20.1.2021

HSY (Helsinki Region Environmental Services) customer service was drowning in the same questions every day. The situation was especially straining, as the answers could have been found on the website. Clearly, there was a problem with findability.

The HSY.fi website technical platform needed an update, and the directive on the accessibility of the websites and mobile applications of public sector required changes in any case. HSY decided to take the customer focused approach seriously and the online service concept was completely redone. The new site presents the wanted services in an ideal way, but this change did not happen by itself. The renewal required persistent work, effort and time.

Clarifying the service concept focus

The HSY.fi website reconceptualization began with background research: all possible foreknowledge, user statistics, the number of customer service calls and their topics, feedback, research results and other ground reports were gathered and analyzed.   

This material was used to conclude what information the customers are looking for, what it is they cannot find, and why it is they cannot find it. The issues with the HSY.fi online service were recognized and prioritized based on the level of severity. After this, the reparation planning started with the most severe issues.

HSY put together a development team with representation from all the organization’s operative areas. This development team worked together with outside experts to come up with ideas and principles that would make the HSY.fi online service content more responsive to user needs.

Painful pruning and deleting

This kind of process is not easy: the planning group must have courage to question all the solutions that have been the base of online communications for years.

All the content accumulated during the years must be assessed with cruelty: even if the texts written for the site were smart and useful, they may not correlate with the goals of serving the target audiences. Therefore, they must be relinquished. Even if a service or function is crucial for the HSY operations, it may not be important for the online service users.

In any organization, it is natural that the employees feel their work is appreciated when it is visible on the organization website. When the online service communication is reconceptualized, a lot of content is typically lopped off hard handedly. Seeing your own territory or content “thrown away” feels like the work effort is being minimized, and this can hardly be avoided.

So, the conceptualizing work requires emotional intelligence and discretion from the project manager. There are cruel, matter-of-fact policies to be implemented, but you still need to maintain friendly cooperation, even though the content evaluation unavoidably can hurt personal feelings.

HSY renewal project manager Tuula Panula saw it best to get some support for this: “For this phase, it was beneficial to have guidance from an external partner, and North Patrol’s encouragement in content evaluation was very useful.”

Clarifying the concept idea

A concept plan was made in order to fix the HSY.fi online service. The plan reorganized the website’s parsing principles, content structure and presentation into a completely new order.  

The most important policies in the new service concept follow these principles:

  1. Bringing forward the services for customers: HSY’s direct services for customers are made with the most visible website content (even though they are not the most intrinsic part of operations). Main messages include clear instructions explaining what services HSY provides and how the digital self-service channels work. The most sought after services are highlighted more than other services. The services are thematically linked (instead of linking them according to organizational units) and the language includes terms used by customers.
  2. The expert information is separated from the presentation of services for customers. This expert information is the essential end result produced by the HSY operations. The produced environmental knowledge and other descriptions of HSY operations form a “database” with classes and keywords. This database can be utilized when browsing and sharing expert knowledge.

In summary, the new concept idea required dividing the online service information content into “services for customers” and “background knowledge”. This kind of division is by no means self-evident.

Likewise, in practice, the new concept meant that the large tree hierarchy structure used in HSY website planning for a decade had to be dismantled into service themes and information article categories. Instead of planning “a sub-branch” of some part of the hierarchy structure, the content producers now had to think of every page as a potential front page and, as such, an essential part of the big picture. 

This kind of turn-around in concept idea really requires a lot from content producers. The designer must abandon all the familiar ways in which they for decades understood website substance and structuring. It is not enough to “take care of one’s own territory,” as the content you are responsible for must be linked to the big picture in all overlapping places. The content also needs to be planned in cooperation with others.  

The new concept idea can only be realized if all the online service pages adhere to its idea and logic. The site will not work according to the new concept if the content producers haven’t adopted it. This is why the concept idea must be repeated to the content managers over and over again.

Redesigning the content in the light of the new concept

HSY started the content turn-around with workshops. About thirty designers participated, and the group included content managers from all organization units. 

The workshops addressed the new concept idea with some high-level outlining on how the website contents transform according to the new concept. Topics discussed included questions like what is “customer service”, what is “background information”, what kind of themes can be built around them, and what kind of content will be completely removed. 

The new concept idea was given a rough content outline: what kind of thematic entities are the HSY services for customers forming and what services are included, and what kind of themes make up the background information entities of the “database”. 

These joint design workshops played a key role in ensuring that the content designers adopted the idea of a common HSY.fi service. Everyone was involved in assessing what the services meant for customers and making the painful decisions about content removal or information priority. 

“Adopting the new model was challenging, but in the end we managed to make it our new way of parsing our content,” states project manager Tuula Panula.

Presenting and launching the new concept

In this preliminary phase, it is very challenging to grasp the new concept idea. It is just a conceptual model of thought, a collection of vague mind maps. There may be some suggestive wireframes trying to make the idea concrete, but these wireframes can easily end up being misleading. 

Yet, at this point the concept idea must be presented, marketed and “sold” widely both within and outside the organization. This is necessary in order to make the concept into a project, so that the online service planning and implementation work can start. 

The new service concept idea promotion requires suitable presentation materials, that needs to be: 

  • sufficiently concrete and demonstrative, so that the idea can be understood
  • on a sufficiently general level and incomplete, so that the evaluation doesn’t get stuck on word forms, layout issues or other small beers. 

With the help of the North Patrol consultants, the new HSY.fi concept was made into a 30 slide promotional deck. This material summarized the starting points of the new concept, content ideas, different content types roles in the big picture, as well as different structural parts and their parsing logic. The technological choices were presented in a way that showed how these tools would solve the development needs. The solutions were demonstrated with rough, preliminary wireframe models. 

This promotional material was used to present the new service concept to different groups inside HSY’s large organization. This way, the staff were acquainted with the project on the idea level already, which facilitated commitment to the online service focus change and encouraged a new service attitude right from the beginning.

The new concept was presented to the management team, which made sure the concept had the management’s acceptance and backing. Getting the management to commit is important in order to get the needed human resources from the organization in a timely manner. 

The staff members involved in the conceptualizing work also presented the concept idea in their own units and teams. 

The service concept as a starting point for the online service implementation

When the decision was made to start tendering, acquiring and starting the new online service, special attention was given to make sure the new concept-idea was the base of all planning. 

The presentation methods, management tools and functionalities included in the service concept were summarized into requirements. Creuna, the partner who won the tendering, took on the planning tasks based on these requirements. The work included user experience design, visuals and technical solutions. 

The service concept design idea was once more presented to both Creuna and participating HSY staff in the implementation kick-off event. This was to make sure that all parties involved in the planning work have the project goals clarified for themselves. 

This is a challenging phase in project management. The internal process of content management requires a lot of coordination while at the same time, one needs to oversee the technical implementation partners (and user interface designers) work, which is also very time-consuming. The concept idea must be protected both in content planning and in implementation details. At the same time, the specialists must be allowed room to adapt and apply the concept according to their areas of responsibility. 

Typically, the online service implementation project group has a good representation from the IT department or technical service applications area. However, at least the same amount of contribution is needed from content designers, who take care of the concept vision. Specialists from different units partake in the project group in order to make sure their area of responsibility is visible on the site. This can easily lead to prioritizing conservative solutions, or the concept idea is compromised in some dispute over some singular term and its visibility. 

At HSY, the concept idea was repeated over and over again in order to make sure all the partaking specialists understood the long-term role and fate of their content within the new concept. 

“We did go back and forth with the concept slides a lot when we were repeatedly learning to look at our site from the customer point of view,” states project manager Tuula Panula.  

Someone in the organization is always hearing about the concept for the first time. You just have to patiently go along with repetition. 

Structural plan: Not just headlines, but a complete script

The work to clarify a content plan according to the new HSY concept idea began by creating a structural plan. New website content was not mapped with Excel’s presenting headlines in a hierarchy. Instead, the contents were laid into a structure level plan. 

The preliminary content theme drafts were compiled into a document that did include all the new online service page headlines in a hierarchy, but every page was also given a content draft. Each page received a list of bullet points describing what the page was about, what were the most important messages on that page, and to what destinations the page was linking to. 

This kind of structural outline gives the whole planning group a more precise picture of what kind of things exist on different pages. A single headline (such as “Waste water”) in the Excel says very little about the actual content and who it is aimed at. 

The structural plan was refined in workshops, which focused on each page and its parts individually. 

Again, the workshops started with presenting the original concept idea: content designers were once again reminded of why the website is being renewed into this new form. 

The workshops included experts in each website section (some groups had more than 20 participants). The groups would clarify what kind of content is needed on each page and how these contents are linked to each other. The central themes of the section were recognized, and by working together the groups were able to produce an idea of what kind of things are handled within what themes. 

The structural script produced in workshops was used to delegate individual pages or content branches to designated content teams. These teams would further refine the structural raw script into a final content script for the website. 

At this point, the new HSY website was simultaneously worked on in two ways: the content planners were writing scripts for the pages and experts from Creuna were planning the user interface models. 

This can easily produce a chicken and egg problem: there’s no point for the user interface designers to be guessing on lorem ipsum page models, as the interface elements should be based on real content texts. On the other hand, the content producers have a hard time coming up with those scripts without knowing what kind of page base or interface frames they are writing for. 

At this point, HSY project manager Tuula focused on making the text reader friendly: “North Patrol’s workshops helped the content producers to see what it is we are looking for, so that they would understand why the texts need to be shortened in order to make the website user experience as customer friendly and pleasant as possible.

Content mentors for content sections

HSY named content mentors for each section to oversee the writing process of their section. The content mentors would meet up fortnightly and coordinate common policies for content work progress. 

The scripts for the new website were written down in a Word-document. The document included a unified presentation of text maturity, responsible people, background materials, and guidelines on the use of illustrations and image saving. 

As the pages were written in forehand, the actual content input with the new content management system was effortless. HSY would recruit two project workers, who would be the first ones to delve into the new content management system (Episerver CMS). They would create the website structure into the system, choose the appropriate page models for different content and feed the script text contents into the pages.

The concept must be defended for a long time

As the new HSY.fi service had started to form in the new content management system, it was presented in-house to different interest groups, future content producers and editors. 

Even in this phase, the project manager was answering many questions about the outlook of the site or some missing, previously used presentation format. The project manager needs to be patient and ready to explain the concept idea in words of one syllable time and time again. Once you have repeated it enough, eventually everyone understood and accepted the new ways of presentation. 

The new HSY service was published as a beta version during the corona spring and the actual service, with language versions, was opened in summer 2020. The site adheres to the concept vision for the most parts, although the planning journey did include some quick and agile turns. 

The new online service has been well received, and the feedback has been tentatively positive. 

“The outlook has gained thanks, but we have also received some user feedback saying all content cannot be found. This is the eternal problem of content findability… It poses challenges, especially for the internal site search and search engine optimization.”

Project manager Tuula Panula was carrying major challenges on a marathon journey. This work has given her experiences of success and joy of working with professional partners: “HSY staff interest towards the project was admirable throughout the project. Open conversation and the will to develop the online service are part of the good culture among the HSY experts.”

Project details

HSY.fi

Technology platform: Episerver CMS

Project cost scope: approximately 250 000 €

Key phases of the project:

Spring 2018: Concepting and technological choices, North Patrol

Fall 2018 – Spring 2019: Definitions and tendering, North Patrol

Fall 2019: Technical implementation, Creuna

Spring-summer 2020: Content production, refinement and publishing, HSY, Netlight

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