When we launch new technology at St. Edward’s University, there can be some wariness among faculty and staff. Then again, this may be true on campuses everywhere.
Fortunately, hindsight can be 20/20. With each new implementation of a tool or service, we document what we wish we’d known or done before we began. Here’s a peek under the hood of what we learned following our January 2017 launch of myHilltop, our improved campus portal via OneCampus by rSmart.
Engage with your stakeholders early and often
In Spring 2015, we began usability studies on our previous portal to uncover what users liked and didn’t like — what worked and didn’t work. For those studies, we engaged students, faculty and staff. The results were incredible, showing us an almost universal desire for a better myHilltop experience. By engaging directly with users, it became clear that a new tool was necessary to provide the flexibility and user experience we needed. As we all learned from the 1989 movie Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come. In our case, we learned: build a search bar and they will come.
And it wasn’t just the front-end experience that needed improvement. With our old portal, the technical complexity all but ensured that IT staff would be required to maintain all of the content. All of it. We needed a simpler solution that would allow non-techies to manage publishing their own content. (It’s worth noting here that even if you’re planning a more centralized publishing structure, it never hurts to speak with other functional areas on campus and create allies. They often turn into advocates!)
Write everything down
When I said that hindsight can be 20/20, it’s really only true if you write it all down. Relying on memory hasn’t proven to be the most effective method for review. As we were building out the new myHilltop, we chose to move to a distributed publishing approach that allowed content owners like financial aid, admissions and human resources to maintain tasks on their own. This decision empowered those teams and removed the burden from the shoulders of IT.
Be sure not only to write down, but to articulate (early and often) the role of these publishers and the types of content that are meant for publishing. It’s also important to write down and share what is not meant for publishing. This will eliminate future headaches — for everybody.
Experimentation is great, and we’ve learned a lot as we’ve moved from implementation to ongoing refinement, but setting the boundaries early lessens confusion and angst on all sides.
Get the (meta)data right
Before launching any technology, set some KPI. (That’s business speak for Key Performance Indicators.) If you know your goals and set measurable KPI, you can track your success more easily.
To ensure we launched our new myHilltop as a fully functional site, we first built “myHilltop Preview.” We wanted to ensure we could work out any and all kinks at least six months before we did a hard switchover from our old portal. This allowed us the freedom to make mistakes — and to learn from them — without all eyes on us.
As you’d expect, the success of a search-based portal is based entirely on its ability to turn up the right search results. Our myHilltop Preview days clued us in quickly to the fact that, in several cases, we didn’t have the right metadata in place to surface the search results our users were expecting. Once we reviewed and refined our metadata, titles and tags specifically, user searches began producing the expected results. The overall experience and confidence in the platform improved as a result.
Introducing new technology on campus can be a radical change. But with proper research, planning and review, implementation can be simpler than you imagine. Now, after more than a year using OneCampus by rSmart to deliver myHilltop, it’s clear we made the right choice and the feedback we’ve received from our community is uniformly appreciative.
About the Author
Nicole Hill is the OneCampus Product Owner at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX and is also the recipient of the 2018 rSmart Modernizing Campus Technology Award.