Project: Policies, Regulations & Rules Website

The Policies, Regulations and Rules website has undergone a massive transformation, and today, the new site launched: policies.ncsu.edu

History

The old website was extremely time-consuming to maintain, difficult to navigate, and required intimate knowledge of the site’s inner workings to do any form of troubleshooting. For example, to update a single policy on the old website, the administrator needed to make changes in 4 or 5 places (menus, alphabetical index, print-friendly copy, sub-menus etc). This was cumbersome, and caused many problems when not done correctly. Nothing was automated, meaning the process of making what should have been simple updates, turned into a long drawn out process that many times needed to include our office going into the code to make changes.

Old Site Screenshots

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The Plan

Over the course of several months in late 2010, we had many productive meetings with the office that maintains the PRR website. We laid out a few goals for the new website:

  1. Easy to maintain
  2. Easy to find what visitors are looking for
  3. Bring the site into brand compliance with the NC State University look and feel

Development

In January of 2011, we agreed that Drupal was the best Content Management System for this particular project. We developed an NC State “top level” theme, in coordination with University Communications (the owners of the University brand), and hosted the new website on the Web Hosting Service that OIT offers.

We knew we had to simplify the process of updating the site. That meant using a content management system, and getting away from the old Dreamweaver-based templates. We also knew that we needed to simplify how much information was on the website, and prioritize which pieces needed to be front and center, and which pieces were not as important. We realized that the majority of visitors to the site needed to find the most current version of a policy. That meant all the historical versions, while still important, should not be taking a majority of time to maintain.

We also knew that if we could automate certain pieces of the website, that would be a massive time-saver for the administrators, as there would simply be less things to do. This translated into a dynamically updating alphabetized index, as well as aggregate pages for “All Policies, All Rules, All Regulations, All Repealed Documents, and All Informational Pages (non-prrs).”

Drupal also gave us the ability to use contextual blocks on the site, which meant we could dynamically display certain information based on what type of page the visitor was on. For example, on a Policy page, a block on the right hand side of the site would automatically display a link to All Policies (but not All Rules, or All Regulations). We could also show a block that displayed all the other PRRs that were in the same category as the currently displayed document. All of this translated into saving time for the site administrator, when they needed to update a policy, rule or regulation.

Migration

As with all new websites, the stage that takes the longest, and is most tedious, is the migration of data from the old site to the new one. The migration phase was made more difficult for this project, because we were moving from a Dreamweaver-template html site (that also included custom php code), to a Content Management System (Drupal). There is no quick or easy way to do this, so, starting in April, we employed part-time assistance to copy-paste information form the old site to the new format.

Vanessa, the part-timer who was in charge of the migration, did an amazing job. In just under 3 months, she migrated every piece of information manually. That involved creating new “print-friendly” word documents that didn’t exist before for some PRRs. It involved cleaning up malfunctioning code and embedded styles. It involved such a massive amount of tedious work, that she deserves a large percentage of credit for the quality of the new website.

New Site Launched

On Friday July 1st, the new website went live. An htaccess redirect was put in place on the old website to force all visitors to the new location. Anyone who bookmarked the old site will need to make updates to reflect the new URLs being used.

To assist the office that owns the PRR website, we created internal site documentation (within Drupal), that shows them how to maintain the website. Those pages are kept private just for content authors, which means that we can keep those instructions up to date as the site changes. We made sure to do this, because it means there is one official version of the instructions, and any new people that may be given the responsibility of maintaining the website in future can refer to them too. All we need to do is give the new author permissions to that particular role, and they can maintain the website via any browser with an internet connection. No new software needs to be bought or installed…everything is web-based.

New Site Screenshots

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Summary

This project was long, difficult, complex, but extremely necessary and important for the University. The PRR website potentially affects every single person connected to the University, and so it needed to be given a major facelift, both on the surface, and in the underlying code. Hopefully the new site will prove successful, making it easy to find what people are looking for, and equally important, easy for the authors to keep the site up to date.

If you have any questions about Policies, Rules or Regulation, use the feedback forms on the new website (policies.ncsu.edu).

If you have questions about the development of the site (Drupal, modules, web hosting service), please contact us at oitdesign@ncsu.edu.