Q&A with Tarrant County College
For several years, Tarrant County College (TCC) in Fort Worth, Texas, had been in dire need of a new website, but administration changes, among other priorities, delayed the project. It didn’t help that many employees were still unhappy about the last website design, which launched the first centralized site with standards that eliminated autonomous contributors.
This presented Robert Heyser, TCC Director of Web Communications, with a challenge: How does one manage a major redesign, including the addition of a new web content management system (CMS), while keeping his fellow colleagues happy during and after the process? We talked with Heyser about his process and what advice he might have for other institutions that want to redesign their website and make a CMS switch.
Your project took five years—why so long?
The work itself took almost three years, but we started planning discussions two years prior. It is a lengthy process and the bigger the institution, the more voices and bigger the selection committee must be. However, we also had an administration change, which extended our timeline.
What was the impetus for a redesign, and why did you decide to also upgrade to a new CMS?
Our site was a mess. It was dated. When it was first created, we didn’t have a centralized presence or an intranet, so everything that the college had was put onto the website. As we grew, this came to include many, many initiatives, so over time, we had added and deleted so many things that it didn’t flow. It no longer fit our need.
How important is the RFP process in ultimately getting the website you want?
It depends on the institution. We went through the complicated and time-consuming process of creating personas and creating questions based on these. As a result, we had a strong feeling of what questions we needed to ask, but we also had to make sure that our questions weren’t misleading.
Additionally, we brought in a third-party consultant to vet everything we were doing. Getting that input also changed the perception of our process within our own administration.
Why did you ultimately choose OU Campus for your content management solution?
During the RFP process, OmniUpdate’s customer service stood out. We also welcomed the chance to move to a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model rather than continue to self-host (that helped reduce the number of servers we needed to manage). In addition to choosing OU Campus because of the platform and the customer service, the flexibility to create our own templates was huge and allowed us the freedom to create and design with virtually no restrictions.
Any advice for putting together an evaluation committee?
Rather that starting with a committee, start with usability testing to determine what you actually need. We identified about 40 areas with key stakeholders and talked with them about what worked and what didn’t. We would then gather students and other audiences to perform the tests and send those results back to the stakeholders to keep them in the loop. Finally, we took those metrics and put them into an understandable format.
From there, we created our evaluation committee. We had two groups of 20 people representing essential stakeholders, everyone from students to faculty. Everyone has an opinion and we knew that getting a consensus would be hard, but we could continually go back to the data to verify what we really needed. Communication was key, as well as perception. We wanted everyone to know that what we were doing was based on data.
What are some examples of data-driven choices that made an impact?
Our user testing was so important. We kept getting feedback about parents needing help—they needed a page with information just for them, something we had not thought about at the time.
Do you have any suggestions for other administrators on how to manage a redesign?
Communicate. Be transparent in communications with stakeholders from every area. Networking is critical because you need buy-in throughout the process to be successful. Besides our selection committee, we sent usability testing out by email to all faculty and students with an option to participate. This way everyone could understand the decisions we were making. By allowing them to walk through the process with us, everyone was always informed and never surprised.
What would you do differently?
In some areas we tried to build the site in anticipation of future projects. For example, at the time we didn’t have a course catalog, so we did our best to plan for the future and include a few features on our site—but we didn’t have the backend to support it. Another example is that we included a request for information form, but people were expecting more than what they actually got. It didn’t meet their expectations.
What has been the reaction to your redesign?
Not long after our launch, an even larger school to the east called and asked, ”How did you do that?“ The redesign boosted our image and gave us a current look. However, probably the best feedback we have gotten has come from high school counselors. Several have taken the time to write and let us know how easy our site is to navigate—they like that they don’t have to hold students’ hands to find the information they need.
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