OU Campus, OmniUpdate's web content management system (CMS), is a great product. We implemented the CMS in 2008 and we loved it. Our users published their pages with ease, we had a consistent site design, and it ran like a charm. It's not that we didn't want the training; it was more of a budget issue. It's not always easy—especially in today's environment of magically dwindling budgets—to justify travel and training costs. As a result, we hummed along fairly well for many years.
One day, someone asked for design changes. We were lost. We had never really learned the back-end stuff. As a result, we either had OmniUpdate help us out or, if funds were lacking, politely declined to make the changes. Six years past our implementation date and a year after OmniUpdate revamped the Lock Haven University (LHU) website with the help of an outside consultant, I finally made it to the OmniUpdate User Training Conference (OUTC) in 2014.
So, what did I get from those four days invested at OUTC with the OmniUpdate crew?
For one thing, vast amounts of knowledge about OU Campus. I couldn't squeeze in all of the things I wanted to learn. To be honest, I don't think I could have crammed any more information in my head anyway. Luckily, the materials are always accessible on the OmniUpdate Community Network.
On the technical side, I finally learned where everything is located in OU Campus and what the system is capable of. I learned how to create templates and, since the workshops are hands-on, I received the practice needed to retain those technical skills. I also learned the basics of XSL, the lifeblood behind OU Campus. Toss in some RSS with that, and I had a very busy Wednesday and Thursday (when the workshops are typically held).
There were more advanced topics offered for those with a deeper knowledge of XSL than I had. There were also courses geared for those that don't need to crunch the code as much... things like administration of the platform and in-depth information on some of the features. OmniUpdate did a nice job of making sure all skill levels and interests were covered in their workshops.
It wasn't all about OU Campus though. OmniUpdate works solely with education, and they have an excellent grasp of what colleges need as far as websites go. Sessions were offered on developing sites for mobile users, using analytics, developing an online catalog, writing for the web, and many other topics. I wished that our university had sent more than one person, so that we could have taken full advantage of all four days of the conference and squeezed out all of the training possible.
The first two days are different than the last two. If you don't need hands-on experience, you can just attend the first two days of the conference, which are very informative. Both OmniUpdate staff and customers discuss the latest and greatest functionalities of the CMS—including where the product is headed. Some of the things that I learned in the first two days helped LHU's bounce rate drop and increased the time that potential students spent on our site. That's not too shabby considering how competitive our market is. On the other side of the coin, if you only want to focus on developing OU Campus and gaining a deeper knowledge of the platform, you could attend the second half of the conference.
Another great outcome from attending the conference: networking. Not only are the OmniUpdate employees skilled with their product, so are many of the veteran users. They're in the same industry as you and have encountered many of the same issues that you have probably seen. They've come up with solutions to problems that you are having or will see in the future. The skill set of the users is so wide and varied that you would be hard pressed not to find someone that hasn't encountered something that you're dealing with—and everyone I met was open and more than willing to help out. It's a great group of users and a good community to be a part of.
You don't have to tell your boss this next part, but not only do you learn a lot at the conference, it is great fun too. The food provided was excellent. We were greeted the first night by the In-N-Out Burger truck and the meals provided during the conference were very good. OmniUpdate treated us to a fantastic dinner at Disneyland and time to enjoy the park. There were some impromptu activities throughout the week that were arranged by other attendees that even included a climbing wall session.
Thanks to the OmniUpdate conference, we now have the skills to make significant changes to our site, and we rely less on OmniUpdate's support staff. (I'm sure they don't mind the decreased volume of requests from us.) We can also more easily support our end users when they have the occasional issue. Could we have figured all of this out on our own using Training Tuesdays and other methods? Sure, we could have, but not as quickly and not without some pain and many wasted hours. Time is money in education as well as in business and in the case of the conference, it was well-spent.
This coming March will be my second year attending the conference. I'm very excited to learn more about the OU Campus platform. The wealth of knowledge I received last year helped me to both improve our site and assist my users more efficiently. I know I'll be able to do even more with the information I pick up during OUTC15.
The help you receive, the connections you make, and the things you will learn here are invaluable.
About the Blogger
Jim Heiney is the Web/Exchange Administrator for Lock Haven University (LHU). He’s been at LHU for more than 15 years and is still amazed at how much more there is to learn (and he willingly accepts that fact) for those who work with technology. His philosophy of “never stop learning” has led him from English teacher to IT guy with a few other odd stops along the way. When not at work, he can usually be found at home with his family. In his spare time, he can be found writing, drawing, or playing the occasional computer game.