Case study: Bentley University
Bentley University Powers Higher Education with Acquia and Drupal
One of the nation’s leading business schools, Bentley University, serves more than 5,000 students annually. The university relies heavily on its online resources to communicate to students, faculty, and many key stakeholders, managing over 75,000 pages of unique content. But Bentley’s previous management tools made content updates difficult; expanding functionality was prohibitively expensive. Needing a cost-effective, flexible solution, Bentley’s web team turned to Drupal.
Managed using a combination of ColdFusion pages and a proprietary CMS, the Bentley University website required content to be manually updated, causing content generation to get stuck in the queue, and discouraging outdated content from being refreshed. Locating and retaining talent from a shrinking pool of developers for the ColdFusion platform had become increasingly difficult and costly.
ColdFusion was also cumbersome when it came to adding new functionality. “There were many features we were interested in adding to our site,” said Nicholas Maloney, Bentley’s web architect at the time of the initial transition. “Unfortunately, most of these solutions involved writing extensive amounts of code from scratch. This limited our growth to only the most pressing issues— which were usually reactive bug fixes and other time-sensitive issues.”
Additionally, the school’s lean web team meant that the responsibility for content updates would need to be shared across the university. “Our web team is relatively small; in fact, we have a single person who supports daily web requests, handling most inquiries and bringing in developer help if needed. Routing daily content updates through our team was simply not an option,” explained Skadi Gidionsen, Bentley’s manager of digital engagement. Bentley needed to implement a solution that would allow users across campus to add pages and content without jeopardizing the brand or site functionality
The team reviewed a range of open source solutions, including WordPress and Joomla, but eventually chose Drupal. “Our selection of Drupal was based on several factors,” said Maloney. “The core Drupal technology was solid and mature. There are thousands of modules, far beyond the number any other system could offer. If we wanted a feature, there was a module that could do it. The Drupal.org community was thriving, providing not only modules, but also feedback and community support in its forums. The availability of commercial support, through Acquia, provided a level of reliability required by our leadership team. Finally, we looked at what other schools were using, and Drupal was already being validated by many other successful university sites.”
Migrating Bentley’s site over to a new platform was much easier said than done. With over 70,000 pages across the university’s sites, and dozens of content areas, any switch would require a Herculean effort, including careful planning and disciplined efforts. Bentley engaged Acquia to guide the migration and the overall architecture of the new site. With Acquia’s input, Bentley planned to migrate content according to department. This approach helped segment the project into digestible parts and provided Bentley with a repeatable process, from which they could learn, refine, and apply to subsequent sub-domain migrations.
Bentley also engaged Palantir, a Drupal design firm that provided important guidance on managing theming and customization across Bentley’s sites. This approach enabled the team to keep websites sufficiently unique, while retaining and adhering to the overarching Bentley brand. Centralized controls would allow modules, features, and functionality to be administered globally.
Since the pilot project began, Bentley’s web team has migrated its entire site over to Drupal, importing Oracle metadata to a content construction kit (CCK) format, which allows adding custom fields to nodes using a web browser. The transition to Drupal has allowed the school’s small web team to successfully facilitate content updates from more than 150 site editors across campus. “Our web specialist trains users on how to use Drupal, then off they go. Drupal gives us the freedom to focus on the bigger picture— monitoring the overall brand and launching marketing initiatives—while ensuring a high quality site and user experience,” said Gidionsen.
Because of Bentley’s move to Drupal, the web team estimates that resources cost approximately one quarter of the corresponding ColdFusion and Oracle investments. Maloney noted that site traffic and time spent on site have increased for every sub-domain that has been migrated. Traffic improvements are partially due to improved accessibility through better searching, content semantics, and profiling. The university site also benefits from more new, relevant content. Because content contributors can easily add and update content, they tend to do so more frequently—increasing the site’s value to visitors.
Bentley is currently in the process of preparing for an upgrade to Drupal 8, and Gidionsen says they’re especially looking forward to taking advantage of the platform’s responsive functionality. “Thirty percent of our site visitors are on a smartphone or tablet device, and we anticipate this will continue to grow,” Gidionsen noted. “Drupal 8’s built-in responsive themes will help us simplify our content process even further while ensuring a consistently positive experience for users regardless of their device.”