DENVER - The university's change to a new web platform is highlighted in a recent case study by Microsoft. The changeover took about two years and required the collaboration of thousands of faculty and staff -- a team effort that is duly noted in the Microsoft report.
Prior to 2008 the university's web presence was anything but consistent and streamlined. We operated scores of web servers, creating a mishmash of logos, page designs and navigation tools. The patchwork system contributed to static content, low web visit rates, a diluted brand and weakened engagement with key constituents.
In 2008, the university began migrating onto a content management system (CMS) -- Microsoft Office SharePoint. While there has been a learning curve to get 13 schools and colleges and 74 academic and administrative units onto a centralized server, the payoff is in the numbers:
- Average time on the site has increased 416 percent, showing visitors are more engaged and visiting more pages.
- Our bounce rate -- the percentage of visitors who leave the site after reaching the home page -- decreased 35 percent.
- Total site visits increased from just over 1 million to more than 1.7 million.
- Nearly 8,000 people can publish on the web so content stays fresh and useful. Prior to SharePoint's launch, fewer than 500 could contribute content.
- Search ranking and analytics are vastly improved, and the IT effort required for common website updates and system tasks has decreased by up to 90 percent.
These and other benefits are detailed in the case study that is featured on the Microsoft website.
The cohesive presence across CU Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus now better serves student recruitment and other strategic goals, said Jeremy Fulbright, director of University Web Services. "No matter which of our more than 400 websites you're on, you will find a consistent look, feel and navigation structure," he said. "With SharePoint Server, we were able to build in this consistency, while still empowering users to keep their own websites fresh and dynamic."
Emblematic of that empowerment is the School of Medicine, which has more than 1,000 content contributors, of which 200 are active users.
Now that web analytics are comprehensive, "we can identify and remove sites with no traffic, make decisions regarding content, and know what's working and what's not," Fulbright said.
For years, our university played catch-up to other institutions in terms of a strong web presence. "It really was brand consistency -- that we're a part of something bigger than ourselves," Fulbright said. "If we build in the same direction, we start to build this brand equity."
The key to CMS success in the university environment is giving a tier of control to the schools and colleges -- allowing them to design personalized themes, or sub-brands, while being integrated into the whole. "That's something that's really unique to our deployment that, to my knowledge, had never been done in the SharePoint world, which Microsoft was really interested in," said Bernie Johnsen, manager of academic information systems.
Lyndsey Crum, assistant dean for advancement in the Colorado School of Public Health, said the move to SharePoint has offered many pluses -- such as a consistent look and general platform flexibility -- but also has required occasional "work-arounds" when content owners are based outside the university. The School of Public Health is a collaboration of the University of Colorado, Colorado State University and the University of Northern Colorado.
Training programs and workshops are part of the ongoing support for SharePoint, which Crum appreciates. "The need for training is something we can't underestimate because it can be intimidating if you've never worked in CMS before," she said.
Johnsen said the new platform is the result of a group effort, and he credited university leadership for getting behind the software change early on.
"We've built this great foundation -- we have a lot of momentum," he said. "The next step is to get the intranet (for the internal university audience), which will take us to the next level. Hopefully, the learning curve will be a little smaller."
Fulbright said that while no solution is perfect for everyone on campus, the migration of all university sites to SharePoint has been a huge win. He noted that thousands of users with a wide range of web skills can effectively update web sites, the university can push over-arching changes to all sites within a matter of minutes, and our overall web presence is vastly improved.
"A congratulations is well-earned for all faculty and staff involved in this significant improvement of our web sites," he said.