Managing websites no longer 'black art'

Russell Jones, chief of information technology at Carter Holt Harvey, says technical people from outside the company used to be needed to help build websites for the company, but technology now allows web development to be a self-managed process.

Russell Jones, chief of information technology at Carter Holt Harvey, says technical people from outside the company used to be needed to help build websites for the company, but technology now allows web development to be a self-managed process.

The company has about 50 intranet and internet websites, maintained using mainly Vignette, each managed by individual departments rather than the IT department or some external source.

“[Web development] is not a black art anymore,” Jones says.

While Vignette is better known for its abilities to run larger, more complex sites (like TVNZ), those looking for local content management products which don’t break the budget are now spoiled for choice. Among them, Rex offers three products, Straker offers Shado, e-cision sells WebNovo, Cactuslab offers the open source content management Supermodel and Hawera firm Digitalus offers Contented.

Modern content management software offers templates and other capabilities for creation and updating to be done internally, with the systems themselves now costing as little as $1500 and hosted options available for as little as $1000 and a monthly hosting fee. Smaller organisations are jumping at the chance to run their own sites.

Lindsay Prescott, communications manager at the Canterbury Development Corporation, will soon no longer have to face the “bureaucratic processes” of dealing with staff at Christchurch City Council every time his website needs updating. Whangaparaoa School secretary Teresa Henderson can now instantly put out newsletters on her school website, even though she admits “I’m no computer whizz”. And Hanmer Springs thermal resort marketing staff can publicise last-minute deals.

Canterbury Development Corporation uses a product called Thrive on its main website, developed by Christchurch-based Cabbage Tree Creative.

Prescott says the business development agency’s previous site, set for replacement next month, was created by his predecessor, “a development-type person”. The need to update the current site creates bottlenecks, he says, as only the developer can update the site.

The current site is also not as interactive as the development corporation would like, and it would like non-technical people to be able to maintain and add features to it. Thrive, Prescott says, allows specific parts of the website to be assigned to individuals, thus easing “bureaucratic processes”. Mistakes can be repaired quickly and changes can be made remotely from anywhere.

“It will change my function from someone who has to play around in ASP and HTML to have more of an editorial function with the website, which is what I should be doing as communications manager,” he says.

Prescott says the basic Thrive product, called Fusion, with its standard templates and modules is “idiot-proof”, though he would like more flexibility such as more layout options and the ability to create newsletters.

“However, I have language knowledge. For the majority of people, the system is probably perfect.”

Fellow Thrive user, Hanmer Springs Thermal Resort, has had its new site running for about two months. It used to employ outsiders to update the site. Now the resort’s marketing manager, Nerida Ramsey, modifies and updates the website.

“We can control the information that’s up there, keep it up to date and relevant,” says general manager Graeme Abbott. “If we have promotions, we can change it quite easily.”

Teresa Henderson says Whangaparoa School installed the Cyberglue content management system, from the Auckland company of the same name, a couple of months ago, going live with a new website in September. Previously ex-pupils updated the site, meaning they were not made as often as required. Now, changes to the website can be cut and pasted from a Word document.

“When I do a newsletter, I put it straight into the computer and I have parents ringing straight away to say how good the newsletter is. I am no computer whizz, but I can manage it,” Henderson says.

Cabbage Tree Creative says Thrive is used by about 80 websites mainly in tourism and economic development. Modules can be added such as online reservation, accepting credit cards and real-time exchange rates.

“Rather than be an online brochure, the website becomes core to their business,” says Laurence Smith, self-styled “chief cabbage” at Cabbage Tree Creative.

Craig McCullough, director of business development at Cyberglue, says licence fees for his systems can cost from $3000 to $200,000. An ASP option costs $1000 to set up and $275 a month for hosting, maintenance and support.

“It’s high-end CMS features for peanuts,” McCullough says.

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