, fast and reliable.
Tomorrow’s municipal websites deliver greater civic value
With the launch of Nacka.se, we succeeded in delivering a unique concept for a municipal website. Because along the way, we actively strove to avoid many of the traditional characteristics of a municipal website. And since we built an “experience layer” on top of the traditional municipal structure, we created a personal interface and thus a personal user experience with plenty of choices for the visitor. Nacka Municipality can now use information proactively in a whole new way. As an example, on the last day before the deadline for choosing schools it can create a “Don’t forget” notice on their website, and the visitor can press “Remind me” to get an alert. With minimal effort from Nacka Municipality, its citizens gain a better user experience and perceived benefit by being able to use that type of feature — a service and added value that not many other municipalities offer.
In addition to this new layer of experience, Nacka Municipality obtained a new and improved platform that is stable and easily maintained, and that enables collaboration both externally and internally in entirely new ways. The employees’ workday has been simplified because they know where to turn to find everything they need. And citizens can more easily request municipal services — whether analog or digital — since a new, clearer solution is available that explains the range of services. The municipality’s incredibly broad operations and all related information can now be easily grasped by its citizens, who can control and choose the information they are interested in at any given moment — and shape Nacka.se to their own.