Tag Archives: CMS

What is content management, and how do we support it?

James Cox
Customer Success Analyst – Web CMS
University of Oxford

Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW) 2018

This summer, with the aid of the UCISA bursary scheme, I attended the Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW) in York. This was my first conference since I started working in HE Digital 16 months ago, when I became part of an in-house software development team in the University of Oxford’s central IT services department.
My team built and develops a University-wide platform which comprises two distinct elements: a ‘toolkit’ to build and host websites; and a service, which responds to queries which users have raised, and provides a set of resources for users, such as live demos, documentation, and how-to guides. Ultimately, our team provides a potential solution to anyone in the university who needs to quickly create engaging web content and to make their administration of their website as painless as possible. No small task when you’re serving a highly-devolved organisation containing a wide array of use cases and user needs!

IWMW17 Ruth Mason, Matthew Castle by Kevin Mears is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
I have the reassuringly positive title of Customer Success Analyst, which situates me somewhere between the developers and business analysts – both of whom work with project partners to move the toolkit forward – and our users, who so far in the platform’s short life (the full service became operational two days after I joined the team) have created almost every kind of website a university could expect to host: from individual academic and research group sites to new web presences for academic faculties and museums.
As a customer-facing person in a technical team, I get to see both sides of the software creation and usage coin. And, as someone new to web management in HE and working on a relatively new service, I’d like to know what challenges similarly-positioned professionals are facing. As a result, IWMW seemed like a convivial space where HE Digital folk could share their experiences wrestling with similar considerations, such as supporting the creation of engaging, on-message content within their organisations, and how to make a technical solution like a CMS useful and usable to people whose day-to-day work includes only peripheral technical engagement with systems.
So, what struck me most from my first conference since working in this new sector? Which messages resonated strongest with me? And what lessons have I tried to put into my work in the four months since?

It was my first conference whilst working in HE Digital; what struck me most?

The balance between content-focused talks and ones centring on the technical parts of institutional web management differed to what I anticipated. Although the technical and management side of maintaining web services within HE was touched upon, there was a strong emphasis on content, and how to create it in a way that strengthens an institution’s brand and ultimately establishes a space for an audience to identify with it – as showcased by this promotional video for ETH Zürich, mentioned in a talk by Dave Musson. Reflecting on this during the conference, it seemed that one reason for this balance might be that technical offerings available to universities now often mean turning to SaaS solutions, which bring with them a reduced need for in-house technical expertise – allowing for greater resource allocation to the parts of web management where demand is now greatest: content and user experience.

Which talks did I enjoy and which prompted some lightbulb moments?

Telling the Birkbeck story: How customer journey mapping helped us develop our new approach to web

  • Brand identity through customer journey mapping: I enjoyed the unpacking of customer journey mapping and how it was used to design the UX of Birkbeck’s new website, and how this approach was undertaken as a foundation in promoting the Birkbeck brand: beginning with understanding the brand you have, and importantly “how your brand is no longer what you say it is, but what your users say it is”. This means you better give them a good experience or else you’re going they’re going to tell you about it – most likely through the amplification of social media.

Old school corporate identity: Blackbeard’s brand promise.
Reproduced from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pirate_Flag_of_Blackbeard_(Edward_Teach).svg, CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.
  • Mapping customer journeys and where the experience can be improved: The mapping process was presented in detail (key events and stages in the journeys; user feelings; touchpoints, friction, opportunities for improvement), which resonated with work that our team is currently going through, working with our administrative division.
  • Guidelines for the design process: Birkbeck adopted five design guidelines: simplify and clear clutter; push content up within the navigation and reduce user steps; connect content and surface related content on every page; flatten navigation hierarchy; don’t be afraid of long pages. Presenting good web design and information architecture practice is central to our team’s work so it’s interesting to see another institution’s take on what principles to follow.

Understanding invisible labour: University of Greenwich

  • Think about the cost of the ‘invisible’ work: A huge amount of time is lost during task switching. A Microsoft study of one of its development teams and the effect of task switching found an average increase in the time to complete a task of 226%. Think about the process a user has to undertake to complete a task using the system you support. How many steps are there? How many times does the user encounter ambiguities or increases in cognitive load, where they need to make a decision which could result in an error being made? How likely is a support request going to be raised under these circumstances? Can a change to something within the service remove this problem for the user and reduce the support load?
  • Learn the art of nudging: some users won’t jump; you need to give them a gentle push. Make tutorials (good documentation, videos, how-to docs) so users can easily engage with the system you are supporting but they need to operate. Turn it into a user experience exercise – ‘how would I have wanted to learn about that?’
  • Manage how users interact with your system: provide the basic config options and hide the rest. There is often a lot of advanced functionality in CMSs – features the average content editor isn’t likely to need. Keeping them all on display is at best confusing for users who will never need these features and at worst can result in the web-equivalent of ‘Leeroy Jenkins’, i.e. an editor clicking on the option which makes a major adverse change to the site – our team learnt that this is a thing last week, when a new content editor unfamiliar with the editing options deleted their organisation’s homepage. As a result, we’re going to make a change to prevent homepages from being deleted.
HE Digital is a small community and IWMW does an amazing job of bringing together web management professionals into a supportive community to share experiences and lessons learned. Head over to the IWMW website to see some videos of the plenary talks this year.

Interested in applying for a UCISA bursary? Then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.