The Province of Antwerp manages quite a few websites, including those of the cultural organizations and museums that fall under its remit. AMPLEXOR built a new platform for the provincial administration based on Adobe Experience Manager (AEM), allowing for the rapid roll-out of eighteen separate online presences.
An internal branding exercise at the Province of Antwerp (Province) had shown that the many ‘brands’ of the provincial organization could do with a more streamlined and coherent online presentation. Next to the Province itself, which is a governmental entity active in domains like tourism and ecology, there are many departments responsible for diverse brands such as the internationally acclaimed Fashion Museum. But the Province also runs recreational areas and educational facilities which have their own online needs, for example De Schorre, De Nekker, the provincial schools, Campus Vesta and Arboretum Kalmthout.
The main conclusion of the internal exercise was that the Province needed a new online platform, which would promote the overarching brand whilst offering the underlying organizations the possibility of publishing their own content on their own website. Even though each website would retain its
more or less distinct identity, at all times there would remain a strong link to the main website of the Province.
AMPLEXOR was tapped to do the implementation of the platform with Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) in close collaboration with Internet Architects, which was responsible for the first steps of the project – concept, functional analysis and graphic design.
AEM is very suited for the tasks at hand, with functionalities such as in-line editing and good asset management. Without a doubt one of the main challenges of this project was the large amount of websites that needed to be rolledout in a relatively short time. By the time the project was finished, 18 websites needed to be built.
The new websites were aimed at the general public, so there were extensive guidelines concerning responsiveness and accessibility which needed to be followed. For example: according to Belgian government policies, the website needed to adhere to Anysurfer guidelines.
Some of the websites also required more than one language version, something which is easily implementable in AEM. This is the case, for example, for the Photography Museum website, which appeals to tourists and offers information in English, French, German and of course Dutch.
On top of that, it was important that sharing content between sites would be easy. If the Fashion Museum would add a news item about an upcoming event, it should be possible to display the item on the main website of the Province, for instance.
AMPLEXOR was also asked not only to build the platform and get 18 sites operational, but also to provide a toolkit so the IT department of the Province itself could easily create further sites themselves in the future, if necessary.
In the end the platform would be used by about 80 different departments of the Province, all of which would be managing some pages on specific sites. This highlights the complexity of underlying projects like this that on the surface seem simple, but can become complex because of the great amount of users and different usages.
Technically there were a few integrations required. The most important one was the integration with Cultuurnet, which is an organization subsidised by the Flemish government with the purpose of promoting culture throughout Flanders. One of the things that Cultuurnet offers, is a cultural event calendar.
The integration that AMPLEXOR performed to work with the new AEM platform, was to push newly created events of the Province and its partners to this generic cultural event calendar.
Because of the vast variety of event types, the calendar functionality was actually quite complex to build – even though the end result looks simple. Whilst constructing this part, the AMPLEXOR development team had to take into account that some of the events are one-off, some are recurring, and others are seasonal, whilst there are also events – like workshops – that are only organised on certain days.
Although most of the sites that would need to be created, turned out quite similar, two were considered special cases: the websites of the Fashion Museum (MoMu) and of the Museum of Photography (FoMu). Because they are high-profile institutions receiving many visitors and have their own, strong artistic vision, both would need websites with a more outspoken identity and design. In fact, it was decided that these two sites would be the pilots for the whole project. This meant that AMPLEXOR would start with the most challenging parts of the project. The websites that would follow later, would require a lot less customisation.
Basically there were two options for sites built on the new platform: totally free in terms of design (such as FoMu and MoMu) or built on a template. With the two museum sites development took longer, which is logical. FoMu and MoMu were deeply involved in the design of their own sites.
Remember we mentioned that an important requirement was the ability to share content over the different sites? Considering the many departments and users creating content, this could have been difficult to realise – or to manage. The key to making content sharing convenient was tagging.
A lot of content needed to be added again or was fresh, so adding tags was not much extra work. AEM works well with tags and in the end, users of the new platform can easily create an article on one website and be certain it will turn up on relevant other sites of the Province.
In fact, we consider this project to be a real success story because of the great interaction with the Province during the development. It could have been very different, considering the amount of people involved. But, amongst other things, a dedicated program manager for the Province helped everything progress without a hiccup. The fact that AMPLEXOR staff shared a temporary office with people from the Province and other partners during the whole development also helped this project become a real success. Factors like these are very important when you work with an agile approach, as we did for this project.
With an agile approach you do not build everything and only then show it to the customer. Instead you work in ‘sprints’ of a few weeks, with each sprint dedicated to a specific component and ending in testing and gathering feedback from users. The main advantage is that projects progress steadily while staying true to the (possibly changing) requirements of the customer.
About a year after starting the project, the new platform was created and the 18 sites were online. The new websites are far more responsive than before and are true to the requirement that they would need to be more coherent in terms of branding. While some of the sites are visited by relatively small amounts of people, others have high traffic. The fact that, cumulatively, the 18 sites reach about a million visitors a year, shows that they are reaching their audience effectively.