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Drupal helps web support staff save time, get proactive

May 24, 2016
Department of Entomology home page
The Department of Entomology is just one of the departments within CFANs to create a website using Drupal

"It's a lot more interesting to spend time thinking about ways to make our sites more useful rather than just ways to keep them running."
—Rachel Lam, CFANS graphic designer and web support coordinator

As a graphic designer and web support coordinator for the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS), Rachel Lam knows the value of a comprehensive and capable website-development tool.

With responsibility for supporting between 250 and 300 CFANS websites, Rachel doesn't have time for inefficient or complicated website tools.

Fortunately, the introduction of Drupal (both Enterprise Drupal and Drupal Lite) to the University of Minnesota has not only helped Rachel manage the introduction of more effective websites, but also freed her to be more proactive in her role.

Challenge

Lack of design flexibility

Prior to the introduction of Drupal to the University, most of the CFANS websites were created in UMContent or Wordpress.

While those development tools had served their purpose, they were far from ideal.

"Over the years they had gotten more difficult to use and weren't well matched with modern browsers," Rachel said. "Most importantly, they didn't offer a lot of customization options. Our choices were pretty limited."

UMContent, Wordpress and HTML (which was also used to create some CFANS websites) also elicited many questions from users who had a difficult time matching their needs with those tools' capabilities.

Solution

Customization at the push of a button

"From their first training on Drupal, almost all of our site editors came back and said, 'Wow, this is wonderful. We love it,'" said Rachel. "They appreciate the ability to have different layouts, page-by-page. The sites are so much more attractive now."

The ability to control and customize more of the sites' content also helps enhance communication.

"It's so much easier to break things up in a way that that makes sense from a communications standpoint, whether it's highlighting text or strategically placing images," Rachel added.

Drupal also makes it possible for Rachel and CFANS' site editors to make changes to a single page while automatically updating other sections of a website and/or other University websites.

"For example, if we make a change to a faculty profile page, it automatically updates the faculty table on the main faculty page," she explained. "It's saved us a lot of maintenance time and helped us avoid unintentionally having out-of-date information on our sites."

And when Rachel makes tweaks to the design that defines CFANS' umbrella look—something she's done twice in the last 12 months—it can be distributed to all CFANS sites with the push of a button.

Outcome

Free to get proactive

"Between the good and responsive support that IT gives for its Drupal sites and the fact that it's much easier to use than our previous website tools, it's freed me up to provide other kinds of support."

Among the more proactive activities that Rachel now has time to explore is helping editors use their sites more effectively.

"Because I don't have to do so much support and troubleshooting now, I have time to focus on things like Google Analytics and usability strategies," Rachel explained.

"It's a lot more interesting to spend time thinking about ways to make our sites more useful rather than just ways to keep them running."

See the sites

The following websites are among the hundreds created by CFANS using Drupal and Drupal Lite