Tech Success: Web management comes easy for Calif. town

IT solutions at work

Project: Web site content management system

Agency: Rialto, Calif. 

Partners: RedDot Solutions Corp., New York; and Pandemic Media, Pasadena, Calif.

Goal: Revamp the city's Web site and ensure it stays up to date.

Obstacles: Maintaining the old site fell to the city's IT department, which did not have the time or resources to keep the Web site updated and useful for visitors.

Solution: Install RedDot's content management solution that lets non-technical staff update and maintain the city's Web site. The system also ensures that the site's designs and styles stay consistent. Functions in RedDot also logically group topics that are similar but that are maintained and administered by different departments.

Payoff: Rialto's site is more effective because it's easy to maintain and keep information up to date.

Using RedDot's content management solution, Rialto employees click on red dots associated with elements of the city's Web site, then edit directly on the page or drag new content onto the page.

Online since the mid-1990s, the city of Rialto, Calif.'s Web site had limited space, was difficult to maintain and badly needed a redesign.

Rather than outsource maintenance of a newly designed site, city leaders opted to install a system that lets non-technical employees update the site's content. RedDot Solutions Corp.'s Content Management Solution was used for Rialto's new site, and Pandemic Media, a systems integrator with expertise in Internet development and CMS, installed it.

The issues Rialto faced are typical of those facing many cities and government agencies as Web sites begin to show their age, said Kirk Biglione, a principal with Pandemic Media in Pasadena, Calif.

"Most of these sites have been created ad hoc, by city staffs that really don't have a lot of background in user interaction, design or information architecture," Biglione said. "A lot of first- and second-generation Web sites have been running on content development tools such as FrontPage and Dreamweaver, which aren't true content management systems."

In the case of Rialto, Dreamweaver from Macromedia Inc. was used to develop and maintain the old site, said Angela Perry, the city's webmaster.

With the old site, the bulk of the maintenance and content updating fell to Perry. Employees would send her updates, and it would be up to her to put in the changes. The system was inefficient and did not let the creators of content work directly on the site.

City officials feared outsourcing the site would lead to the same inefficiencies.

"All the departments wanted to have more information on the Web site," said June Overholt, Rialto's chief financial officer. "With the content management system, each department within the city has the flexibility to do the changes and updates themselves."

Deciding between outsourcing and content management is a choice many government agencies face, said Darren Guarnaccia, director of technology for New York-based RedDot. Although outsourcing at first appears least expensive, Guarnaccia said it ends up costing more than a content management system.

Outsourcing can create a mind-set to limit changes to a site, because each change costs money, he said. Then the site becomes less useful, because it doesn't have up-to-date information.

"What happens when citizens can't find the information?" Guarnaccia said. "They pick up the phone and start calling. And a phone call costs infinitely more than a Web channel."

With a content management solution, employees can make changes whenever necessary. If the public works department starts receiving a lot of calls about, for example, where the city's recycling drop off centers are, that information can be added immediately to the Web site.

"Once you've got your design, structure and architecture all laid out, RedDot helps you enforce the structure you've developed," Biglione said. "It guides users through creating and maintaining content in such a way that they don't have to think about the hard parts, because that's already been taken care of."

To update content using RedDot's CMS, Rialto employees click on little red dots next to a Web site element such as a block of text. Edits can be made right on the page, or files can be dragged onto the page. The changes are instantaneous, and the person doing the updating can see how the edits will look when published on the Web.

Controls also can be put in place to ensure that the appropriate people review changes to certain areas of a Web site. An administrator can restrict permission to make changes to specific page areas to specific users. The ability to set such controls helps ensure that a site's design doesn't lose its consistency as changes are made.

"If you paste a word into a page and it's a horrible shade of green, RedDot will look at the template and the style rules and say you can't use that color and take it out," Guarnaccia said.

RedDot also has a feature to help improve business processes among separate city or agency divisions. In Rialto, several different departments issue various permits. To consolidate all permit information into a single "permit center," RedDot's categories and keywords feature was used to tag content and make it available in a centralized location, Biglione said.

"All the departments are maintaining their own permit information in their own areas," he said. "At the same time, there's the permit center where any content tagged as being a permit shows up as well."

Another issue Rialto officials wanted to address with the city's new Web site was to make it accessible to people with visual or other physical impairments. Special Web browsers, for example, exist for people with vision impairments, said RedDot's Guarnaccia.

To ensure that Web pages will work with these special browsers, the site must adhere to the World Wide Web Consortium's standards, Guarnaccia said. RedDot has built-in compliance tools, so as non-technical employees update the site, it will remain compliant with the accessibility standards.

"That's what CMS is all about, giving those non-technical users the ability to do what they need to do," Biglione said. "Because there really shouldn't be an intermediary between the people creating the content and the people consuming the content."

If you have an innovative solution that you recently installed in a government agency, contact Staff Writer Doug Beizer at dbeizer@postnewsweektech.com.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Washington Technology.

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