Seven hundred University websites to change platform
By Neale McDevitt
Moving is never fun. There’s the packing, the schlepping all your stuff from here to there, the unpacking and installing and, of course, making sure nothing got lost in transit.
For Karl Jarosiewicz, Senior Manager, Web Production, and his team of web developers, the next 14 months is going to feel somewhat akin to an extended move as they help transfer between 650 and 700 McGill websites from the old web publishing platform to a new one. The one big difference? They’ll have upward of 800 movers helping them.
In fact, the Web Development and Production team, along with trainers from IT Customer Services will facilitate hundreds of McGill web managers and editors as they transfer their respective pages. If all goes according to schedule, McGill’s myriad of web pages will be up and running on the new Web Management System by December 2011.
“We’re trying to make this as simple as possible,” Jarosiewicz said. “We’re not asking the web managers to cut and paste each page. The process involves eight steps and uses migration tools – little pieces of software and scripts – that pulls information from the old system and puts it in a similar space in the new system. It takes all the menus, page content, documents, images, video files, etc. and puts them in the correct places on the new website. That’s about 75 per cent of the job right there.”
The move to this new open-source platform is a natural evolution for McGill websites that will allow for increased flexibility, accessibility and expandability.
“We developed the old platform in-house with a very small contingent of developers and programmers,” Jarosiewicz explained. “Over the years, we’ve found that it is difficult to maintain the platform and to build on it at the same time with just a handful of developers. When we started doing this, close to 10 years ago, there was no affordable alternative, no better tool than the one we could build. But that’s no longer true. There are some terrific things out there, and this new platform answers virtually all of our needs.”
McGill’s new platform is based on software called Drupal, a remarkable piece of work that is constantly being updated by some 100,000 developers worldwide. This extensive team checks and modifies the software from virtually every angle, be it from a security perspective, or for usability and accessibility for people who have visual impairments or motor skill issues. “They look at it through a whole range of perspectives much more thoroughly than we could ever do,” Jarosiewicz said.
Websites that use the same platform include The Economist, Sony BMG and the White House. Good enough for Obama, good enough for McGill.
An increasing number of universities are following suit because the module-based platform allows for all sorts of flexibility. These modules make it easy to do everything from integrating blogs and social media bookmarks to your web pages to protecting your pages so that users must sign in to access the secure information. “And if there isn’t an existing module, you can create one to fit your needs,” Jarosiewicz said. “For example, when we need to connect to Banner, if a module doesn’t exist, we can customize one to do the job.”
Like any move, this one has afforded McGill’s web gurus the opportunity to discard items that are no longer needed. The new web pages have a new look or theme. Along with an airier design, the pages no longer have the old global navigation tool running along the top. Instead, a single McGill Quick Links button at the top gives users access to a menu of essential University links. A footer at the bottom of the page displays important links for that unit. To see an example of a new website live, go to the Human Resources site at www.mcgill.ca/hr/.
To help with the migration, Jarosiewicz and his team have already held a trio of Lunch and Learn sessions for web managers and editors, with another being considered for November. As well, ICS offers regularly scheduled hands-on labs for web managers so that experts can walk them through any troubleshooting that is required. To start the process and register for the migration, web managers are asked to fill out an online request for at www.mcgill.ca/wms/