Design, development and migration of multiple websites, an internally-facing corporate intranet and cloud hosting.
The London Borough of Hackney (LBH) is an inner London borough situated in the east of the capital. Hackney Learning Trust (HLT) is part of Hackney’s Children and Young People’s Services (CYPS) Directorate and is responsible for all children’s centres, schools and early years and adult education in Hackney.
In 2017 it commissioned Code Enigma to deliver a web migration project of five websites built in Sharepoint and WordPress to a new single platform.
The project involved the design, development and migration of multiple websites, including a highly customised eCommerce site and a highly customised backend order fulfilment system. The sites also included an internally-facing corporate intranet. The project also required a single, cloud-hosted platform to provide a secure performant infrastructure with no internal maintenance overhead.
Following a full EU procurement, Code Enigma was chosen by HLT for their project.
The work comprised:
- User and stakeholder research to determine design principles and information architecture;
- A single, scalable platform hosted on a cloud-based server infrastructure;
- A powerful, easy to use content management system;
- Design and information architecture in line with Government Digital Service guidelines;
- Ecommerce functionality;
- Secure extranet services with single sign-on using Active Directory;
- Faster searching through structured filtering of results and SOLR;
- Support for the internal web team in the form of training shared testing and deployment systems, and assistance with data migration.
Case Goals and Results
The main technical goal was to move to a single flexible CMS that could support a family of sites that share some functionality but also have specialist requirements such as eCommerce and Active Directory integration.
The main communication goal was to provide improved user experience making it easier for parents to find relevant information, and making it easier for customers to find and purchase products and services.
The business goals were to reduce pressure on other support channels by making the website the first and ideally only port of call, to improve the quality of services provided to Hackney residents, and to improve sales conversion rates.
The technical result was a set of Drupal 8 sites, using a shared design pattern library, and shared modules wherever possible. On top of the shared elements, each site has custom features. As the customisations are substantial, we opted for separate sites rather than a single multi-site configuration.
Testing of the sites with parents groups and internal stakeholders indicate that the application of Government Design Service principles was effective, with parents reporting key information easier to find, and sales revenues remaining stable. Having said that, communication and sales results are affected by many considerations that go beyond the scope of a Drupal CMS, and we address some of those in the challenge section below.
Feedback from the client has been positive and, in fact, we have continued to provide ongoing development support services. The project review with the client noted that we were very responsive to the need for fluidity inherent in a project of this type and proved ourselves very adept in the management of change in accordance with true Agile methodologies.
From a design perspective, we produced a standard set of design patterns to ensure consistency in the look and feel across sites. We applied a task-based focus for information architecture and navigation, featuring ‘top tasks’ for priority audiences.
On ecommerce, we used Drupal Commerce and Groups as a foundation for extensive customisation to replicate legacy commerce features while providing an improved customer journey that improves conversion rates.
At the sales stage, the main challenge was to convince the client of the benefits of moving to an Open Source platform. Although it’s easy to grasp the benefits of moving away from licencing costs for software such as Sharepoint, this does not mean there aren’t concerns about the Open source concept, particularly in risk-averse organisations. We think some key factors that swayed this decision were having an internal web team that prioritised flexibility, our ability to provide an end-to-end solution, and our honesty in presenting both pros and cons of using Drupal. In particular, we no longer use the argument that you can build enterprise sites by slapping together contributed modules. Fortunately, we were working with an experienced web team that valued our honesty on these matters.
The design challenge was to come up with a coherent design model that would work across multiple sites in order to produce sites that comply with UK Government Digital Service (GDS) design principles. We strongly endorse these principles but they do often come into conflict with the commissioning process where assumptions have already been made, and a timeline set without factoring in the need for research and iteration. This risk was mitigated in Hackney by having a client that was keen to get as close as possible to the GDS model within those constraints. Consequently we started with an agreed idea of task-based information architecture and a clear sense of priority audiences. We then modelled this into a pattern library, using atomic design principles. This enabled us to come up with a reusable set of patterns that could be utilised across multiple sites. We then integrated the pattern library with Drupal using the components module. In theory, this model allows designers to design outside Drupal and to some extent independent of developers. In practice, that separation remains harder to achieve in practice, particularly in an Agile project where models can change at any time.
The main technical challenge was implementing features of a legacy ecommerce system in Drupal Commerce. A specific example of this is that in Hackney, purchases are often made by one agency on behalf of another. We achieved this using the Groups module with a custom ordering gateway.
Finally, the human challenge was managing expectations and change across multiple sites, each of which had an existing set of users and administrators. In effect, this gave us more than one product owner. On the other hand, the client’s internal web manager did a great job of managing expectations and championing the principles of user-led design. We also had a project board containing high ranking officers so there was a mechanism for heading off some resistance to change.
What’s Influential About This Case Study?
The Hackney sites are a good example of applying GDS principles, which in themselves are excellent principles for effective web design. In particular, the principles of being user-led and working hard to make things simple lie at the heart of these sites. One small example is a widget that provides jump navigation to help parents get to the important points in lengthy official documents. This may not seem like a big deal, but helping people from disadvantaged communities to get hold of relevant information is really important. It’s a good feeling to build things in Drupal for public services where we can see the technology delivering clear social value.
In the same vein, we’re really pleased with the task-based navigation, as that also focuses on users with clear priorities about who the important users are. Certainly, we can’t take the credit on this. Hackney’s web team were committed to this approach when we came on board. Nevertheless, we think the end result is really clean designs that work effectively across multiple devices.
We think the commerce site is a strong example of how Drupal and Drupal Commerce, in particular, can be customised to meet most edge cases. We said earlier that we don’t sell Drupal as having out the box solutions for every eventuality. On the other hand, we do sell Drupal providing a framework that can address virtually any use case.
A final aspect of this project that we’re proud of is that we designed, built and launched the sites within twelve months. It’s incredibly easy for projects like this to overrun, leading to tensions between client and supplier. Here we worked closely together with the internal web team throughout, with a shared sense of ownership.