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University of Minnesota

Building An Enterprise Web Platform for A Big Ten University

Our Client

Simply put, University of Minnesota is enormous. Nearly 70,000 students are enrolled at this Big Ten university with five major campuses spread throughout the state of Minnesota. Much has evolved since it was founded in 1851, but the University’s core values remain the same: enrichment by understanding, advancement of learning through education, and the search for truth through research; all of this to benefit the people of the state of Minnesota, the nation, and the world.

What They Needed

The University of Minnesota was planning to replace its existing Oracle Universal Content Management (UCM) system with a flexible, hosted Drupal implementation. The University’s UCM implementation had more than 600 sites, which represented a considerable amount of storage, and millions of site visitors monthly. Furthermore, while the University has a central Office of Information Technology (OIT), the system is a distributed environment where each collegiate unit has its own management structure and its own internal Web team.

OIT wanted to create a centralized platform that would be an attractive and more easily maintainable alternative to departments spinning up their own independently-hosted sites. Several pilot sites would serve to provide representative real-life examples of various use cases for the platform.

With so many campuses, departments, organizations, and students spread across the University of Minnesota community, it was vital to identify commonalities across a myriad of different sites, user types, and scenarios in order to create a platform that was as scalable, flexible, and as turn-key as possible.

How We Helped

We’ve worked with many higher education institutions, each of whom have varying levels of centralization. The question of which parts of the institution’s Web presence should be centrally administered is one that’s highly dependent on the institution’s existing culture and business processes. The University of Minnesota had an incredibly clear understanding of their goals, and not only understood the challenges associated with a project of this scale, but also appreciated the experience and expertise Palantir brought to the project.

The magnitude and potential internal impact of organizational change management is one that should not be underestimated. In our experience, sustainable organizational change is usually characterized by progressive, incremental changes, and this was absolutely true with the University of Minnesota. Ensuring that the process was as transparent as possible to all stakeholders and including as many people as possible in the conversation was vital to the success of the project.

Near the beginning of the project, we participated in a “town hall” style meeting attended by over one hundred stakeholders from across the University. This forum was designed to make sure everyone knew we were listening and wanted to make this project work for them and to address their needs.

During Discovery and Definition, we determined the user scenarios initially provided could be distilled to two main install profiles: one for individuals or smaller groups, and one for larger groups like departments and colleges. This enabled upgrades and security patches to be deployed as efficiently as possible, while still providing the necessary level of flexibility. Because the platform is hosted on Acquia Cloud and each install profile is maintained as a single service, code can be simultaneously updated across all sites with a single action.

Using Drupal install profiles, new sites may copy from successful models (such as a standard department-focused website) or may start from a solid foundation of features to develop more customized functionality. Developers and site administrators have a library of common tools for each new site build. Data can be migrated from legacy sites to the new platform using an automated process that reduces the amount of manual intervention necessary.

To help new users get up-to-speed on the new platform, we worked closely with OIT to ensure that their trainers had the knowledge and information necessary train others within the University community. During the duration of the project, demos of our work were recorded and then used by OIT to both learn and train how to use the platform. We also provided OIT with tailored training on a list of specific topics, which were also recorded and made available to users.

Finally, we provided extensive written documentation which both supported the training sessions or other instruction related to platform usage. This training process was integral in showing both the OIT and internal clients by proxy how to install, migrate to, and manage this new platform.

In the end, it was about empowering those at the University who were in need of a website, whether big or small.

The Upshot

The University of Minnesota now has a platform that can be utilized University-wide – by satellite campuses, departments, organizations, small and large groups, and literally everyone between – that is centrally-maintained, and retains ever-important branding, while simultaneously giving each site built on it its own unique voice. This creates harmony across the University’s web presence and efficiency with regard to budget, security, and general infrastructure.