by Rodney Gedda

Uni college ups grade with open source CMS project

May 18, 2010
Business Process ManagementE-commerce ServicesInnovation

Whitley College in Melbourne has implemented an open source content management system in a few months and puts the success of the project down to a trusted relationship with its service provider.

The college, which manages residential facilities for University of Melbourne students and a theological school, had an existing Web site, but it was outdated and wasn’t going to provide the functionality for future requirements.

Whitley College community relations manager Kerry Cook said initial discussions to develop a new Web site and Intranet started in February last year and by December it was complete and live.

“It was an interesting project for people to find out the amount of detail we needed to satisfy our requirements for the CMS,” Cook said.

With no in-house Web development skills, the college engaged with local developers to provide information and was not shy in saying what it did not understand.

The college considered advice to implement Joomla or Drupal (both open source) and after research by the IT officer decided on Drupal as it would better meet long-term requirements without too much additional costs.

Melbourne-based consulting firm Creative Contingencies worked on the implementation phase and a few months later the project was complete.

Cook said one of the major blockers of the $50,000 project was getting funding approval from the senior management leadership team.

“The project went very smoothly and we are happy with the finished product,” she said. “It works well, is reliable and we haven’t had a glitch since went live in December last year. And I haven’t had one piece of negative feedback.”

The project also included DVD production and professional photos.

Drupal provides us with an intranet as well,” Cook said. “We had a Plone intranet, but migrated to Drupal for consistency. People found the loading of information became clunky and it was becoming outdated.”

“Everyone had to be hands on and learn how to use the system. Updates to the Web site are done through me, but there are at least three other staff members that have the same training.”

The college also moved its Web e-mail application from Squirrelmail to RoundCube (both open source) and is still using Moodle for online course material.

Cook said to ensure a successful software project like this you have to be comfortable working with your provider.

“You need to be able to ask any questions,” she said. “It was all about understanding how to get a system working and not leave you in the lurch when it goes live.”

“Everyone wants a quick win and with no one on-site with the knowledge we had to trust our provider relationship. It was about the people we were dealing with and not everything is price driven.”

Creative Contingencies managing director Donna Benjamin said requirement scoping goes to the heart of the challenge of a project like this.

“It’s almost kind of voodoo – sometimes the requirements look good, but then you find they are not descriptive enough, other times you don’t get good specifications so you iterate, but there is no magic bullet,” Benjamin said. “If there was our jobs would be way too easy.”

Benjamin said getting good requirements out of small business is less likely as they typically don’t have a vast understanding of the underlying technology.

“Someone said to me recently, when people have a technology need get them to describe the problem, not the solution. Let the technical people come up with a solution,” she said.

“This was a real joy to work with as the people were upfront that they are not familiar with the technology and they had done a huge amount of work before we came on board. They worked on the information architecture, had stakeholders involved and the design was done so for us to come in and implement Drupal was very satisfying.”

Benjamin said sometimes easy projects don’t have “win feeling”, but this one did.