The Sport NZ website has been on the Common Web Platform (CWP) for about a year. The move to CWP underpinned a bigger project: to improve the user experience (UX), web standards, project agility and to provide technical flexibility. We also saw it as a way to amalgamate sites.
Subsites on Sport NZ
Amalgamation’s great, but sometimes you still need a subsite, temporary or permanent. We needed a subsite — only one so far — so the ability to roll it out as needed was a big plus in the decision to go CWP.
The Sports Tribunal, which is a separate and independent body that we fund, is our subsite. The Tribunal decides what happens to an athlete who tests positive for something they shouldn’t, or allegedly violates some other sporting code. It also handles appeals for non-selection in a national team. The Tribunal is a distinct body; it requires a distinct online presence.
Moving the Tribunal's website to CWP worked well. We delivered a site much more useful than its previous incarnation, thanks largely to code sharing between our major (Sport NZ) and minor (the Tribunal) sites. We’re also saving significant money in licensing, hosting and service-level agreements (SLAs).
What we wanted
First and foremost, we wanted to move the Tribunal site onto CWP to reduce hosting and support costs. As our client, the Tribunal agreed but were very keen that nothing else change and that the project extend no further than a simple hosting shift. They felt their website was more or less perfect for their users and needed only to be transferred. It didn't work out like quite that - the new site's actually quite different, but better.
The old Tribunal site and the new Sport NZ site looked very different, which provided the first minor project issue. Sport NZ’s site is pretty distinctive, particularly its front page. So before long we worked out that the Tribunal’s preference to make their site look almost exactly like their old one wasn’t going to fly without significant re-work.
That’s the first lesson, especially for smaller projects with smaller budgets: be clear with yourself and with clients upfront about design dependencies between the mothership and the subsite.
We reached a compromise that didn’t involve spending too much on template re-working by the developers (DNA Design). The Tribunal site now has obvious SportNZ.org.nz origins, but is distinct enough to please the client.
Sharing taxonomy code
We then broached idea of adding functionality by re-working mothership code. Although not in the initial requirements (and, I think, explicitly out of scope), we sold the Tribunal on the idea of adding functionality to the Tribunal Decisions area.
Lawyers are a key audience for the Tribunal site; lawyers love taxonomies and searchable databases. It soon seemed a no-brainer to the Tribunal that we were able to make the decisions sortable by violation type, sport and other criteria.
The subsite arrangement made this fairly easy, as we were able to adapt and re-use much of the tag-based system created for SportNZ.org.nz's Managing Sport database, which is a sports sector knowledge area. This represented real value to lawyers and other users of the Tribunal site. Feedback from the Tribunal has been excellent.
It’s notable that we were able to deploy a major new feature late in the day and on a tight budget, which is largely down to good developers and easy code sharing between sites. On the other hand, things are easier with early planning. We ran an Agile-ish project, with frequent re-prioritisation of the backlog, at least later in the project. Even so, I’d recommend identifying candidates for code sharing before you start, even if it’s a restrictive brief such as ours.
The Content Management System (CMS)
The CMS is working well. It’s worth noting though that we can’t currently set admin permissions for each site separately. An administrator for the Tribunal is an administrator for Sport NZ. Given there’s only one Tribunal admin this is not an issue for us, but could be for other agencies running multiple sites with many admins.