This article describes the development of a content management system(CMS)-based web site for the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) , a UK strategic advisory body. After introducing the JISC, some of the motivations for developing a new web site are outlined, as well as an overview of the site mechanisms and some of the development issues. Navigational functions are described, followed by a more detailed examination of one section, projects and programmes. We examine some of the issues involving training and supporting CMS users, and conclude with observations on the future development of the web site.
2. The JISC
The JISC is an independent advisory body that supports further and higher education by providing strategic guidance, advice and opportunities to use information and communications technology (ICT) to support teaching, learning, research and administration.
The JISC is financed by the UK further and higher education funding councils, and operates through a committee system, the membership of which comprises senior managers, academics and technology experts working in education. These committees are supported by the JISC executive, facilitating policy definition and the management of JISC-funded services and programmes of activities and projects.
The JISC executive comprises approximately 50 staff, distributed around UK educational institutions. As well as funded projects and services, a number of external consultants and advisors support content preparation, production and dissemination activities.
3. The JISC web site
In 1999, JISC Assist (the communications and outreach division of the JISC) embarked on a programme of activities associated with developing a coherent message to the community about the range of JISC activities. The JISC web site is the key component in developing this message and is at the heart of the JISC's emerging communications and dissemination strategies.
The need to increase community access to JISC information and resources in a coherent and coordinated way was central to the work. A primary directive of the redevelopment was to reduce the need for the community to understand the complexity of the JISC in order to identify useful resources.
A phased plan of activities for repositioning the JISC web site began with a period of research including three pieces of work :
The findings of the reports were complementary, and all pointed to the need for the JISC to reposition its web site to become a leading example of best practice in information management.
The usability report gave a number of recommendations for the short-, medium- and long-term. The short-term and some of the medium-term recommendations were implemented immediately in the first phase of web redevelopment, along with the recommendations from the accessibility audit. This included:
Design and standard navigation features were applied to every page by the web server, using templates to ensure a consistent look and feel. This stage of the development did not attempt to deal with the longer-term recommendations of the reports, namely to develop database technology to run the site and to implement content management systems. These technologies were still not widely adopted in educational web sites at that time.
Implementing the remaining recommendations required an extensive programme of reorganisation work, and in January 2001 JISC Assist proceeded with an OJEC tender for the second phase, redeveloping the web site to include workflow processes for information management and preservation issues.
Previously, JISC web content was produced by a small number of staff, using a centralised model to mount content and make changes. This approach often resulted in internal delays and frustration. The site lacked any automated features to maintain time-limited content such as news and events and, as such, this type of content could not easily be managed.
In 2001, a survey was carried out amongst typical users of the old web site, focusing on how easily (or otherwise) users found information for which they were looking. One hundred and thirty-one responses were received, revealing a number of problems with the site. Many of the comments focused on the difficulty of finding information. This was partly due to the fact that, as more content was added to the web site, it became more difficult to locate current information, by either searching or browsing, among the older content. Information was also presented under various JISC initiatives, requiring users to understand JISC structures in order to locate it. Further, a clear need emerged to address the issues of redundancy, customised information and aspects of the JISC's investment that were not well described.
In recent years, web development has changed. Advances in browser functionality now offer the developer more sophisticated methods for presenting information. However, there is a far greater emphasis on ensuring that this information is easy to obtain from the web site, with legal requirements for web sites to adhere to accessibility standards . As the Internet has moved from being a novelty to a niche, and finally to a mainstream dissemination channel, so expectations regarding the quality and accuracy of its content, especially that of "trusted" organisations such as educational funding bodies, has increased.
The new web site would deliver:
4. The CMS
4.1 Overview of development
A Content Management System (CMS) was developed  to allow the storage and manipulation of web site content. CMS users were provided with direct editorial access to defined and appropriate portions of the content. Such a system therefore allows distributed JISC staff, and other CMS users, to mount content on the web site as soon as it has been created.
Initially working to a formal specification, external contractors  developed the CMS. An online bulletin board facility, the Change Control System (CCS), was used by the developers, the JISC web manager (Clare Rogers) and an external consultant (John Kirriemuir). The CCS allowed error, enhancement or functionality requests, as well as queries to be logged, time-stamped and answered. By April 2003, nearly 300 CCS threads had been logged.
The CMS uses ActiveX controls, operating through the Internet Explorer browser. Installation automatically takes place when a user logs on to the CMS for the first time on a particular PC; installation is only necessary once on each computer. Interaction with the CMS is an online activity (through modem or network), with the CMS based on a server at Eduserv .
CMS users can therefore manipulate content in the CMS from a number of locations. For example:
To date the CMS has been used from various locations including: cybercafes, public library PCs, Internet kiosks, hotel Internet facilities, and even the middle of a loch using a laptop connected to a mobile phone. To test the "anywhere, anytime" nature of CMS access, users have also successfully installed the CMS and created content in several countries other than the UK (Belgium, Sweden, USA, Ireland, Canada).
4.2 CMS users
Each file in the CMS corresponds to a page on the JISC web site. There are three types of file permission:
There are three kinds of CMS users:
CMS users are organized into groups. Each user has an individual username and password, while each group is assigned a set of access permissions by the superusers.
4.3 Using the CMS
When a CMS user logs on, two main windows are presented: the document tree and the editing window.
4.3.1 Document Tree
In the document tree window, the user can see the folders/directories and files to which they have access within the CMS. The directory structure and icons are very similar to those used in Windows Explorer. To add a new file, the user clicks on the appropriate folder and selects add from the list of functions at the bottom of the window. Other functions offer the ability to edit a file, publish it (i.e. make it visible on the web site), delete it (from the CMS), or suspend it (i.e., remove it from the web site, but retain within the CMS for future editing and publishing).
4.3.2 Editing window
The editing window is used to enter and manipulate content within a file. For most files, this consists of two parts:
Each file has an audit trail, which can be viewed by CMS users with browse access. Every time a change is made such as an edit or publication the date, type of change and name of the CMS user who made the change is added to the trail. Where a page is accessible by multiple CMS users, the audit trail enables the individual who made particular changes to be identified.
An important feature of the audit trail is its provision of access to previous versions of a file. This is useful when, for example, a CMS user deletes some important content from a file. When the mistake comes to light, a previous version can be re-published, restoring the important content.
4.4 Web and CMS design issues
4.4.1 Browser compatibility
One issue that came to light during the design and testing of the web site is the wide range of browser types, and versions of browsers, used in UK Further and Higher Education (FE and HE). by staff and students across educational institutions. In many cases, their choice of browser is restricted to that prescribed by the institution.
Considerable work was undertaken to ensure that as wide a range of browsers as possible could correctly display content from the JISC web site. For example, it was discovered that some UK universities still used earlier versions of Netscape (v 4.x), necessitating development and testing to ensure that users of this browser version could view the web site correctly.
4.4.2 Text-only viewing
A version of the web site with all graphics and images removed was deemed necessary for legislative reasons and so that users of text-oriented browsers (such as speech-output browsers) could access content.
The web site incorporates the free Betsie (BBC Education Text to Speech Internet Enhancer) parser , offering a link from every page to a text-only version of the site. Using this system, the user can also configure certain aspects of the display, such as the text size and colour, and the background colour.
This facility has proved highly popular. Surprisingly, feedback has indicated that some users, despite having access to the newest browsers and fast download connections, prefer to use this text-only version for its simplicity and speed of use.
4.4.3 Pictures and graphics
In keeping with the web sites of many other educational and funding bodies, pictures and images were kept to a minimum. While an abundance of pictures may make the site "prettier", they adversely affect users on slow modem connections, those who use text-only or disability browsers, or users who, out of choice, have images and graphics turned off.
A repository allows CMS users to both upload images into a shared internal area and to embed images from this area into their web pages. The CMS user can edit descriptive information about an image within the CMS. Some of this descriptive information is used to generate the ALT tag for the image.
4.4.4 File/page size
The eWebEditPro tool can only handle web pages of a certain size (in terms of HTML). Very long pages slow down the speed of the tool. However, this was considered to be an implicit advantage, as it would discourage CMS users from creating single web pages of a length that many people found difficult to load or read on screen.
4.4.5 File attachments
One of the more unusual aspects of the web site is that non-HTML files (such as PDF and RTF/ Word documents) are not linked to from the body of a document, but rather appear at the bottom of the document as a list of attachments. This was designed in response to complaints from many users that it could take a long time to "hunt the attachment" in long web pages, especially strategy and guidance documents.
A clear list of attachments at the foot of the page makes it easier to view and access all such files associated with a page. It also greatly reduces the amount of time it takes for disability browsers to get to an attachment, as a link at the top of the page enables users to jump straight to the list.
4.4.6 Printer version
Many users indicated a preference to read all but the shortest web pages offline and/or off screen. Therefore, a printer-friendly facility was developed. When activated, a version of the current page is opened in a new window with the navigation and template surrounding the content removed, enabling a "cleaner" version of the page to be printed.
4.5 Old web site content
A significant area of work involved moving content over from the old web site. This raised a myriad of issues; for example:
5. Finding relevant content quickly
In developing the new web site, the emphasis was on making it easier for people in the communities served by the JISC to find information of relevance. A wide range of considerations and opinion were taken into account, resulting in a variety of mechanisms being incorporated into the site, as described in the remainder of this section.
5.1 Main website sections
Links to eight main sections appear in the band header at the top of every page. These are sections or pages which are either in high demand or to which users required more visible links.
Various automated mechanisms were developed so that certain pages are automatically linked from a variety of locations. For example, when news items and events are entered into the CMS and published, thenso long as they are still "current"a link to the relevant page is automatically generated and included on the home page from the title of the news item or event. When the item is no longer "current", e.g., the event has taken place, then the link and title disappear from the home page.
5.2 Popular pages
On the home page, a list of five links to pages on the web site is presented under the term "Popular". These are the five most downloaded pages over the last two weeks by all web site users. Superusers can edit a list of "Popular page exclusions" so that the home page, for example, is not always top of this list.
5.3 Quick links
5.4 Guides to resources and services
Three different types of guide to Internet-based resources and JISC-funded services were incorporated into the web site: resource-oriented guides, user-oriented guides and topic-based "Advice and Guidance" information.
5.4.1 Resource guides
Resource guides  are developed from the perspective of specific academic subject areas. They offer an overview of the key resources available to the post-16 education sector. Each resource guide has been compiled by a subject specialist who, in consultation with members of his or her subject community, has selected, described and provided links to key resources in that discipline.
Seven resource guides have so far been developed, maintained by advisors based in various UK universities. The CMS was developed to allow the advisors to "share" a pool of common resources, and also to individualise the text to suit their own subject areas / guides. Mechanisms were built into the CMS allowing:
5.4.2 User guides
User guides  are developed from the perspective of specific types of user. These are web-only guides to services, publications, mailing lists, events, and other resources funded by the JISC. Initially, user guides were developed for those new to (or unfamiliar with) the JISC, technical staff, and staff based in FE institutions.
5.4.3 "Advice and Guidance" topic information
These  are developed from the perspective of "issues" or "situations" that academic staff may face. For example, one topic deals with issues surrounding the location, use and creation of electronic content. The topic sets out the key issues, and provides descriptions of mainly online resources and services that may assist in dealing with each issue. Topics can be downloaded as two-page PDF documents or browsed and searched in more detail on the web site.
5.5 Archiving mechanisms
A frequent complaint of web site users in the 2001 survey was the amount of "old" information on the web site that had to be negotiated in order to locate newer content. Three archiving mechanisms were incorporated into the system to make it easier to indicate to users content that is no longer being updated.
5.5.1 Automatic date archiving
In some sections of the website, when an item has exceeded a specified date entered by the CMS user, it is automatically relocated to a different section. For example, when an event has concluded, it is no longer linked from the current events  page, but is linked from the appropriate year in the past events  section. The same principle is applied to funding opportunities, publications, news and projects.
5.5.2 Manual archiving
With most files, the CMS user can "toggle" between the file being "current" (default) or "archived". Archived files appear on the live web site with a prominent "archived" banner . (This banner links to the current JISC web retention policy.) In search results, manually archived items are also labeled as such.
5.5.3 Review archiving
Items can be assigned to one of a definable list of "types" within the CMS, e.g., briefing paper, consultation document or guidance document. Each type defines how long associated items are to remain archived before the web editor is notified by the CMS that the item should be reviewed, with a view to either further archiving or deletion.
5.6 Search mechanisms
Many users complained that the search system on the old site returned large numbers of irrelevant results. Consequently, a number of enhancements were made to the search mechanisms on the new web site:
Some sections required redirects to take users to information in its new location. These have been used sparingly to avoid server overload and instead encourage:
Some content was reorganised into different sections as a result of JISC organisational restructuring. Redirects usually take users to a section "home" page linking to all the relevant content.
5.8 External search engines
At launch, the new site was registered with all the major search engines, such as Google. Procedures vary greatly for each engine registration, so for some the new site was not indexed for over 6 weeks. This did result in delivery of old site URLs during this time, but eventually only new site URLs were indexed. Therefore, external referencing greatly increased, as did user satisfaction.
6. Projects and Programmes
A substantial proportion of JISC funding and resources is committed to programmes of projects. Due to the large number of projects either completed or continuing, a separate section was built for programme and project information .
Programme managers were set up as CMS users, with the ability to control programme and project pages. Both types of pages have metadata fields within the CMS allowing the entry of specialist metadata, such as the programme/project start and end dates. Such information allows the web site to automatically generate browsable pages of current and completed programmes and projects, as well as forthcoming programmes.
As the JISC web site does not house individual project web sites (these are usually maintained at their host institution by the project team), a field is provided in the project description template for the URL of the project web site, which is displayed as a link from the project description web page.
The data structure for this section is built around the simple relationship between a project and a programme. A project is always associated with a programme (and conversely, a programme is associated with a number of projects). When a CMS user enters details of a project, he or she selects the programme with which the project is associated. This assists with project indexing; it also means that when a user views a programme description, the web page contains an automatically generated list of links to the projects funded under that programme . Conversely, project description pages contain an automatically generated link to the associated programme description page.
User feedback indicated a variety of reasons for accessing information concerning JISC-funded projects. This necessitated the development of a variety of mechanisms to assist users in locating specific project information:
The web pages generated by all of these mechanisms use the description, metadata or other details stored about each project. For example, the options to list projects according to end date (useful when identifying projects that are soon to provide completed deliverables or final reports) uses the end date of projects that have yet to be complete.
7. Training CMS users
7.1 Installation and basic training
Most CMS training and support was undertaken remotely. Training consisted of:
CMS users took to the system in a variety of ways. More enthusiastic users with PC experience required virtually no training, and were editing and publishing content within 10 minutes of installing the CMS; other users required more detailed training and assistance. As JISC staff are housed mainly in four locations , JISC CMS users were encouraged to ask fellow users in the same office for help and advice. Previous CMS users were also useful sources of feedback regarding the functionality of the system.
7.2 CMS training facility
Within the CMS, an area was set up for inexperienced CMS users. This allowed people to experiment with creating, editing and publishing files, and creating CMS directories and navigational functions, without interfering with "public" content. The area is automatically wiped of files every night, therefore freeing up filenames for re-use and discouraging any CMS users from permanently storing content there.
7.3 Content quality
The tools and mechanisms available to the CMS user enable content to be processed and manipulated with considerable speed and ease. However, the CMS cannot improve the quality of such content. If a CMS user enters poorly written content, it will still appear on the public web site as poorly written content, albeit in a slightly prettier format.
A variety of quality issues have been raised, and new ones emerge periodically. For example:
Evolving guidelines were provided in the documentation. However, it is clear that:
8. Future development
The CMS-based web site development was completed at the start of December 2002. Following formal approval from the JISC, it was made public in February 2003; in April, a full-time web editor was recruited to take over the maintenance of the web site and to provide non-technical support to CMS users.
Web site development is an ongoing, iterative process. There is still some content-based work to be done, such as collating and including project information from two early JISC programmes (NFF and eLib). Technical development work is ongoing, with a list of "desired" and "required" items kept constantly updated and prioritised.
Some additional functionality will shortly be applied to support CMS users, including:
It is of paramount importance that the web site is developed according to the information needs of the community of users that the JISC serves. This ensures that:
Feedback and comments about the JISC web site can be provided through a number of routes:
 JISC web site development reports <http://www.jisc.ac.uk/index.cfm?name=about_site_development>.
 Content Management Systems, Paul Browning and Mike Lowndes <http://www.jisc.ac.uk/index.cfm?name=techwatch_report_0102>.
 User guides <http://www.jisc.ac.uk/index.cfm?name=userguides_home>.
 Example of archived content <http://www.jisc.ac.uk/index.cfm?name=wg_mirroring_workshopreport>.
 Example programme of projects: Authentication, Authorisation and Accounting <http://www.jisc.ac.uk/index.cfm?name=programme_aaa>.
 JISC web comment and enquiry form <http://www.jisc.ac.uk/index.cfm?name=form&formid=614061078>.
 JISC user groups <http://www.jisc.ac.uk/index.cfm?name=services_user_groups>.
 Regional support centres <http://www.jisc.ac.uk/index.cfm?name=rsclocation>.
Copyright © Clare Rogers and John Kirriemuir