I talked in a previous post about where we are with the implementation of the new site. What I’d like to focus on for this post is some of the details of what’s coming in July when we start the phased rollout.
When it comes to essential content, course pages are at the top of our list of requirements. Within Web Services, the wider marketing teams, student admissions and recruitment, and quality assurance, we devote a significant portion of our human and technical resources to managing this content and ensuring it is current and correct . They are viewed over 4 million times a year and are central to our drive to recruit students, especially in an international context.
As part of this project, and as a result of the research we have completed with our target audience, we are undertaking a comprehensive review and redesign of all of our course pages to ensure they are fit for purpose. This is a massive job that currently has four full time dedicated content designers who in turn work alongside the marketing officers for each school. In turn, they will work with academics and students to update existing content and source new content to ensure our course pages work hard for us.
Given the size of this task, we are initially focusing on the graduate courses for the July launch (240+ courses and nearly 1500 pages), and then move on to other course types in the next phase. Much of this work is trying to bring in as much information as possible from core business systems to ensure we keep information in sync where possible. There is currently no system that contains all of the information required for a course page, so we undertook a data modeling and consolidation exercise to bring together that information from disparate sources.
Considering the types of content we needed to publish as part of the new site, « Guides » became an obvious target. Much of the research we have conducted has shown that our current students and staff spend a large percentage of their time on the site looking for « how to do something » information. The guides help us reimagine that kind of information in a de-siloed way that is geared towards a future where voice search will become a dominant mechanism by which you access information. This is a concept that we have been working with colleagues from other professional services to create over the last couple of years (eg What does it mean?) and have received excellent feedback. We’ll take it to the next level by providing central places to find this information and making it available in individual sections.
One of the main activities that users currently perform on the site is « trying to find someone ». This is not surprising given our large organization and the world-class reputation of our employees. We are therefore working to provide a directory that covers people across the University and empowers everyone to have a ‘digital home’, whether you are part of our academic or professional services communities. Much of this work involves bringing information directly from our HR systems so it is kept as up-to-date as possible.
Initial imports will include individuals on full-time university contracts, but will not include associate or honorary staff members. We will work with Schools and Directorates to define which of our associate and honorary staff members should be included. While we’ll be moving to give everyone a profile, we also understand that there are times when staff members shouldn’t be included on the site for a variety of reasons. There is no central data set that defines who these individuals currently are, so we will again be working with schools and management to exclude these individuals from importation.
Profiles will go through several iterations and releases. We’ll initially import information about key contact details (e.g. email addresses and phone numbers), but we’ll also give people the ability to add photos, as well as teaching and research information and general overviews. Further features will then be developed and released as we define the road map in line with business priorities.
Continuous improvement, continuous integration
As I’ve looked over the years at the things that hold back our progress both as a web services team and the wider web community, the myriad of different designs, features, and implementations top that list. Our main website has grown organically over the past 20 years, but especially over the past 10 years on our current implementation. We are now moving more and more towards developing standard components that can change and react to individual contexts allowing us to develop once and deploy anywhere. That said, we are looking to replace 10 years of heritage with fully thought out solutions and have just hit month 5 of that development. So not everything will be available at once.
Once we go live, things won’t stay the same. You will see the components evolve as we get feedback from our testing sessions and feedback from the public. You will see additional features introduced on board and existing features enhanced. As we set up our new infrastructure and the processes that support it, the ability to release, test, and integrate our code takes center stage.