WODC opt for Umbraco & Azure

Saving costs with without compromising on quality.  

Business

 

Local authorities need to find efficiency savings to absorb government funding cuts, while protecting frontline services. One innovative approach is to form partnerships with neighbouring authorities to provide mutually beneficial joint services such as IT, Customer Service and Communications.

Over the last few years, West Oxfordshire District Council has successfully partnered with Cotswold District Council forming joint teams and working on joint projects. The two councils are now exploring working more closely with Cheltenham and Forest of Dean Councils.

In 2013 West Oxfordshire and Cotswold launched a joint project to update their individual websites.

Challenge

 

To direct and manage the websites development project, the two councils formed a joint team with participants from both IT and Communications. The two councils had common goals for their individual websites – they needed to be easier to navigate, easier to view and update, designed to meet accessibility requirements and integrate with the councils’ payment systems. However, the two websites also needed to reflect each council’s branding and be relevant to the different local resident groups.  

The existing websites relied on proprietary Content Management Systems (CMS) which were time-consuming and difficult to keep updated. As the focus for local resident information, maintaining timely information was crucial.  

At the start of the project, the joint team worked with a design agency to create a new look and feel for the two websites and engaged with 3chillies to undertake the website build, plus provide ongoing support, development and maintenance once the two sites were live.  

To save both time and money, the joint council project team asked 3chillies to design and build a website structure that could be used for both websites, without compromising on the creative design. Taking this approach would also bring future savings in terms of training, support and maintenance costs.  

The challenge for 3chillies was to build two websites in tandem: 

Two websites that looked different but were structurally identical, shared one set of code and were to be hosted in the same place. Two websites that needed to be developed at the same time, were cost-effective to implement and easy to update, and with the flexibility to add additional future features.    

“My brief to 3chillies was to deliver the ‘best possible’ district council websites - websites that looked different but were basically the same under the bonnet.” Sarah Turner, Joint ICT Business Solutions Manager, West Oxfordshire District Council.    

Solution

 

When 3chillies became involved in the West Oxfordshire and Cotswold websites project, the initial creative designs were well underway. The next big decision was which CMS to use. After considering a number of options, 3chillies recommended implementing Umbraco, the fully-featured open source CMS.

Umbraco was chosen by 3chillies, as not only is it free, but it also has a thriving and supportive community, provides an excellent editorial experience and requires minimal user training. Umbraco was also a good fit as West Oxfordshire and Cotswold, like most councils, were already using Microsoft solutions, and - with over 200,000 installations - Umbraco is one of the most deployed CMS on the Microsoft stack.

The next technical decision was where to host the websites.  3chillies recommended using Windows Azure, Microsoft’s open and flexible cloud platform. This recommendation again brought cost savings (as opposed to using traditional hosting servers) and aligned with the councils’ investment in Microsoft technology.

At this point, around half way through the web build, the design agency left the project and 3chillies were asked to also take over the creative design of both websites.

By developing a well-documented, robust and repeatable structure, 3chillies were able to quickly build the two websites, sharing code and saving both cost and time. Both websites are hosted using Windows Azure which is available to the two councils to further consolidate their infrastructure.

In terms of functionality of the two websites, both  needed to have ‘accessibility’ built in from the start and had to be ‘responsive’, delivering content for any format including  mobile phones, tablets and PCs.

The websites also needed to integrate with the councils’ payments systems, allowing online bill payment by residents.

The websites were launched on schedule in late 2013, with the responsive versions completed in early 2014. The councils have complete ownership of their websites, with no ongoing costs other than for hosting. 3chillies provided training to both councils and offers maintenance support as needed.

The project is considered a great example of two partner councils working together to save costs while not compromising on the service delivered.  

“From an IT perspective, we were very pleased that 3chillies proposed taking an innovative technical approach to the websites, recommending an open source CMS and moving to cloud hosting. They listened to our requirements and ensured the solution ticked all our boxes technically, operationally and from an ongoing cost basis” Ben Ebeling, Senior Business Analyst, West Oxfordshire District Council.    

“Building the two websites in tandem was an interesting project for the 3chillies developers. We had to ensure the framework was robust and repeatable, and yet allowed each website the flexibility to have its own creative design, branding and content.” Paul Spearman, MD, 3chillies.    

Benefits

 

Drawing on their Microsoft heritage and stringent processes for website development, 3chillies were able to build two very different websites in tandem.

The two websites succeeded in meeting the two councils’ specific requirements, with no compromises having to be made to accommodate the joint project. Both websites more than met their combined and individual project goals.

By using the same structure and repeatable code, the websites were built more quickly than two separate development projects, which saved both councils time and money.

Furthermore, by implementing Umbraco and moving to a cloud hosting model, the two councils have saved costs and have the option to move additional infrastructure to the cloud.

By choosing Umbraco, the websites can be further developed as needed to add additional functionality, which can, of course, be shared across the two websites. Plus the website content can be easily updated by the councils themselves to keep the information fresh, relevant and timely.  
 

Future Developments

 

This innovative ‘tandem’ website development may instigate other opportunities for the councils to work together on mutually beneficial projects. Furthermore, the website structure and reusable code is available for other councils to build new websites cost-effectively and quickly, and at minimal risk.

Future developments may also include 3chilies producing a number of council specific Apps to provide immediate access to information such as ‘What’s On’, bus timetables and refuse collections, for example.  

“3chillies are a unique mix of innovative, yet robust, technical experts with creative flair. They never lost sight of our primary goals and more than delivered to meet our, and our partner council’s, expectations”. Sarah Turner, Joint ICT Business Solutions Manager, West Oxfordshire District Council.

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