The road to the new University Website platform and services
The central University Website is the main shop window of The University of Edinburgh. It attracts more than 13 million unique visitors per year, with nearly 40 million visits annually across the globe. It is being used by all of the University’s main audiences (prospective and existing students, academic and professional staff, alumni), for a variety of purposes such as to seek information about available programmes and apply, search the wider University web estate and find contact information.
The current central University Website platform, EdWeb, was launched in 2015 and hosts more than 400 managed websites having more than 60,000 published pages. To deliver this content, the central service has trained more than 1,500 colleagues who have access to the back-end Web Content Management System (CMS).
EdWeb CMS is based on the open-source Drupal CMS platform. Support for the currently used version, Drupal 7, will end in November 2021, alongside with Drupal 8. At that point of time all Drupal websites should be upgraded and migrated to use the latest Drupal 9 version. EdWeb CMS will have to follow this timeline of upgrade to avoid any support and security risks. Planning for this activity enabled us to look into further opportunities that could help deliver a more sustainable web presence across the University.
Our web estate reality
Even though EdWeb CMS has been adopted by more than 70% of the University business units as their web presence delivery platform, there are risks and challenges related with the wider Web Estate. An audit ran in 2018 showcased the existence of approximately 1,500 unique websites (the main University Website – EdWeb – being just one of them) across the organisation. Following this federated management model using a variety of approaches and technologies has introduced technical risks and resulted in a fragmented overall online experience. This has often been infamously referred to as the “Web Wild West”.
To resolve these issues, a University Web Strategy has been launched. A series of activities have been identified, including the development of a Website Publishing Platform.
A change of approach
During initial investigations for the EdWeb replacement it was quickly identified that this would be a great opportunity to introduce solutions and services to assist in resolving the wider University web estate challenges. A transition to a like-to-like “monolith” CMS without looking into a new approach wouldn’t be enough. It would most probably result to a very similar environment where website owners have to decide between using the central University Website in whole or opting for their own bespoke solution to deliver their web presence.
What is needed is a more versatile and flexible solution, fit for purpose for the complex University requirements. Additionally, central University Website Services need to follow a new model, offering a clear proposition to answer fundamental common asks such as “I want a website”. All service elements, including support, guidance and technology should follow a continuous improvement approach based on business and user needs.
The core of the new service offering will cover the fundamental characteristics and features that should be addressed across the web estate. These would include a robust and secure infrastructure, compliance assurance (e.g. GDPR), proper use of standards (e.g. accessibility) and integration with University systems and data sources, while supported by a programme of guidance and appropriate training. The CMS platform itself should be able to address a greater number of use cases in a more flexible way.
This platform should allow more freedom in local customisation and development without compromising security, standards and overall quality. Finally, appropriate feedback channels and processes should be introduced to ensure that innovation is supported accordingly.
Timeline of change
We have currently launched a major project to procure a new Web Publishing Platform by summer 2020. This will be followed up by an implementation project which will focus in delivering the new solution and migrate all existing EdWeb content to the new platform by autumn 2021. Extending from replacing EdWeb, the main aim will be to deliver a platform with the capability of extending appropriately to fit the requirements of the wider University estate.
Additionally, another project will review and launch the new central University Web Services. The aim for these services is not only to support and evolve the new Web Publishing Platform, but offer support, guidance and solutions to the wider University Website publishing community.