- Andrew Millar - 12 April 2019, 04:30
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I talked in a previous post about where we’ve got to with the new site implementation. What I would like to focus on for this post is on some of the specifics around what will be coming in July as we start the phased roll out.
When it comes to essential content, course pages rank high on our requirements list. Within Web Services, the wider marketing teams, Admissions and Student Recruitment and Quality Assurance, we spend a significant portion of our human and technical resource on managing this content and ensuring they are up to date and correct. They are viewed over 4 million times every year and are crucial to our drive to recruit students, especially in an international context.
As part of this project, and as a consequence of the research we’ve completed with our target audiences, we are undertaking a complete review and redesign of all our course pages to ensure that they are fit for purpose. This is a huge piece of work that currently has four content designers dedicated to it full time who in turn are working alongside marketing officers for each school. They in turn will be working with academics and students to update existing and source new content to ensure our course pages are working hard for us.
Given the size of this task we are focusing on Undergraduate courses initially for the July launch (over 240 courses and nearly 1500 pages), and then moving onto other course types in the next phase. A large portion of this work is to try and bring as much information in from core corporate systems as possible to ensure we are keeping information in sync wherever possible. At the moment there is no one system that holds all the information required for a course page, so we’ve been undertaking a data modelling and consolidation exercise to bring that information together from different sources.
As we considered the types of content that we needed to publish as part of the new site, “Guides” became an obvious focus. Much of the research we conducted showed that our current students and staff spend a large percentage of their time on the site looking for information on “how to do something”. Guides help us re-imagine that type of information in de-siloed manner that’s geared towards a future where voice search will become a dominant mechanism through which you’ll access information. This is a concept we’ve been working with colleagues in other professional services to create over the past two years (e.g. UoDIT) and have had great feedback on. We’ll be taking this to the next level by providing central places to find this information as well as making them available in individual sections.
One of the core tasks that users perform on the site currently is “trying to find someone”. This is hardly surprising given how large an organisation we are as well as the world class reputation our people have. Therefore we’re working to provide a directory that covers people within the University and gives everyone a chance to have a “digital home” whether you are part of our academic or professional services communities. A large part of this work is looking at bringing information in direct from our HR systems so that it is kept as up to date as possible.
Initial imports will include people on full staff University contracts but will not include Associate or Honorary members of staff. We will be working with Schools and Directorates to define who of our Associate and Honorary members of staff should be included. Whilst we will be moving to giving everyone a profile, we also understand that there are times when members of staff should not be included on the site for a variety of reasons. There is no central dataset available that defines who these people are currently, so we will again be working with Schools and Directorates to exclude these people from the import.
Profiles will go through several iterations and releases. Initially we will be importing information relating to core contact details (e.g. email addresses and telephone numbers), but also giving the ability for people to add photos as well as information relating to Teaching and Research activities and general overviews. Additional functionality will then be developed and released as we define the road map in line with business priorities.
Continual Improvement, Continual Integration
As I’ve looked at the things that slow our progress both as a web services team and a wider web community over the years, the myriad different designs, functionality and implementations are at the top of that list. Our core website has grown organically over the last 20 years, but especially over the last 10 years on our current implementation. We’re now increasingly moving towards developing standard components that can change and react to individual contexts that allow us to develop once and deploy everywhere. That being said, we’re trying to replace 10 years of legacy with fully thought out solutions, and we’ve just hit month 5 of that development. So not everything will be available at once.
Once we go live, things wont be staying the same. You’ll see components evolve as we receive feedback from our testing sessions and audience feedback. You’ll see additional functionality being brought on board and existing capabilities being enhanced. As we set up our new infrastructure and the processes that support it, the ability to version, test and integrate our code is at its heart.