Saïd Business School Wins Acquia Award in the Higher Education Category
by Akos Horvath
Pronovix won Acquia’s Partner Site of the Year Award in the Higher Education category for its work on the public website of Saïd Business School. Ákos Horváth and Diana Lakatos of Pronovix contributed to this post.
Our goal was to build an easy to use system that allows editors to maintain content easily, and present content professionally and consistently without administrator support.
Switching to Drupal
The School switched to Drupal from a legacy system, so we had to form a common terminology, understanding their requirements, proposing Drupal solutions for expected functionality and drawing their attention to new possibilities that Drupal had to offer.
The School used Microsoft Exchange to deliver their online presence, and it became clear early on that their terminology was way different from that of Drupal’s. Both Acquia and us paid careful attention to form a common terminology in all the discussions we had with the client.
We consequently used and compared the terminology of the two systems, so that we could correctly understand the requirements and make suggestions when different solutions were available.
More possibilities for content editors
As the client wasn’t familiar with many built-in features of Drupal, the first thing we discussed was the out-of-the-box solution for the editorial workflow: the Workbench module.
During content creation the content items go through different stages that make it possible to monitor the text and media content published on the site. Drupal by default does content locking on a node level, but in this project this was not sufficient because we had to prevent concurrent editing ending up in content loss.
We used field collections and dependencies to create complex content structures. This means that content types themselves are modular and can be compiled by adding other content types to them. For example an article can be compiled from text content, video, a gallery, and specific content tiles. All this is managed on the editorial level, so there’s no need for editors to manage blocks. We extensively used entity references to enhance the editor experience this way.
At Saïd Business School, there are many different types of content editors that only access their own content, that’s why we built the permission system of content editors using Organic Groups. Editors of different roles are responsible for different statuses of the same content item. They can be assigned to several groups and they can use the School's SSO (single sign on) infrastructure for signing in through Shibboleth.
Great user experience - no compromise on performance
We implemented the very ambitious design created by One Ltd. that aims to provide a fresh, visually pleasing experience on both desktop and mobile devices.
Because of the required design and highly specialized structure we decided to write a custom theme, as overriding existing base themes would have been more complicated than building our own from the ground up.
We also paid careful attention to the user experience on the administrator interface. Two good examples are content tiles and the entity reference widget.
The pages containing content tiles are built using the Isotope library. We built several pages with Page manager and minipanels, but we highly simplified the HTML structure for the sake of better performance.
Unpublished content shows up in the admin view, they get to see it in place before it’s published. Content tiles on the admin interface change their appearance based on their status in the editorial workflow: tiles waiting to be published get a red frame to catch the attention of editors.
The Entity Reference Widget
Because of the large amount of content, an autocomplete field would have been very difficult to use. So we extended the field with a view and created the Entity Reference Widget.
The Entity Reference Widget makes it easy to select and add already existing content to other content types. Editors see the list of available content on the right, where they can search and filter them. On the left they can see the content they added, then remove or rearrange it.
The School's infrastructure needed multiple layers of caching: We used several different entities and it was quite a challenge to have them displayed correctly and refreshed when necessary using Memcache through Drupal’s caching and Varnish.
So we formed an action team from the members of Acquia, the School’s own devops team and our development team to deal with the issues. We monitored and analysed the logs every two days and optimised the system until everything worked together seamlessly.
As the School assigned an important role to the site in the renewal of its web presence and services it was important to build an easy to use system that allows editors to maintain content easily, and present content professionally and consistently without administrator support.
Acquia's hosting platform helped us a lot during the development and deployment process:
- They already had a proven workflow for development and deployment, that we were already familiar with because of previous projects.
- Both Acquia and us dedicated team members for deployment, which made keeping track of the deploys and follow-ups easy.
- The Acquia cloud is scalable — whenever we needed more resources, our partners from Acquia helpfully provided them.
Integration with the School’s infrastructure
A great advantage of using Drupal for all sites of SBS is that they could all be integrated using Services and REST based on json. This ensures all the data handled on other sites is up-to-date while administrators are able to control the transactions.
We were excited to hear from the client that the end result is very different from their competitors’ websites. The flexible site structure we developed can grow with the School, and is adaptable to suit different business needs.