The brief: Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) is a not-for-profit organisation that is operated by local community volunteers and supported by a national body that works to ensure that all individuals have access to information and advice about their rights, responsibilities, and services available.

CAB required a new public website backed by a powerful knowledge base search, along with a full intranet for their more than 2,600 trained volunteers in more than 80 locations around New Zealand.


Unlocking the Knowledge

Because CAB has a wide range of topics that it helps individuals about, one of the biggest challenges of the project was working out how to present over forty thousand knowledge base items to users quickly and accurately.

Somar undertook a Design Sprint early on in the project to fully understand the problem, and in 5 days, we prototyped and tested potential solutions that gave us insights and directions for the project build.


Harnessing the Power of Elastic

Through our Design Sprint, we found users responded well to be able to search for their query using natural language. We wanted users to be able to ask the website questions, and for it to accurately return relevant results. We implemented a smart search solution using Elastic Search technology which takes the tens of thousands of pieces of content and can return search suggestions and results within milliseconds.

We further configured the search to weight particular parts of the content such as page titles and location meta data above general paragraph content, along with adding in support for spelling correction, fuzzy matching and synonyms, all to ensure the search would return the best possible results for users.

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A Complete Solution

The public facing website was only one part of the project. Somar also built a full internal dashboard to be used by all CAB volunteers across the country to manage their interactions with clients when they visit a physical CAB location.

This dashboard overhauled the way that CAB volunteers manage their client interaction records, and added ways for volunteers to help individuals quicker and more efficiently.

A quick user-switcher login system was created on top of the existing SilverStripe user system to enable volunteers to more easily login when picking up their shifts, or switching between computers.

This intranet dashboard allows control of restricted areas of content and CAB staff management for managers in an easy-to-use format without requiring a log in to the more complex website Content Management System backend.


With millions of client interactions and hundreds being added each day, CAB wanted to be able to generate powerful reports that could be used to help exert a responsible influence on the development of social policies and services, both locally and nationally.

Somar turned to Kibana; software used alongside Elastic Search to generate a wide range of reports very quickly and with the ability to add to and adapt these reports over time.

The decision to use modern, yet well-supported technology allowed us to spend time building new features and advanced functionality rather than “reinventing the wheel”.

Overcoming Challenges

Every project has issues and roadblocks. Somar rolls with the punches and learns from everything we do:


Migration of millions of pieces of data

One of the biggest challenges for this project was determining the best way to migrate the gigabytes of database information from one format to another. Somar set up migration scripts that could be run to bring across basic information, and then re-run as we built out further parts of the project and required more of the data. This allowed us to be sure that we did not get stuck with a massive migration task at the end of the project.

Striking the right tone

When users visit the CAB website, it could be because they are looking for information or assistance on any number of topics. We had to ensure that the entire website struck the right tone for visitors who could be in a stressful situation and looking for help. As part of our visual design for the website, we created illustrations and undertook user testing to get an insight into how users felt when navigating the website.