HLT Website Migration Project

Phase 1

In 2014 Hackney Learning Trust’s core proposition comprised four websites built and managed using Sharepoint 2007 plus the main corporate site (learningtrust.co.uk), built in Dreamweaver and incorporating feeds from a number of standalone SQL databases.

The need for change was apparent. The HLT corporate website attracted around 40,000 unique visitors per month but the site was deeply flawed in that it had no underlying CMS (making routine maintenance extremely labour intensive), had a dated look and feel, did not render effectively on multiple devices, and used a complex and confusing information architecture.

I was therefore tasked with migrating the old Dreamweaver website onto a unified platform to create a new corporate site that provided an attractive and modern look and feel on all devices, focused on the core purpose and did not distract users with unnecessary additional information, and offered good information architecture that reduced users' mental load. The project was initiated in January 2014 and completed in September 2014.

The HLT Web Migration Project Phase 1 was very successful in that a sprawling, hand crafted website comprising over 3000 densely packed pages was rationalised into a modern, clearly signposted and effectively written corporate site of just under 200 pages. Current GDS standards were adhered to and the site was built to display well on all devices - a major challenge that was hitherto thought impossible to achieve on the SharePoint 20007 platform

However, it was recognised that SharePoint 2007 was an aging platform that was nearing end of life and standardising on SharePoint was always intended to be an interim solution.

Phase 2

A key business driver for the 2014 migration project was to provide uniformity, stability and a solid basis for future migration of HLT’s digital propositions to a more cohesive infrastructure and therefore in 2016 I embarked on the delivery of Phase 2 of the project with the aim of realising these longer term goals through the migration of the Hackney Learning Trust website, the Services for Schools website (a complex ecommerce site that underpins HLT's traded services operation), the Tomlinson Centre website, and Aspire, HLT's internally facing corporate intranet, onto a single, cloud hosted platform.

The project kicked off in November 2016 and the three major sites (corporate, Aspire and Services for Schools) were launched on a new open source Drupal platform in February 2018, with the Tomlinson Centre site being released in the following August.

All of the sites are now hosted within a professional managed environment via AWS. This service includes nightly off-site back-ups and nightly local MySQL back-ups for quick data restore, real-time monitoring of all Linux services, firewalls, entry points and access protocols, and security updates. HLT's technical suppliers, Code Enigma, also provide 24/7/365 cover for Linux in order to keep HLT’s business-critical PHP-based applications up, and responding rapidly to any critical failures in the Linux software stack, at any time.

The new Drupal CMS is a massive improvement on the previous SharePoint interface. It allows for the creation of different content types with specific functionality and varying levels of WYSIWYG editing control. Content managers can edit text on any page without having to switch to the full edit form, complex taxonomies and other metadata can be applied to all types of content, menu structures can be configured in any manner required, and the Views module can be used to build dynamic views of site content. Drupal is also capable of integrating all types of third party API.

In usability terms, the new sites also represent a significant improvement on what has gone before. In particular:

  • The new corporate website utilises GDS research and advice together with Gerry McGovern's ‘Top Task’ methodology to provide a clean and efficient user experience across all devices that is exclusively targeted to the needs of service users and focused on helping them find the right answers to their questions as quickly and easily as possible.
  • The Services for Schools Site offers a much more intuitive experience to schools wishing to purchase HLT products and services, including the facilitation of credit card payments, and brings all of HLT’s practitioner facing content together in one place.
  • The new Aspire intranet represents a smaller, task and topic based, intranet with core information for defined audiences as the ‘single source of truth’ for corporate knowledge and information.

The Services for Schools site has been set up using Drupal Commerce and extensive modifications have been put in place to:

  • Integrate credit card payments with Stripe, a known Drupal supported provider, rather than PARIS (following the submission of a business case to LBH).
  • Provide all necessary features required for the business to replicate required SAGE functionality and eventually phase out the use of SAGE as an accounting tool, thereby achieving considerable savings year on year.

Secure extranet services are provided on the Services for Schools website. Access to secure content is managed using taxonomy based permissions, whereby content is tagged with a site section tag, and then those tags are associated with particular users or groups.

Multiple content rich taxonomies have been created across all sites and attached to objects such as pages, documents, and content types to provide facets for navigation and searching.

In accordance with Government Digital Service (GDS) recommendations, standard design patterns have been developed and used across all sites to ensure consistency in the look and feel and provide a high level of mobile responsiveness across all devices.

All features of Drupal core comply with World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) guidelines: WCAG 2.0 and ATAG 2.0 and support the proper use of semantic markup. All sites therefore use headings reliably for page-level navigation, include basic accessibility features (alt tags, link text etc), and allow use of screenreaders.

The full programme of work involved:

  • Establishment of project governance
  • Development and delivery of needs assessment workshops
  • Creation of core value proposition and outline solution
  • Management of technical procurement
  • Contract negotiation and drafting
  • Management of external suppliers
  • Oversight of full content audit
  • Liaison with key internal stakeholders
  • Definition of IA and development of UX
  • Specification of complex back-end order fulfilment functionality
  • Hands on delivery of content migration
  • Creation of wireframes for all devices
  • Management of User Acceptance Testing

 Copyright John Pitman 2018