Project: Design, Code & Implement CMS at University of Richmond
Description: In-house creation and implementation of a Content Management System (CMS) at the University of Richmond. According to the University’s metrics for the 2007-08 academic year, the CMS we created provided the tools for 185 editors to easily maintain 125 unique University web sites. (Source: richmond.edu)
Problem: The University’s web site was a collection of individual department sites largely created on a departmental level with whatever resources and talent could be brought by that single department. Although of course there were university standards, each area (e.g. Admissions, Arts & Sciences, Facilities Management, Alumni and Development, Athletics, Modlin Center) pretty much dictated how their site should be organized and maintained. Skill levels varied greatly from area to area. Not only did this create a inferior product overall, it greatly increased support costs, contributor frustration, and prospective student (our “customer”) confusion.
(Photo below indicates the components of a “typical” content management system [whatever “typical” means]. ~~ Photo source: terminalfour.com)
Assessment: After a series of meetings with stakeholders and end users, it was determined that separating content from design and coding would best address our problems. My department (Web Development) investigated potential solutions and scheduled vendor presentations open to not only to Information Systems personnel but all stakeholders and end users. We found that commercial Content Management Systems were too expensive and didn’t really meet the needs of our community. We devised a plan – with the help of an outside consultant – to create a CMS to meet our requirements.
Methodology: We used a methodology which can best be described as “academic agile.” Our methodology included creating and testing a small prototype. This was reviewed by representative users across campus. We made revisions, tested, retested, until we were confident that the prototype represented a scalable solution. We then enlisted the Arts & Sciences department as our first live model. Again, we used the agile method of prototype, evaluate and scale, for each significant component. We enlisted the help of the A&S administrative assistants who would ultimately maintain their site. We tested in a variety of circumstances including a usability lab we’d created with the help of the Psychology department. Once the CMS was successfully rolled out in A&S, we repeated the process, working our way through the various departments and offices of the university.
Budget, Scope and Schedule: The first challenge was to explain to the university community what a CMS was (in the early days of web when we were still using terms like “webmaster” invoking the image of some techie hunched over a keyboard with too much caffeine in his blood). Therefore budget money did not flow in – we had to prove ourselves every step of the way. Initially, I carved out part of my budget to cover consultant costs, prototyping and initial roll-out in A&S. We persuaded the dean of A&S to contribute some of his funds to the effort. I knew that once we proved the value of the system, we would be able to secure funding for a campus wide effort and that in fact was the case. It was critical to draw a firm line around the scope of the project. With so many stakeholders and competing interests, it would have been chaos to run down roads that would have led to project destroying mission creep. Just as an example, the Director of Athletics wanted the capability to send box-scores to media outlets. And our schedule had to be sensitive to the university environment including exam schedules, summer break, and so on.
Team: The Web Development team consisted of a director (me), a programmer and a graphic designer, along with a dedicated group of very talented students. We created an RFP to seek the best outside consultant to assist in our efforts. As it turned out, the winning bid came from my programmer’s former employer – she’d left on good terms to join us – so having that relationship in place really made a difference. We provided an opportunity for the programmer to take classes in Cold Fusion (our CMS software language) and Oracle (database). We increased our student staff to pick up routine assignments to free up our programmer’s time. I took high-level Cold Fusion classes to understand the possibilities offered by the software. We recruited the University’s database administrator because our enterprise system used Oracle and his assistance was invaluable.
Stake Holders: Stakeholders (e.g. department chairs, provost, university president) were kept informed every step of the way. We initiated monthly “brown bag lunches” and invited the university community to review our progress. The student newspaper interviewed my department. Regular status reports were sent out via email along with reporting to the web standards committee, faculty meetings, and so on.
End Users and Training: The administrative staff in A&S were invaluable in the design of the system and the training offered to other departments. In fact, two of the individuals in A&S assisted my department in teaching subsequent classes. By the way, we took it upon ourselves to work with Human Resources and the A&S dean to ensure they were compensated for their efforts. Before the system could be implemented in any given area, training was a requirement. The Web Development office also worked with our IS Help Desk to ensure that their personnel understood the system and could offer support.
Value Added: Administrative costs were reduced. Content creators could concentrate on creating content; not if a tag was missing or a photograph was five times the width of the web page. According to the University’s metrics for the 2007-08 year, the CMS we created provided the tools for 185 editors to easily maintain 125 unique University web sites. We achieved economies of scale by creating the ability to teach classes in one system rather than a hodgepodge of systems. An administrative assistant from one office could pinch-hit for another admin. Most importantly, the University was able to present a web site with a consistent look-and-feel, standard navigation, and a with a quality that represented the school.