Building an Efficient, Simplified Enterprise Web Platform for the University of Minnesota
“Big Ten” School Big on Drupal - umn.edu
The University of Minnesota (UMN) is an enormous system, requiring a web platform that enables consistent branding and the flexibility to accommodate independent sites for five separate campuses and nearly 70,000 students. Thanks to Drupal, the university now has a standard platform used university-wide: by campuses, departments, organizations small and large, and literally everyone in between. It is centrally maintained, enables cohesive brand control, and lets each site reflect its unique mission and voice. This creates harmony across the university’s web presence and efficiency with regard to budget, security, and digital initiatives.
Change Required to make Change Easier
The university’s previous, proprietary Oracle Universal Content Management system made it difficult for the university’s non-IT users to enter content or update their websites in a timely fashion. Though this may sound banal, this was a problem of enormous scale. The system ran more than 600 university websites and served millions of site visitors monthly. And the problems were multiplied by a multitude of web teams--with varying policies and practices--reporting to numerous bodies, from the university’s central Office of Information Technology, to individual campuses and collegiate units.
Instead of departments and teams spinning up their own independently-hosted sites, the Office of Information Technology wanted to create a centralized platform that was attractive, easier to use, and especially, easier to maintain. That platform needed to support the many campuses, departments, organizations, faculty, staff and students in the University of Minnesota community. Working with Drupal allowed the university to identify commonalities across a myriad of different sites, user types, and scenarios in order to create a simplified, cohesive platform.
Drupal: a Technical and Philosophical Match
The university’s mission and core value system emphasize its role in the larger community, which drew them to an open-source solution for the redesign. Drupal’s flexibility, scalability, and usability made it the ideal choice for creating a system that meets the university's complex needs while being simple enough to teach to multiple web teams for implementation. Once the university made the decision to rebuild their web infrastructure on Drupal, they worked with the team at Palantir.net to determine the whole community’s needs before designing and implementing a migration plan. This collaborative process between Palantir.net, university staff, and all other stakeholders meant that early “town hall” style meetings grew into regular filmed and in-person training sessions for the university’s teams.
One Year On
The university gained a lot of flexibility and effectiveness through simplification. For instance, there are now two main site profile templates: one for individuals and smaller groups, and one for larger organisations like departments and colleges. All levels of university users can now create and maintain their own Drupal sites. Code and upgrades can now be efficiently and consistently deployed--keeping every scale of site up-to-date and secure, and new sites are easy to build.
Brent Engebretson, Web Administrator at the university’s Academic Health Center (AHC) Office of Communications, launched many Drupal sites during the first year with the new system. "The feedback we're getting from our content contributors has been nothing but positive. There is a learning curve with Drupal, but once you get there, it is very easy to maintain and add content to your site. Updates happen immediately rather than having to wait overnight." The AHC is more effective, too, thanks to the overall simplification; they’ve streamlined their sites from an original 165 old-system-sites to about 80 Drupal-sites.Rachel Lam, Web Administrator for one of the UMN colleges, also agreed maintenance and updates are much faster and easier with Drupal sites. "Drupal is easy for content editors to use, so we receive fewer help tickets requesting assistance."
Naturally, some challenges and pain points accompanied the first stages of Drupal implementation, but the University of Minnesota web teams are continuously building their expertise and improving their Drupal sites and systems. They’re currently working toward launching a Drupal toolset that will allow campus community members to more easily build their own Drupal websites hosted through the university. Staff and faculty, student organizations, and even individual research projects will be able to quickly and simply create their own sites: visually attractive websites that fit the university's brand guidelines and are easy for site owners to update and manage.
- The first UMN Drupal site–University of Minnesota Rochester–went live in August,2014.
- As of mid-2015, more than 140 university Drupal sites have gone live, and more than 200 others are in development.
- Live Drupal sites include several Academic Health Center departments, centers and institutes, and:
Implementation by Palantir®, a full-service web design, development, and strategy firm that uses open source technologies to help enable people to share information in new and exciting ways.