Project: Software @ NC State

The Software @ NC State website has undergone a massive transformation, and on August 1st 2012, the new site launched: software.ncsu.edu. Special mention goes to Mark Harben, and Maurizo Lewis-Streit for their outstanding efforts in migrating content and updating the new website.

History

This will sound similar to many other projects we’ve done. The old website was extremely time-consuming to maintain, sometimes 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 piece of software on the old website, the administrator needed to make changes in multiple places (menus, alphabetical indexes, 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.

The Plan

This was a project that we knew was necessary for a long time. Early conversations starts in 2009 and 2010, but we didn’t get started with this final push until December 2011. We had a few goals for the project:

  1. Easy to maintain
  2. Easy to find what visitors are looking for
  3. Add new features to enhance the usefulness of the website

Development

In December of 2012, we agreed that Drupal was the best Content Management System for this particular project. We used the “Primer” theme that OIT Design developed, which gave us the ability to customize the look and feel, while still staying in line with OIT branding standards. The site was created and hosted 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 reduce the number of places information was duplicated

The Software & Licensing staff had several other University software sites that we referred to for ideas about new features that our old site did not have. We realized that the majority of visitors to the site needed to find a piece of software, and that they would likely know the software vendor and/or the name of the piece of software. IE: They would know “Adobe” was the vendor of “Photoshop.”

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 automatically generated aggregate pages for “All Vendors, All Packages, All Platforms, and other lists.

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 an Adobe product page, a block could provide contextual information about Adobe, but not appear on any other vendor pages. All of this translated into saving time for the site administrator, when they needed to update a vendor, package, platform or version of a piece of software.

Migration

No new software needed to be bought or installed…everything is web-based.

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, include files and other random items), to a Content Management System (Drupal). There is no quick or easy way to do this, so, starting in the late Spring of 2012, the Software & Licensing staff began to copy-paste information form the old site to the new format.

New Site Launched

On August 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.

Summary

This project was long, difficult, and complex. Hopefully the new site will prove successful, making it easy to find what people are looking for, and equally important, easy for the site owners to keep the site up to date.

If you have any questions about Software @ NC State services, use the feedback forms on the new website (software.ncsu.edu).

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