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Reflections on a Year with Plone: Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
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Reflections on a Year with Plone: Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences


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Eliza Grinnell and Lesley Lam from Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences discussion their experiences with Plone at a university, including the planning, implementation and launch of a …

Eliza Grinnell and Lesley Lam from Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences discussion their experiences with Plone at a university, including the planning, implementation and launch of a public site, intranet and faculty websites.

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  • Introductions Eliza Grinnell - Project Manager and designer in Communications Office Lesley Lam - Application Programmer Analyst & all around web guru. ---------------- • Founded in 1847 but became a school in 2007. • Our campus is located near the law school off of Oxford Street. • Faculty involved in a variety of research including…..
  • • Almost 1,000 in our community broken down as follows
  • • Started Jan 2008 • Launched in Late August 2009 • Decided it was time for a CMS-backed website and our IT Office was very interested in open source. They narrowed it down to Drupal and Plone. Decided on Plone because of its ability to scale (check this) and its reliability. • Started with a plan to develop a public-facing website but the project grew as we progressed. • It’s also worth noting that during the course of this project we got a new Dean, new Associate Dean, new Director of Web Technology, and a new HR Director, A CFO, the new Harvard Director of Digital Communications came on board.
  • • I’ll talk briefly about each component and what we’ve learned after a year of working with this technology.
  • • Developed in house my me, Lesley Lam, and my husband. • Worked fine mostly. Got 900K hits/year in 2008. Created with HTML and PHP. The PHP made editing it in Dreamweaver pretty challenging. • With a the checking in and out of files we were constantly locking each other out of the site, occasionally overwriting files, back end was a mess of stray and draft pages. • We needed a CMS - just for ourselves and we wanted to make it easier for others to contribute content. • Wanted some changes to the interface (larger photo, surfaced nav, more flexible featured event area) -------------------- • Postgres database with PHP for employee directory. • Web stats for 2008 (just under 1 million/year), dropped to around 700k in 2009
  • • Jazkarta created this lovely site design • Now getting over 1 million hits/year • Very positive feedback directly from our administration, through word of mouth, and even voted best Harvard website by Harvard Voice. People seem to especially like the expanded navigation. • Currently when you search for “engineering and applied sciences” we come up second in the search results - pretty good. • We update content on the site daily (news items, press releases, Q&As, events etc.). Ease of content entry makes that less of a burden. Don’t have to toggle between various pages using Dreamweaver and dynamic data entry tools. • Big feature area lets us really focus attention on anything from current research, awards, or special events depending on what’s most important.
  • • This gets a lot of use and displays a news archive organized by year and month.
  • • Internally, we created an improved employee database in Active Directory and Jazkarta helped us create a really nice interface that displays this information. • We are also displaying some additional CV-type data specifically for faculty and we decided to store this additional data in Plone. the directory alone or the full site
  • • So thrilled to have a CMS. Michael and I are still the ones making all the content updates. Not because it’s not easy to use. • Now have a organized file structure, there’s no overwriting, content updates are faster to implement. • Site doesn’t go down - which was happening periodically before. • Searching the site is really easy so people can find what they need. • Pages look consistent. • We like that it integrates well with our Active Directory employee database. ------------------------------------- • Consistency - sometimes you want to create something non standard such as an unusual table, some unusually styled type, or quickly adjust the site design for a couple of pages for a one-off event. Can’t do that - true for any CMS. • We’re still building in-house expertise and don’t have budget anymore for Plone assistance so making changes to design or functionality has become more challenging and slower but that should improve with time. • Learning curve is a little steep but Lesley will talk about that later. • Lastly, the culture of our IT Office has changed over the past couple of years and now embraces Microsoft technology so there’s internal debate about whether to switch everything to Sharepoint. But I won’t comment on that!
  • • Got some things we want to add and improve on but in the interest of time I won’t go into detail. • Suffice it to say that optimizing the site for mobile technology has become a priority and Nate has helped us out by writing a blog entry on this very subject. • Actually our next big challenge is….
  • • New culture of creating, consuming, and sharing where information about our school has to be constantly repackaged and delivered in different ways via different social networks. • All websites are essentially becoming content archives • Study just done that show Facebook has become a bigger driver of traffic to online news than traditional news portals. • But that’s a whole other topic.
  • • Life before the intranet was full of questions - Who who do I contact to get a key? How do I order software and do I have to pay for it? Where can I get hold of a time sheet? • The only way to find out was to start knocking on doors and hope you found the right person. • Many policies hadn’t been developed and if they had been developed they lived in the minds of individual employees. We had almost no institutional memory. • Associate Dean felt that fixing this problem was a priority to fix this problem.
  • • After about 1 year of meetings, emails, freelance writers, and a lot of follow-up we finally developed enough content to start with. • Our new intranet currently get 45K visits total, 10K seem to be curious visitors from outside of MA • Most of the traffic from people looking for help from IT Office (esp. webmail & printers), room reservations, academic forms. • Each office within SEAS has their own section. We have active participation from at least one person in each office - mostly. • Bulk of the work still done by Communications - it’s a work in progress. • No workflow on either site. Didn’t need it yet. • Had thought our community might use it as a source for news, announcements, and collaboration but realize at the moment it is really primarily an archive. • Plan to rethink what it is and what it should be. Delve deeper into Google analytics.
  • • Since the site is still really in development, we’re constantly shifting content around - creating sections and getting rid of others. • Plone handles these changes really well. Would never be able to do that with HTML. • We love that the site search will search document content as well as pages. • I’ve trained people how to use the site in .5 hr and they’re pretty much up and running after that with the exception of a few phone calls. • Plone lets you create these smaller content modules called collections and portlets and those have been really useful ways to display smaller content nuggets. Some complications - on the other hand - include: • As with the public site, we still very dependant on Lesley’s limited time and can’t make all the design changes we’d like to as quickly as we’d like to. • Our IT Office has recently invested in Microsoft Technology and is expressing interest in shifting to Sharepoint because it integrates so well with MS Office. Won’t comment on that. • Still facing the pains that result from slow culture change.
  • • Faculty are free to develop their personal and research group websites any way they’d like. • We don’t have the staffing to offer web design support. Can only make suggestions. • As a result site design was all over the map
  • • We can finally offer a template that provides some consistency and is simple enough staff assistants with limited computer skills can maintain the content.
  • Love how easy it is to use for the staff assistants and how easy it is to set up group permissions. The sites themselves are also easy to create. Love that I can help faculty assistants with web questions without having to leave my desk. On the down side - • We had Jazkarta create the template as instance under the umbrella of the public site so all the group sites display the school name as the browser title. • Also somewhat challenging that they share a code base so we can’t allow customization for specific research groups • Need to break them out into stand-alone units. • Lastly, not surprisingly content copy and pasted from Work or the web can create problems. That happens a lot. No good way around that.
  • Transcript

    • 1. Reflections on a Year with Plone
    • 2. About Us
      • Areas of Research
      • Applied Mathematics
      • Applied Physics
      • Bioengineering
      • Computer Science
      • Electrical Engineering
      • Environmental Sciences & Engineering
      • Mechanical Engineering
    • 3. About Us
      • Community
      • 83 faculty
      • 358 grad students
      • 415 undergrads
      • 122 staff
      • Total Community = 978
    • 4. Recap Hired Jazkarta for 3 projects • public site • intranet (a.k.a community site) • template for faculty websites
    • 5. Agenda Public Site Intranet Faculty Websites Developer Notes
    • 6. Agenda Public Site Intranet Faculty Websites Developer Notes
    • 7. Public Site - before
      • 900K hits/year
      • HTML and PHP
      • Editing in Dreamweaver
      • File handling challenges
      • Messy back end
      • Interface changes
    • 8. Public Site - after • 1 million+ visits/year • Positive feedback • Voted as “best” Harvard website by Harvard Voice • #2 in search results for “engineering and applied sciences” • Ease of updating helps daily content updates • Nice big area for features
    • 9. Public Site - after • Customized news & press release area
    • 10. Public Site - after • Internally developed new employee database in AD • Plone pulls data from newly created database. • Expanded faculty data lives in Plone. • Visitors can search the directory alone or full site
    • 11. Public Site - one year later Success • Having any CMS at all. Hooray! • Ease of use • Organized files + no overwriting • Stability • Searchability • Consistency • Integrates well with our AD personnel database. Challenge • Consistency can be a problematic • Rely more on technical help for changes to design • Adding functionality requires technical expertise that we’re still growing in house. • Steep learning curve. • Recent investment in Microsoft technology presents challenges.
    • 12. Public Site - future plans • Improve events calendar functionality & display. • Optimize for mobile devices. • Add video, some Flash, Add This button • Continue tweaking content formatting and site design
    • 13. Next Challenge - new culture • New culture of creating, consuming, and sharing. • Decentralization of content (Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, iTunes, etc) • Website no longer the sole source of external communications
    • 14. Agenda Public Site Intranet Faculty Websites Developer Notes
    • 15. Intranet - before
      • Lots of questions
      • Knock on doors for answers
      • Undeveloped policies
      • Few written down
      • No institutional memory
      • Paper-based forms
      • Commitment to change
    • 16. Intranet - after
      • 45K visits/year total
      • Documented policies!
      • Some community involvement
      • Primarily a policy archive and document repository
      • Work in progress
    • 17. Intranet - one year later Success • Accommodates frequent changes to content structure • Searchable pages & documents are essential for a site of this type • Easy to use for the web novice. • Only 1/2 hr training • Can do tech support intervention from your desk • Like the portlets. Easy to update. Good for news nuggets. Challenge • Rely more on technical help for changes to design. • Recent investment in Microsoft technology presents challenges. • Still facing technophobia, staff cutbacks, and process change resistance.
    • 18. Agenda Public Site Intranet Faculty Websites Developer Notes
    • 19. Faculty websites - before
    • 20. Faculty websites - after (for some)
    • 21. Faculty websites - one year later Success • Having a full featured template that can be supported by faculty assistants • Easy to create • Easy to customize group permissions • Migrating content is quick • Easy to learn and maintain Challenge • Title displays school name only. • Faculty want some ability to customize. Currently one code base for all. • Challenges cutting and pasting content directly from MS Word.
    • 22. Agenda Public Site Intranet Faculty Websites Developer Notes
    • 23. Development notes
      • Stability
      • Administration
      • Development
      • Design