April 16, 2013
An Orchard CMS Development Success Case - Oxford Economics
Oxford Economics is one of the world’s foremost independent global advisory firms, providing reports, forecasts and analytical tools on 190 countries, 100 industrial sectors and over 2,600 cities. It is a key adviser to corporate, financial and government decision-makers and thought leaders. Its worldwide client base comprises over 700 international organizations, including leading multinational companies and financial institutions; key government bodies and trade associations; universities, consultancies, and think tanks. With headquarters in Oxford, England, Oxford Economics has regional centers in London, New York, and Singapore, and offices across the globe in Belfast, Chicago, Dubai, Miami, Milan, Paris, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington DC. It employs over 150 people, including more than 100 professional economists, industry experts, business editors, data analysts and software developers.
The specific challenge of this project was to provide a long-overdue modern user experience for the company’s website, which consists of two major areas, marketing and providing customers access to their subscription products. The website was expected to receive an average 1000 visitors and 4000+ page views daily. The marketing team needed to update the marketing and pay-walled site regularly using simple and effective tools, in contrast to the old website, which offered little direct manipulation tooling. From a design perspective, the new site had to be clean, elegant and simple to navigate. Oxford Economics wanted to position themselves as the top economic consultancy in the world by conveying their global presence and a strong sense of gravitas, trustworthiness and expertise. A big challenge was to migrate over 20,000 subscription products to the new backend without interrupting on-going access via the old website. The old system had little documentation, making it extremely difficult to decipher how its features should really work.
Scoping the project was difficult due to lack of legacy documentation. We had to continue to support internal publication processes and at the very least replicate the customer access experience to the subscription areas of the site. It was imperative that subscription customers continued to have unhindered access to their subscription products – i.e. publications, reports, presentations, software modeling tools, model databases and forecast data files – and to dramatically improve the user experience. We also had to achieve a complete refresh of the marketing functions of the website. This project was seen as an important opportunity to clearly explain and communicate the value proposition and benefits of quite a complex set of product and service offerings. We, in effect, had to architect an information model that would allow all this content to be composed nicely together and support inevitable future changes. The power of the information architecture and choice of CMS became evident from the outset as more and more features and content types were added into the system.
We investigated open source CMS solutions and four candidates emerged, namely: Umbraco, AxCMS.net, BlogEngine.NET and Orchard. Orchard had a big advantage: its architecture was conceived with flexibility and usability in mind. It runs on ASP.NET MVC 4 and delivers an extensible component framework to simplify construction of MVC apps making it so much more than a CMS and allowed us to leverage our experience in building these kinds of applications.
Finally, we got in touch with Orchard’s development team, who confirmed Orchard was perfectly capable of getting the job done. We had to work hard to overcome some issues with performance and document indexing. We extended the out-of-the-box product in a number of ways including customizing a tool to allow widgets to be edited in place and saved changes to be seen immediately. Some of these smart extensions we hope to return back to the open source community via the Orchard code gallery.
Basic content management is provided by Orchard out-of-the-box. The team developed custom modules to provide authentication and authorization, to manage publications and notifications and to provide search functionality. More than 20 thousand documents were indexed using Solr.
After extensive research, planning and development we were able to deploy to production both the marketing website and the product subscription site. The marketing team is easily able manage content through the backend and edit in place features. Clients are able to enter the premium area and browse content according to their product subscriptions. They can make use of simple search and filtering tools to find the products they need and customize RSS/Atom feeds as they desire.
New PDF documents are produced daily by the OE economist teams in a disconnected internal workflow. Because of this, migration processes we built periodically update the CMS database and run indexing procedures. This way clients have fresh content which can be previewed and downloaded.
To quote Dr. Arvindra Sehmi, CIO of Oxford Economics, “Our web site has been beautifully engineered by SophiLabs. We followed a lean, agile development process, testing and pivoting functionality quite a number of times at the start of the project. It was important to do this because we were essentially reverse-engineering a poorly understood existing system and simultaneously trying to re-ignite our brand image to make our company, our products and our services better understood in the marketplace. At one point there was so much complexity the problem looked intractable. However, the architecture and design choices that SophiLabs made at the outset really paid off handsomely. Today I consider the website more that just a ‘site’… it is a platform on which we can do a lot of ‘cool stuff’ going forward. It will help us keep our promise to deliver new innovations that will attract new clients and lead them to love what we do. The website is the showcase of the incredible breadth of products and services that Oxford Economics has to offer. It is the most important point of contact for our customers to consume everything we have to offer. Sophilabs helped us refresh the image and brand of Oxford Economics and deliver a hugely important sales tool for the company.”