4-page Case Study
Posted: 7/11/2012
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University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus Leading University Consolidates All Websites onto One Centrally Managed Infrastructure

University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus (CU Denver | Anschutz) is a broad and diverse organization. Its website shouldn’t have reflected that complexity, but it did. With no effective governance of its web presence, the university suffered from a diluted brand, unpredictable navigation, inaccurate information, poor web analytics, and low search rankings. CU Denver | Anschutz consolidated its entire web presence onto Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, and now has a consistent, dynamic web presence that promotes it as a leading university. Thousands of people can contribute content to keep the websites fresh and information-rich, resulting in improved user engagement. Search rankings are improved and analytics are richer, and the IT effort required for common website updates and system administration tasks has decreased by up to 90 percent.

Situation
The University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus (CU Denver | Anschutz) is one of the top public, urban research universities in the United States. The university serves 14,500 students at its Denver campus, with more than 3,500 additional students enrolled in research and advanced healthcare programs at its Anschutz Medical Campus.

Like most universities, CU Denver | Anschutz is a large and complicated organization, with diverse constituencies, distributed governance structures, and countless business processes. Its website shouldn’t have reflected that complexity, but until a few years ago, it did. Management of web content and web servers was distributed across 13 schools and colleges, 74 academic and administrative units, and three domain names. The result: a diluted brand, a fragmented user experience, unpredictable navigation, inaccurate information, redundant processes, poor web analytics, and low search rankings. “We suffered from all the classic symptoms of higher education website management, which was detrimental to our core recruiting and other goals,” says Jeremy Fulbright, Director of University Web Services at CU Denver | Anschutz.

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* SharePoint Server 2010 has made it possible for us to deliver a rich, dynamic website that creates the impression of a forward-thinking university. *

Jeremy Fulbright
Director, University Web Services, University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus

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From an infrastructure perspective, the environment was too complex to fully understand. Of the unknown number of servers that hosted public-facing content, only five were centrally managed, and spanned three different operating systems, including Windows 2000 Server, Windows Server 2003, and Linux. Nobody was sure how many other web servers were out there, where they all resided, or who managed them. “Even a simple task like changing the university’s main logo would have taken thousands of hours of effort across hundreds of sites—with no effective way to make sure that all sites were updated,” he says.

Lack of effective governance wasn’t the only challenge. With web content residing in so many different places, the university had no effective analytics and placed lower in search results than desired. “We didn’t know the number of visitors across all sites, let alone which were being abandoned due to old content, broken links, and so on,” says Fulbright. “Numerous smaller sites, multiple domain names, and old content also drove us down in search rankings.”

Even at the college level, the complexity was overwhelming. “Web content was scattered all over the place; some was externally hosted,” recalls Michael Miller, Web Support and Training Coordinator at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, who oversees some 150 unique sites for various programs, initiatives, and labs across the school’s 24 departments. “We were accountable for our web presence, yet we had no control over parts of it and no way to support the people who did.”

An impetus for change came in 2007, when CU Denver | Anschutz had to transition to a single dot-edu domain. The goal: to establish a single, centrally managed web presence that could support a distributed, multitiered governance structure, in which the university as a whole, schools and colleges, and the diverse constituencies under each of those organizations could be appropriately empowered. “We needed a unified web environment that could help us increase business productivity, reduce costs, streamline development, simplify content management, support consistent branding, and improve the user experience,” says Fulbright.

Solution
In 2008, CU Denver | Anschutz embarked on a university-wide project to consolidate its entire web presence onto a single, centrally managed solution hosted on Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, which the university has since upgraded to Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010. “We looked at other web platforms, but SharePoint Server was already familiar, offered the richest feature set, and promised to deliver the best return on investment,” says Fulbright.

The first step was to make a case to university leadership. “We sold them on the value of an enterprise-class solution that could help us establish effective governance, enforce consistent branding, and appropriately empower people at all levels of the organization,” says Fulbright. “We also explained how it would help us do more with less, enabling us to develop new website features once for everyone to use.”

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* We looked at other web platforms, but SharePoint Server was already familiar, offered the richest feature set, and promised to deliver the best return on investment. *

Jeremy Fulbright
Director, University Web Services, University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus

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The web development team then began designing the university’s new web presence. “We used SharePoint Server master pages and layouts to give each school and college its own unique visual theme, without the resource demand of maintaining 13 custom websites,” says Fulbright. “While the visual design may look different, the underlying HTML and layout dimensions are the same. This helped us to maintain control over things such as top-level branding and navigation, while still distributing enough control to satisfy school and college webmasters.”

With the new environment in place, the team turned its attention to helping schools and colleges migrate their content to SharePoint Server. “We worked with each school and college to define its target audience, the top goals for its website, and the features needed to support those goals,” says Fulbright. “That led to a project plan for each organization, with a design and information architecture. We also taught them how to write effectively for the web, and how to publish their own content. Every school or college went through this process, and now has both an established set of goals and the means to measure website usage against those goals.”

The School of Medicine took a complementary approach, working with a professional design company to take the top-level templates created by the web development team, with elements such as university logo and top-level navigation already defined, and tailoring them to the School of Medicine’s branding and other needs. “We then considered each separate website as a project, letting the business owners for that site manage the migration of content into our template and helping them when necessary,” Miller says.

A flexible distributed governance structure enabled each school and college to delegate permissions appropriately—the School of Medicine being a good example. “We have just over 1,000 content contributors, of which 200 or so are active users,” says Miller. “I have full control over the entire site collection and can delegate permissions to site owners, who have control over the content and navigation on their sites and can delegate permissions to update and publish content to the people within their teams. All sites maintain the same look and feel, yet content owners at all levels are empowered to manage their sites and content on their own.”

During the migration, schools and colleges took advantage of reusable content elements and webpage features created by a central development team. ”Reusable content—such as news, events, faculty and staff biographical information, degree profiles, and photos—inherits the visual presentation of each school’s or college’s unique design theme. This helps make each site more engaging and content-rich, with virtually no effort,” explains Fulbright. “Our central web team now creates features that minimize some of the tedious tasks of building a website, so content experts can focus on tasks within their expertise.”

One such feature consists of a web form and a SharePoint list, which can be adapted to many purposes to simplify the collection, management, and distribution of information. “We maintain a single SharePoint list for all School of Medicine calendar events; users can add their own entries to the list using a web form, tag them appropriately, and only display the items they want to show up on their departmental calendars or newsfeeds,” explains Miller. “Users just add an item to the list and classify the entry and then the appropriate content is delivered to all the right sites. Because we’re driving all this distributed content with one SharePoint list, it’s easy to obtain an aggregated view of all events within the school. In addition, it allows each school to roll up events to a main university calendar.”

Roughly two years after starting the project, CU Denver | Anschutz finished its migration of all public facing websites onto SharePoint Server 2010, making them more strategic, goal-driven, manageable, and maintainable. “Today, nearly 8,000 people can publish web content with minimal technical skills, so website content stays fresh and useful,” says Fulbright.

Benefits
The university’s consolidation on SharePoint Server 2010 has yielded many benefits, beginning with a consistent, dynamic web presence that promotes CU Denver | Anschutz as a leading university. Thousands of empowered content contributors ensure that the site remains fresh and information-rich, which has led to significant, measureable improvements in user engagement. Search ranking and analytics are vastly improved, and the IT effort required for common website updates and system administration tasks has decreased by up to 90 percent.

Consistent, Dynamic Web Presence
Today, all CU Denver | Anschutz websites have a consistent look and feel—including the same logo placement, headings, headers, footers, and typography. “No matter which of our more than 400 websites you’re on, you will find a consistent look, feel, and navigation structure,” says Fulbright. “With SharePoint Server, we were able to build in this consistency, while still empowering users to keep their own websites fresh and dynamic.”

Effective Governance and Empowered Users
CU Denver | Anschutz can effectively distribute web authoring permissions to people throughout the university, so more people can contribute to content without technology impediments. “Many more people are contributing content today because only minimal technical skills or assistance are required,” says Fulbright. “We can distribute enough control to let school and college webmasters manage their own sites and contributors, while still retaining the ability to implement global features and changes. The number of content contributors increased from fewer than 500 to more than 3,500 when we launched on SharePoint Server, and is now approaching 8,000.”

Fresher, Richer Content
Empowering content contributors has resulted in a web presence that is more content-rich. “The number of web pages tripled when we launched on SharePoint Server,” says Fulbright. “Website visitors today are more likely to find the information they want on our site, instead of having to pick up the phone to get that information.”

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* Today, nearly 8,000 people can publish web content with minimal technical skills, so website content stays fresh and useful. *

Jeremy Fulbright
Director, University Web Services, University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus

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Analytics show that visitors are finding the university’s web presence more useful and engaging. “Average time on site increased 416 percent when we moved to SharePoint Server, demonstrating that visitors are more engaged and are visiting more pages,” says Fulbright. “Our bounce rate—the percentage of people who abandon the site after reaching the homepage—decreased by 35 percent, and total site visits increased from just over 1 million to more than 1.7 million. Links to non-existing pages are a thing of the past because navigation menus are automatically generated based on actual database content, and we can audit every site to ensure that its content remains up-to-date.”

Improved Analytics and Search Rankings
In the past, CU Denver | Anschutz had almost no web analytics and poor search rankings. The university has seen vast improvements in both areas. “Roughly two-thirds of all visitors to School of Medicine websites came in through search, which we can now effectively optimize for,” says Miller. “Being part of one dot-edu domain helps, as does offering fresher content, more up-to-date content, and being part of one large, integrated site. Now that everyone is on the same environment, we can assist each site within the school on search engine optimization.”

Adds Fulbright, “We lacked web analytics before; now they’re comprehensive. We can identify and remove sites with no traffic, make decisions regarding content, and know what’s working and what’s not. We can also help our various constituencies interpret the analytics for their own sites and help them sell their ideas for improving those sites to their own leadership.”

Reduced Technical Effort
The same group that used to manage only five of the untold number of web servers in 2008 now manages the university’s entire web presence, which, coincidentally, still resides on only five web servers: two front-end web servers running SharePoint Server 2010, one search server running SharePoint Server 2010, and a high-availability database cluster running Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 database software—all on the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system.

Bernie Johnsen, Manager of Academic Information Systems and Development at CU Denver | Anschutz, whose team manages the SharePoint Server environment from an IT perspective, calculated the following improvements for common IT tasks. All numbers compare only the old, centrally managed web presence (three distinct web environments on five servers) to the current SharePoint Server 2010 infrastructure, and do not take into account the additional effort required to administer any of the dozens of other web servers that existed in the past.

  • Major logo update across all sites. In the past, updating only those sites hosted on the five centrally managed servers would have taken approximately 130 hours. The web development team recently updated the university logo across all websites in less than an hour—a decrease of 99 percent.

  • Major redesign of all sites. In the past, a major redesign of all sites hosted on the five servers—including layout and custom development—would have required an estimated 2,000 hours. Today, it takes about 750 hours—a decrease of 62.5 percent.

  • Random issues and configuration changes. In the past, system administrators spent up to 2,020 hours annually dealing with system administration tasks, such as PHP upgrades, configuration changes, troubleshooting and operating system patching. Today, that number is down to about 400 hours annually—a decrease of more than 80 percent.

Also, the reusable website features that Johnsen’s team now develops for all to use (such as the aforementioned web form that feeds a SharePoint list) are yielding significant time savings for school and college webmasters. “Today, a nontechnical user can provision a webpage with a web form that feeds a SharePoint list in less than an hour,” says Johnsen. “In the past, it would have taken a skilled web developer at least five hours to build something similar, with the odds being that each group who needed such functionality would developed it on their own. As of February 2012, we had 495 individual websites using this feature, which we developed only once.”

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* No matter which of our more than 400 websites you’re on, you will find a consistent look, feel, and navigation structure. *

Jeremy Fulbright
Director, University Web Services, University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus

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In addition, Johnsen’s team now needs only one skill set to manage all servers. “No Linux skills are needed today—which allows our team to build their expertise in the Microsoft stack that is the backbone of our IT operations,” he says.

Improved Reliability and Stability
In the past, when the university’s web presence resided on an untold number of standalone systems, none of them offered any production redundancy and virtually all changes were made directly in the production environments. Today, the university’s entire web presence is fully redundant, with dedicated environments for development, staging, and production. “Our old environment was highly vulnerable, whereas our new environment is much more stable and predictable—and we can immediately roll back any change if needed,” says Johnsen.

Powerful New Capabilities
CU Denver | Anschutz is already building on SharePoint Server to deliver new capabilities. The university integrated its web presence with Microsoft CRM, which it can now use to manage the recruiting process and to track a website visitor from initial inquiry to enrollment application. “We can track cost per visitor, inquiry, and applicant—and use that information to show continuous improvements in reducing the cost-of-acquisition and make informed decisions about where to focus our recruiting efforts and dollars,” says Fulbright.

CU Denver | Anschutz is now in the planning stage for extending its use of SharePoint Server 2010 to the university’s intranet. An intranet based on SharePoint Server will also deliver powerful new collaboration and document management features, helping people throughout the university to collaborate more effectively and productively.

Although these new capabilities are compelling, to CU Denver | Anschutz the benefits of its new web infrastructure have already yielded a positive return on investment. “A university’s website reflects its personality, and is a leading factor in recruiting,” says Fulbright. “SharePoint Server 2010 has made it possible for us to deliver a rich, dynamic website that creates the impression of a forward-thinking university.”

Miller adds, “Content owners are now empowered. We tell them, ‘This is your content and you have the tools you need to keep it current; we’re here to help address any limitations.’ Whether a specific website is focused on education, research, faculty, patient care, or community engagement, it can now effectively communicate who we are, what we do, and how to engage us. It doesn’t matter whether people are focused on recruiting or applying for a grant; today, they can point others to a great website.”

Microsoft Education
Microsoft technology, programs, and solutions can improve teaching and learning opportunities for instructors and students and make education administration more successful.

For more information about Microsoft Education please go to:
www.microsoft.com/education
www.microsoft.com/education/schools
www.microsoft.com/education/highered

For More Information
For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers in the United States and Canada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:
www.microsoft.com

For more information about University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus, visit the website at:
www.ucdenver.edu

Solution Overview




Organization Profile

The University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus (CU Denver | Anschutz) serves more than 18,000 students and has nearly 8,000 faculty and staff.


Business Situation

The university had dozens of web servers, of which few were centrally managed. Lack of effective governance resulted in a diluted brand, a poor user experience, unpredictable navigation, inaccurate information, poor web analytics, and low search rankings.


Solution

The university moved its entire public-facing web presence onto Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, which today hosts more than 400 individual websites.


Benefits

  • Consistent, dynamic web presence with fresher and richer content
  • Effective governance
  • Improved web analytics and search rankings
  • Reduced technical effort
  • Improved reliability and stability


Software and Services
  • Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010
  • Windows Server 2008 R2
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2

Vertical Industries
Education

Country/Region
United States

Languages
English

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