Setting the pace
As the KCTCS Web Services Initiative unfolded, dozens of people throughout the System were involved in making recommendations, performing research, and guiding the decisions made about how we could rebuild our web infrastructure. ACTC played a key role in these discussions, but we wanted to do even more.
When a new content management system (called Sitecore), was selected that would help us improve all public web sites throughout KCTCS, we had our opportunity. It was important for a college to be one of the first new web sites in order to help guide the way the new system was implemented. ACTC is that college. We'll be the first college in the System with a new web site built on the Sitecore platform, and we're very proud of that fact.
We had actual prospects and other visitors evaluate our web site some time back. What we learned is that we need to do a better job organizing content, providing online services, and improving the way we manage and present our content. Our site (like all KCTCS web sites, it turned out) was difficult to navigate. The content wasn't written in a way that spoke to our audiences. The graphic design wasn't appealing. While we weren't terribly pleased to hear all that, it didn't really come as a surprise either. But this evidence helped lead to a new web site designed to change all that.
A new direction
As we've said, ACTC is the first KCTCS college to undergo a transition to a System-wide content management system. That system, Sitecore, provides us with a single platform for managing and hosting all our public web sites. Why is that a good thing? Simply put, it allows our web sites to work seamlessly together, it allows local content experts to manage what shows up on the web, and it puts us in a position to build tools and services to meet our customer expectations.
But new software isn't the whole story when it comes to the new ACTC web site. We're also taking a new approach to the basics: identifying our audiences, creating a web site architecture that's easy to navigate, using graphic design that reflects both who we are and who our audience is, and writing content that speaks to our audience in language they understand. What you'll see with the new ashland.kctcs.edu then is a site that:
- Looks better because it employs research and best practices in web graphic design,
- Is easier to navigate because it is founded on solid information architecture principles,
- "Sounds" better, because much of the content has been rewritten in a style and tone that appeals to our audiences,
- And is geared toward our primary audience: current and prospective students.
What does this mean for me?
That really depends on who you are. If you're a prospective or current student, it means you'll find it easier to get to the information you need. If you're an employee of ACTC, it means the information you need for your audience is easier to find, and that you may even be maintaining that content on the web yourself. Sitecore makes that easy. For employees, it also means that much of the internally-oriented content on the ACTC web site will be moving to thePoint. Most of all though, the new site is going to allow us to provide better content and service all the way around, while improving the way we manage our web presence. We hope you'll agree that's a good thing.
When is the new site coming?
Spring 2009. We're looking tentatively at the middle of March. As we get closer to launch, we'll share more about the launch plans.
When will the rest of the colleges have new web sites?
As soon as possible. Once ACTC's site launches, the System Office will begin working with three more colleges (Madisonville, Southeast Kentucky, and West Kentucky) on their new sites. All the colleges have been placed on a schedule in groups of three and will begin implementation as soon as the preceding group is complete. Your local Web Services staff can tell you where your college is on that list. The goal is to have ten colleges complete or in the process by the end of 2009, with the final six completed by summer of 2010. This represents an ambitious acceleration of the original three-year plan, but we believe we can do it.
Is everything on the ACTC web site going to be moved to the new platform at launch?
No. All the initial Sitecore implementations will focus on the top 50-100 pages of the web site. These are the most visited and most critical pages for our audiences. The goal of these initial launches is to lay the infrastructure for a much-improved web presence.
It will take quite a bit longer to migrate the thousands of other pages on our web sites. Migration of other pages will happen over a period of many months, as training and migration planning are completed. These legacy pages will remain available however from the new web site, so our existing content will not simply disappear at launch.
Will I need to change my bookmarks/favorites?
In many cases, yes. Content will be moving to different URLs (web addresses), so your bookmarks may change. We will attempt to automatically redirect as many old URLs as possible to the new ones, which should make this easier for you. Remember too that many internally-oriented pages will be moving to thePoint, so there will certainly be some changes.
With the improved naviagation on our new site, plus an improved search engine and a "what's changed" page, we hope the transition will be a fairly smooth one.
Is every college web site going to look just like ACTC?
No. Every site will have common elements so that our sites will all be recognizable as part of the same family (a chief complaint of our statewide testing), and there is an approved System-wide set of design guidelines that will apply to every site. But there is a great deal of flexibility within this framework. Each web site will have its own design that reflects local preferences and respects the unique identity of the college.
To learn more the design approach and standards that we are using for the the design of our college web sites, check out this blog post.
Who updates our new web site?
As we launch each of the new sites we will be allowing people to become content owners and authors. Content owners and authors will be responsible for updating the sections of the site where they are an expert. That means that the people who best understand the content are the people who are updating in for our sites and that means the information on our sites is more accurate.