Last Updated: Mar 28th, 2013 - 15:54:01
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Web Content Management System project closes with success

By Cliff Foster

Just a few years ago, MSU Denver web pages were a jumble of different templates, inconsistent or nonexistent branding and stale content. Departments used several different software packages as well as different versions of software to tweak their pages, and help requests had to take their place in line.

“It was sort of the wild, wild West,” as Manager of Web Communications Chris Mancuso put it.

The project is one of 47 completed through the Rightsizing with Technology initiative, which used stimulus funds from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 to complete projects suggested by faculty and staff. MSU Denver and President Stephen Jordan were lauded in the October 2009 Chronicle of Higher Education for using stimulus money in this manner to offset the higher education funding crisis

But over the last 22 or so months, a remarkable makeover has brought order and consistency to websites that tell the University’s story. Academic and administrative departments now have the tools and the training to take control of their web-based content, and keep it fresh in real time. Another plus: Designated users can log into the system anywhere at any time using any modern browser.

The Web Content Management System Project kicked off in January 2011 and came to an official close last Monday, bookends of a joint effort by Marketing and Communications, the Educational Technology Center (ETC) and Information Technology services. And with all but a couple of its many goals achieved, the project is deemed a success and a model for cross-departmental collaboration.

“It was a huge team effort,” says Senior Project Manager Yvonne Flood, “and we got it done.”

The new web content management system, Site Manager, was used to create the new MSU Denver website design, which debuted last September. The ETC completed the website migration of the last of the three schools by the target date of Aug. 15; Marketing and Communications handled the administrative side of migration. IT worked with the manufacturer, Ireland-based TERMINALFOUR, to set up the server, load the software and get the system running.

Some 201 sites and 50 sub-sites have been shifted to Site Manager, along with more than 10,000 pieces of content. A total of 228 faculty, staff and student employees have been designated “web authors” trained to use the software. This has introduced a new level of accountability and a smooth transition of responsibility if an author leaves the University.

“Often the content, which had traditionally been managed by student employees with Web expertise, is now added by content experts, allowing errors to be discovered and fixed before they are posted,” says ETC Senior Web Developer and Project Manager Michael Erskine who is member of the project’s working group along with Flood, Mancuso and several others.

A Site Manager user group keeps web authors in the loop on important announcements and new features. There are monthly get-togethers where they can work with trainers and trade tips on using the system. More information-sharing and tutorials are in place or in the works.

Site Manager replaced Dreamweaver—and several other software applications—as the University’s WCMS. “It’s really designed to make it easy for people with a technical background or who don’t have any technical background to be shown how to do this so they can maintain their websites,” Mancuso says.

And by that measure alone, it’s a hit.

Michael McCabe, an accountant in the Bursar’s Office, doesn’t consider himself a techie. “For a person who is going to be creating new pages, I think it’s much easier to use than Dreamweaver was,” he says. “And going in and just editing content on a page is also very easy with this system.”

“I reckon if I can do it, anybody can,” he jokes.

But the benefits extend beyond ease of use. Keeping pages current is an important recruitment tool.

“If students are going to our website to make a decision on whether or not to come to school here…and if they go to a page that’s 6 months to 12 months old, that’s a real turnoff or they might be getting the wrong information…As a result they may not come here,” Flood says.

The final report on the project was accompanied by celebratory pastries and multiple accolades by those most responsible for it

“There’s more to come,” Mancuso says. “It’s not like we’re walking away from it.”

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