Efforts underway to address website woes
Q & A
Question: I’m very frustrated by the Association website. When I am looking for information, I have difficulty finding it and sometimes I’m bounced from the current site to a legacy site. What’s the problem and what are you doing to fix it?
Answer: Thank you for asking a question that I am hearing fairly frequently from members.
Let me start by assuring you that providing members with a well-designed, fully functional website is a priority for the Association, and we are actively working to make improvements. But I understand your frustration and aim to provide both an explanation and some hope for the future.
It’s important to realize that the website is very much the visible tip of a larger information technology iceberg. Our work, by necessity, involves bringing our entire IT infrastructure up to industry standard. It is not possible to fix just one part of the whole, and this is a monumental undertaking made more difficult by several different factors.
First, there is the complexity of the Association’s work. Because we provide an unusually wide range of very different services to a large and diverse population, it is very difficult to design a website that is optimized for everyone. We are, however, trying to be responsive to member needs and are analysing how our site is used to enable us to focus on improving access to those services and information most sought after by members. This may mean, however, that some members (typically and unfortunately those with specialized roles and interests) in the short term will not find the site to be as useful to them as they would like. The complexity of our site contributes to an enormous transitional challenge. Thousands of pages of information on the existing site have to be individually and manually evaluated for accuracy and relevance, rewritten and tagged with new metadata, and then imported over to the new site.
Second, we are having to address a technology deficit that has accumulated over the course of many years to build capacity that we can then sustain into the future. This means fundamentally changing the way we conduct our IT business. We will be moving away from maintaining of our own infrastructure and relying on purchasing services and support from vendors rather than attempting to build and maintain our own customized software and hardware. For example, rather than maintaining our own servers, we will be relying to an increasing extent on cloud-based solutions. Website hosting and maintenance will be undertaken in concert with a provider who is designing back-end services that will greatly improve search functionality and other tools essential to an optimized user experience. This new approach will better enable the Association to continually upgrade our services at a manageable cost.
Third, we are experiencing some of the constraints around technology that are common across all sectors including a critical shortage of staff who are available and qualified to manage complex IT systems and implementations. Not only are we facing our own recruitment challenges, a vendor that we had engaged to assist with website development was unable to retain key staff and, as a result, has failed utterly to meet our expectations. This unforeseen development has forced us to move to a new service provider, upending our plans and setting us back many months. Fortunately, we seem to now be back on track, and intend to make significant progress before the end of the school year.
The proposed budget for the 2023/24 year presented to local presidents earlier this month and currently being circulated to delegates of the Annual Representative Assembly (ARA) includes a major restructuring of our budget to respond to the challenges and strategy outlined above. We have been asked if we could use additional funding to speed up the work, and while we will be considering options for possible consideration at ARA, we do need to be cautious. The solutions we need to implement are not easily scalable, and as good stewards of members’ money, the staff and elected officers of the Association want to ensure that our plans for the upcoming fiscal year are achievable and cost effective.
I anticipate that we will provide additional information about our progress on our IT projects to members, including the redevelopment of the website, on an ongoing basis.
Questions for consideration in this column are welcome. Please address them to Dennis Theobald at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ATA Executive Secretary
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