xCatalyst Enables Customized Web Site for Multiple University Audiences
Windows 2000 Server and xCatalyst Enables Customized Web Site for Multiple Audiences
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Rice University in Houston serves students, staff, faculty, donors, alumni, and others. Rice, like other universities, knew that its Web site was its most-used information source. But its previous Web site—running on Apache and Linux—didn’t meet the needs of each audience for distinct content, nor did it facilitate fast, decentralized content updates. So Rice turned to the xCatalyst solution from ESX, Inc. Engineering, based on Microsoft® technologies including Microsoft Windows® 2000 Advanced Server. Rice hosts sites for 13 key audiences, with content coordinated globally across them. Visitors choose the site that fits their profile to get information tailored for them. Individuals can update their content, freeing IT personnel from that task and enabling faster updates.
Rice University is consistently ranked one of America's best teaching and research universities. Rice’s success bred one of its stickiest challenges: how to leverage its most used information source and create a Web site that would serve its tremendously diverse audiences, including prospective and matriculated undergraduates and graduate students, staff, faculty, business students, continuing studies students, journalists, and the broader university community.
“Our Web site was a typical university Web site,” says Terry L. Shepard, Vice President for Public Affairs at Rice University. “We were trying to be all things to all people—and not succeeding very well. Everyone thought that their site needed to be linked from the home page. You give in to that and your home page is so cluttered that no one can find anything. On the other hand, if you keep all those links off the home page, no one can find anything either.”
With more than 270,000 Web pages for various campus activities and programs, the number of URLs was a problem for more reasons than that of home page design. The burden of handling content management for all those sites fell on the shoulders of the campus IT department—and with the backlog of updates that the department was managing, correcting a simple typo on the Provost’s page could take up to three weeks.
The legacy Web solution —an Apache Web site running on Linux—did not make it possible for the university to decentralize content management so that departments could update their own sites. Nor did it accommodate the university’s database needs, nor provide the functionality needed to manage the variety of audiences that the university needed to address. A better solution was required.
Integrated Content Management, Community, Marketing and eCommerce toolset
That new solution is xCatalyst, a Web-based solution that is an integrated tool set of content management, community, marketing and ecommerce functionality for running dynamic websites, xCatalyst was created by ESX, Inc. Engineering and runs on Microsoft Windows 2000 Server and Windows 2000 Advanced Server with Internet Information Services version 5.0 and Microsoft SQL Server™ 2000 Enterprise Edition.
Windows 2000 Advanced Server enables SQL Server to run in active/passive clustering for high reliability of the mission-critical solution. SQL Server, in turn, is the underlying database for the vast amount of Web data that the solution serves, overcoming a key drawback of the previous site, which could not accommodate databases. The open, interoperability of the Windows environment enabled Rice to implement the solution by moving only the top levels of the site, with the new structure continuing to connect to existing pages and sites as appropriate.
The Windows 2000 Server based solution addresses both of Rice University’s concerns: serving the discrete needs of various audiences and facilitating effective content management. First-time visitors to www.rice.edu are asked to choose the category of user to which they belong. This automatically opens a “gateway”—a Rice home page whose design and content is aimed specifically at that group’s interests. The prospective student pages, for example, are more marketing oriented and use flashier graphics than the faculty member/researcher and staff member pages, which present more detailed information on the status of campus facilities and scheduling.
While some content differs from site to site, other content remains the same across many sites. xCatalyst provides an administration “command center” that allows for centralized management of site design and page templates. xCatalyst provides global content tools from which users can manage the common content across sites, saving considerable time and effort over the alternative of managing that content again and again at each site. Rice also leverages the many communication, community and commerce tools that include online newsletters, automated event notification, dynamic forms builder for online information requests and surveys, as well as private access areas for specific subgroups such as incoming freshmen.
Decentralized Content Management Pleases Users, IT Administrators
The solution allows administrators to decentralize the process of site updates so that units around campus can update their own content, freeing IT staff of that responsibility and ensuring that updates are made more quickly and accurately. The decentralization of updates also frees up the Web site’s Managing Editor, Suzanne Stehr, from the responsibility of making minor copyediting changes to the site, and allows her to focus on more strategic editorial issues.
Because the solution uses simple, graphical update tools — event information, for example, is updated using the highly visual calendar tool based on the Microsoft Outlook® 2000 messaging and collaboration client—it is easy for departmental staff to implement those updates without training in HTML.
Visitors Choose Web Sites Designed Especially for Them
While some universities include links on their homepages to a few sites dedicated to alumni or prospective students, Shepard took the leap all the way. Instead of a single university homepage with such links, he conceived of, and fought for, a different customized Rice homepage for each of the specialized audiences.
“This is a new way of thinking about the Web, where the visitors decide where their interests lie and go to a Web site designed especially for them,” says Stehr. “Listening to your audience is the basis for every good marketing plan. This is Rice’s way of listening to its audiences. And updating is so easy in this system that, if you can use Microsoft Word, with very little training you can manage your Web content.”
Debra J. Thomas, Director of Public Relations at Rice's Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management, introduced xCatalyst to the campus. The business school then was joined by a site for the university's School of Continuing Studies, which serves 10,000 users, and, now, by the main Web site, rice.edu.
"The system is so robust and easy to use that we have developed multiple custom features enabling us to market the business school more effectively," Thomas said.
For More Information
For more information about Microsoft products or services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada information Centre at (800) 563-9048. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information via the World Wide Web, go to: http://www.microsoft.com/education
For more information about the xCatalyst software and its education modules, call ESX, Inc. Engineering at (888) 875-7811 ext.270 or visit: http://www.esxengineering.com/Products
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This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.
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