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Longevity with Drupal 8 and a little nip and tuck

Salsa Digital’s redevelopment of the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT) website has focused on extending the site’s longevity with Drupal 8 and improving the site’s architecture and aesthetics.

Anirudh K 20 October 2016

The brief

The Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT) website supports victims of crime by providing a range of helpful content, guidelines, essential forms and publications to guide victims through the process of applying for financial assistance.

In late 2015, VOCAT released a tender to rebuild their existing Drupal 6 website on a more modern and supported platform, while also addressing some problems with legacy websites. Salsa Digtal was thrilled to be invited to tender and responded with a thorough proposal that addressed VOCAT’s needs, including the key pain points from the old VOCAT website. In this blog, we take a walk down memory lane and reflect on our journey...

The problem

VOCAT expected to address a number of problems with the redevelopment project:

  • Platform: VOCAT’s website was built on Drupal 6, which was already end-of-life. This meant that the code base was no longer supported and website application patches were no longer being released. This presented a significant security risk. VOCAT needed a smooth and no-fuss upgrade onto a fully supported, secure, enhanced and compliant Drupal platform.

  • Longevity after upgrade:VOCAT needed a platform with the potential to be supported for a good number of years to come. Drupal 8 was preferred over Drupal 7 as the latest version provided greater longevity and would avoid another unnecessary upgrade in three or four years’ time.

  • Design: The old website’s design had not been revisited for a number of years and presented an opportunity to improve the aesthetics, usability and overall user experience.

  • Content architecture: The structure of information within the website could be better organised to improve information accessibility.

  • Responsiveness: The current/old website was not responsive and VOCAT needed to increase accessibility to accommodate the ever-increasing usage of mobile and tablet devices.

The presales journey

Salsa started on the journey to rebuild the VOCAT website with thorough analyses and well-defined solution proposals, right from the pre-sales phase. Even before we presented our first proposal to VOCAT, we had identified and presented various solution options. With our expertise on govCMS, it was only natural that our design team was already looking at conceptual designs for VOCAT based on adapted govCMS theme and designs. This would also deliver significant cost savings to the client.

While we were all subconsciously leaning towards Drupal 8 as the solution platform, another significant challenge was the uncertainty around how mature the Drupal 8 platform was at that time. Drupal 8 modules were still evolving and it was hard to predict when the required modules would be ported from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8. However, our technical architects were up to the challenge. While we were obviously thrilled to be working with VOCAT and Court Services Victoria (CSV) again, we were also excited by the opportunity to give back to the Drupal community. More on that later...

After evaluating multiple options (e.g. govCMS), investigating different upgrade paths (Drupal 6 → Drupal 7 → Drupal 8 vs Drupal 6 → Drupal 8) and consequent estimate revisions we came up with some proposal options that provided VOCAT choice. In the end, VOCAT opted to re-build their website on Drupal 8 using an ‘adapted’ template based on the new modern and accessible govCMS theme for cost savings.

The approach and methodology

We kicked off the project execution with a four-hour dedicated functional workshop with key stakeholders from VOCAT and CSV. This workshop was focused on gathering the functional, regulatory and non-functional requirements for the website and to ensure all the client’s needs were met. The outcome of this workshop was the functional specification. This targeted, lightweight process helped our backend development team validate our initial assumptions during the pre-sales stage and the actual solution started taking shape.

In parallel, we conducted an Information Architecture (IA) workshop to revisit the site’s content architecture. We went through each section of the existing VOCAT website and, with input from the client, organised all site content in a much more intuitive fashion. This was quite an exercise in itself and the impact was quickly visible.

All of these formed inputs to our User Interface (UI) design team to take back and come up with high level wireframes that perfectly matched the client’s needs. From there we created clickable prototypes and artwork, inspired by our govCMS theme— which was an obvious selection of theme considering our experience, the fit for government websites, and the cost savings for the client.

The build phases followed next, with backend and frontend teams getting busy and transforming the UI designs and functions onto a real website. During the entire process, our guiding principle was: yes, we deliver a perfect website for this client, but in doing so we also want to contribute back to the Drupal community and help take Drupal 8 further. As expected, our backend team did run into some issues in the project due to Drupal 8 modules not being mature or ready to use. In the end, we handled it elegantly with a combination of alternative mature modules and some Salsa Digital Drupal code config magic. Our frontend developers, with input from our UI design team, also worked their magic to make the site look more visually appealing — even if we do say so ourselves :). And throughout the process we also had the usual rigorous code reviews, internal QA process and bug-fixing activities to deliver the final website.

The features

So how about the key features? Some key high level features of the new VOCAT Drupal 8 website can be summarised as follows:

  1. Well-organised content - so users can locate and get the content faster.

  2. govCMS inspired theme - giving the website a fresh feel while also complying with Australian government standards.

  3. Google maps integration - giving site visitors much more flexibility than before to locate courts and navigate.

  4. Improved site search - including the ability to search for publications, a key feature for this site's audience.

  5. Centralised maintenance of publications and guidelines - e.g. setting up new publication categories, legislation and guidelines is really easy on the new website and is a centralised process. This makes it simple for the VOCAT team to manage these documents in the future.

  6. Responsive - all site content can now be read on tablets and mobiles as well as desktop computers, promoting even greater accessibility.

Needless to say we’ve enjoyed the journey as much as reaching the destination, and providing VOCAT with a new website that ticks all the boxes.

The outcome

VOCAT can now benefit from a very robust Drupal 8 website with a more accessible information architecture and a look-and-feel that is modern, fresh and responsive.

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