Models of Efficiency

Unified Web Templates

Information Technology
University Business, December 2014
Honoree: 
University of Montana
Program Category: 
University of Montana gave Pinecone Awards as part of the web template project launch, with awards given to staffers in categories such as best user experience and most innovative.

Faced with increased competition for students and declining enrollment, the University of Montana centralized the oversight of its web presence to create a unified look and feel across all of its websites. The use of new templates reduced reliance on outside design firms, cut costs, helped meet accessibility compliance, and increased the pace at which new sites were created.

Previously, web design and development at the university had been much like the Wild West. Departments created their own sites on an ad hoc basis that was both inefficient and expensive, and they often hired outside designers for support.

“It was a free-for-all,” says CIO Matt Riley. “There was segmented activity that resulted in an overall poor web presence with little in the way of marketing, quality user experiences or even adequate accessibility.”

When faced with the prospect of declining enrollment in the very near future, the university rallied to shore up its online presence. The hiring of an associate vice president of marketing was one step. The next was recognizing that a cohesive marketing approach and more aggressive social media efforts were essential.

To unify the brand and to make websites more user friendly, developers, designers and marketing professionals from across the university teamed up for “Project Ponderosa” (the initiative was named for the majestic Ponderosa trees dotting the campus). The goal: Set design standards and create tools that campus departments could use to make functional websites that fit within an overarching university marketing image.

Working with the Cascade Server content management platform, project participants designed flexible templates that they could implement themselves with little or no outside help. The web templates created by the initiative provided campus users with all of the configurations, modules, typesetting and fonts approved by the university, explains Riley. “They also allow a lot of flexibility,” but within the university’s brand guidelines.

The university’s IT department is available to assist any department, but thanks to the easy-to-follow templates, little support is typically needed. This has substantially increased the department’s capacity. “Now we can turn out large amounts of websites in a short amount of time with the same size staff,” Riley says.

“By working with tools and help from IT, they can very quickly design a new site, with lots of opportunities to adjust it along the way,” says Riley. “We’ve broken out of that paradigm of hiring outsiders due to the need for speed. Now UM’s IT is fast enough to meet everyone’s needs.”

The pace at which websites are being released is now much greater—more than one a week.

On top of that, existing websites are being converted to the new templates at a rate of six per week. There are currently approximately 500 websites housed on Cascade Server, and of those, more than 170 have converted to the new web templates. All sites should be converted by spring 2015.

“Ponderosa has helped the university remake itself through its web presence and be more competitive while at the same time expanding the usability of the web and access for all,” says Riley. —M.L.T.