www.correctionenterprises.com…A Dynamic, Data-Driven Web Site that is Still Evolving
by Jason Streich, Webmaster, North Carolina Correction Enterprises
Almost anyone can tell you that a key element of an organization’s success lies in its Web site. Not that a Web site can replace the organization’s valuable staff , the bricks and mortar, or the processes and procedures that help make an organization great, but the Web site provides a promotional platform that’s always on and can either make or break a customer’s experience with your agency.
North Carolina Correction Enterprises (NCCE) is well aware of this and goes to great lengths to make sure that once a prospect or customer visits www.correctionenterprises.com that their customer experience is world-class and makes them want to come back again and again.
NCCE has a three-person IT team, who not only develop and maintain the Web site, but also answer every computer/software question, provide technical assistance and maintain NCCE’s server and technology infrastructure. Having a dedicated team is a luxury that some Correctional Industry agencies may not have, but the investment by NCCE has allowed for the development of a dynamic, data-driven Web site.
But first a little history because it hasn’t always been like that. Approximately five years ago, NCCE’s Web site was static, meaning the text and images displayed on the Web pages were manually loaded on each page. Visitors to the site could read text and view images, but had little or no ability to interact with the site (choose products, select colors/features and purchase online).
From a content management standpoint, anytime a price or a product feature changed, someone from the IT Team had to manually fi nd every instance of the text or image that had to be changed and then “hard-code” the change using html. For example, let’s say NCCE changed the price of the Onslow Executive Chair from $479 to $489 and also off ered it in two new colors. The chair might be listed on five or six separate Web pages, so a member of the IT Team would have to find each occurrence and manually make the change to the price, the colors offered and if images of the colors available were on the Web page, new images would need to be reloaded (again, for every Web page where the chair was listed).
To overcome this time-consuming process and to help develop a Web site that would better serve the needs of our customers, Matthew McGuigan, another member of the NCCE IT Team, developed and launched an online Computing Support Helpdesk. This pilot program demonstrated how a Web site could be dynamic and data-driven. For example, with the new online Helpdesk, changes to text, images and in some cases,
functionality could be made without having to know html coding. Also, if a change was made, it was made in the database that ran in the background of the Web site … in other words the change was made once in the database and deployed to one or multiple pages on the site. Most importantly, the internal customers of NCCE could “interact” with the online Helpdesk. They could type in and submit a question or select certain help topics and get right to the answers for which they were looking.
The light bulb went on and using this pilot, NCCE was able to build out its entire Web site that could be automatically updated and allowed for customer interaction. The Web site is linked to the BIDS (Business Information Data System) database. BIDS contains product, customer, order and shipping information. Staff from other NCCE departments (not just IT) have access to BIDS and can make changes that are then deployed to the Web site. Remember the chair example from above? Now, someone from NCCE can log into BIDS, make the change once and within 24 hours, it’s changed throughout the Web site. We’ve also developed a content management system where sales and marketing staff can upload production descriptions and other sales copy, as well as made improvements to the internal training section of the Web site so that NCCE staff can register for upcoming training classes.
For the customer, the online experience is worlds away from where it was five years ago. Now, customers can browse and view products, request product quotes, download forms and use certain wizards to build a product …like their own office chair or choose a matte and frame and see what the finished product will look like before making the decision to buy.
The feedback from customers and other NCCE staff has been overwhelmingly positive and has encouraged NCCE to continue evolving the Web site. Plans are underway to integrate state-wide procurement systems with the e-commerce functionality of the Web site. This will provide a seamless transaction experience for buyers who use a specific procurement system for their state agency. Another new development worked into the Web site is the use of YouTube and other social networking channels.
Before YouTube, if you wanted to show a video over the Web, you posted it on your Web site and streamed it from your Web server to the user. This required a lot of manual work from your IT staff or Webmaster, not to mention put a strain on your bandwidth pipe. Plus, there were almost always issues with format and device compatibility.
With YouTube, you upload the video to YouTube and embed that video from YouTube to your site. This may sound complicated, but it isn’t … a child can do it, literally. And, YouTube is providing the bandwidth … not you. You can even create your own YouTube Channel.
One caution with integrating a social networking channel into your Web site … you need to monitor it. Social networking often allows for users outside your organization to comment on whatever you post. While they can’t change the content you post, they can normally comment and it’s up to the organization to monitor and respond (if necessary) to comments. Another aspect to be aware of is that when you post content on You-
Tube or another Web site, you lose some control. For example, if YouTube went out of business tomorrow, all of your embedded videos on your Web site would vanish. It’s unlikely that YouTube is going out of business anytime soon and both of these considerations shouldn’t stop you from using YouTube or any other social networking channel, but your organization should think about how to handle these sorts of things.
For more information on NCCE’s Web site and use of YouTube, please contact Jason Streich at 919-716-3618 or firstname.lastname@example.org.