My Blog: My Big Project

01 October 2016

This is what I want to build.

During my last two years working as Web Manager at Bath Spa University, I was involved in a large project to redesign the University's main website. This involved searching for and short-listing new Content Management Systems (CMS), and where possible, installing them on University servers and building prototype websites in them.

One system we looked at in significant detail was Orckestra CMS (formerly Composite C1, an open-source .NET based CMS). Ultimately, it wasn't the system that the University ended up choosing, but it was a system that showed great promise; so much so that I wanted to use it for my own websites. The data storage model, programming interface and the easy templating system made building a website easy.

The prototype website I created in Orckestra CMS was an evolution of the then existing design. We went from this:

Old website homepage

... to this:

New website homepage

The prototype site was fully functional, device and screen resolution responsive, accessible, with a working course search, newsfeeds, event calendars, and over 100 top-level pages of rewritten text in a new information architecture. Needless to say, I learnt a huge amount building this website, particularly when writing my first C# and Razor programming code.

Now, I don't like to let anything go to waste. I try to recycle as much as I can at home (paper, plastic, tin cans, etc.), and this includes well-written code and acquired knowledge. For many years I have listened to the grumblings of other University Web Managers about how clunky they find their own institution's CMS and how expensive the software and associated support contracts can be (£25-50k pa being commonly quoted figures). After working with Orckestra CMS, I firmly believe that it has the capability to replace many current solutions that lack the flexibility these Managers are looking for. Add into the mix that Orckestra CMS Foundation is open-source (distributed under a Mozilla Public License v1.1), and has inexpensive support contracts available from its creators, and you have a enormous potential for disruptive change in the University CMS marketplace.

However, University Web Managers are a (necessarily) cautious bunch of people. They want to see benefits that are obvious, and solutions that are quick and easy to implement. From experience, I know that migrating a website as large as a University one into a new CMS takes a lot of time. Learning how to build a new solution in an unfamiliar environment, test and deploy it with dozens of editors and approvers can take a year or longer. Given that few in the European Higher Education community have yet attempted to deploy a big website with Orckestra CMS is enough to give many University Web Managers doubts. Quite frankly, I don't blame them... It's the main reason my previous employer decided to go with an established name over this plucky outsider. This got me thinking...

What if I could use the experience I gained building my prototype website, combined with my sector knowledge, to create a package within the Orckestra CMS, to guide University Web Managers wanting to rebuild their own websites?

Over the next few months, I'm going to do just that. I'm also going to document my progress here, to help others understand the processes and decisions involved. My partner Julia has agreed to act as project executive, and I'll manage the rest.

Out of contractual necessity, all of the code produced will be new or sourced externally from sites such as Codeplex, GitHub, and Stack Overflow. I may stumble along the way, so please bear with me when I meet unexpected obstacles. This should be a fun project.