Juggling numerous websites and 600 different forms and adhering to almost 200 stringent policies was taking a toll on staff at the Cerebral Palsy Alliance (CPA) and their ability to provide services to clients.
The organisation, headquartered in Sydney, provides services to about 4000 people; the majority of these services occur over the internet. CPA also conducts research into cerebral palsy, a condition that affects human movement.
CPA manager of communication design services, Robyn Cummins, said the organisation’s websites were becoming unmanageable for staff with the team working harder to maintain the sites and leaving no time for anything else.
“We had to work smarter just to maintain business as usual but we also wanted to take advantage of some of the really exciting things that were starting to happen on the web,” Cummins said.
“We maintain close to 200 policies and 600 forms, all of which involve tight governance especially around service delivery,” she said.
“We had to find a way to manage and deliver this content, to filter by topic, document type and disability service standard. We expect our staff to adhere to these policies and procedures so we needed to make it easier for them to access the documents.
“The challenge was convincing the business side of the organisation that our websites needed to be maintained in something other than an out-of-the-box Dreamweaver solution with the Web team working very hard.”
As the organisation planned to build a new organisation-wide intranet, Cummins said it was clear a more comprehensive system was needed and so decided to deploy a new content management system (CMS) that would allow re-use of content across multiple sites and simplify the task of updating and maintaining content.
Being not-for-profit, open source options including Joomla and Drupal were at the top of CPA’s list in search for a new CMS, as well as several enterprise software options which Cummins would not disclose.
The organisation opted for the Matrix CMS from Australian software develop Squiz, which Cummins said met the CPA’s requirements in terms of accessibility.
“We knew our needs would grow and the product appeared highly scalable,” she said.
“The price was right and we really liked that it had a very large Australian user community. The fact that so many government departments had purchased and were using Matrix gave us reassurance that the company was a large enough operation to deal with our needs.
“A lot of the other companies weren’t even talking accessibility at that point and for us that was one of our basic criteria.”
“The other solutions were also just so vastly expensive, it wasn’t worth it,” she said. “When we looked at open source solutions and did the costing, we worked out that what we could develop in Matrix versus what we could develop in something like Joomla, in terms of total cost, it actually worked out about the same because of the amount of development and plug-ins you had to customise with Joomla.”
Six months into the project, the organisation suffered a major setback: Its headquarters in Allambie Heights, Sydney, was destroyed by a fire. This required an entire restart in terms of IT infrastructure for the CPA.
The project took about 18 months after the organisation was back up and running, Cummins said, and there were extensive hiccups along the way.
“We had some issues around integration with our existing business systems and also our network,” said CPA digital software engineer, Andrew Dickson.
Integration with both the HR system and directory/authentication system was a problem, Dickson said, and required extensive troubleshooting with stakeholders.
“We had to do quite a bit of testing and had a sort of soft-launch period of about a month before the system went live where we ran both systems in parallel with the new intranet as a sort of beta,” he said. “We got a lot of feedback from this and made a lot of corrections based on that.”
Specifically, the organisation’s 'how to' section proved difficult due to the interlinking of the 600 forms and the complex relationship between the forms, policies and guidelines.
An additional barrier for the project, Cummins said, were other Web projects that needed project managing at the same time which required significant involvement and stalled the intranet project for about three months.
According to Dickson, the new CMS has freed up staff to work on other digital projects as there is only one system to learn, support and maintain. They also have the ability to load and edit content quickly.
Looking back, the creation of a business case for accessibility within the organisation is a must in a project like this, he said, and will help avoid obstacles in convincing the business it is needed. Another consideration should be the total cost of ownership as some options, for open source platforms, often have hidden costs.
In the pipeline, Cummins has flagged plans to develop mobile sites for use with tablets and smart phones.
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