Last week finally saw the end of months of planning, hard work and testing. as we launched our new University wide events calendar. This was proposed a long time ago, but staffing changes and the lengthy sign off process for the brief has meant it's been a bit longer in the making than originally planned!

It all started with a conversation with our events manager who highlighted the need for something much more intuitive than what we already had. I completely agreed and so set to work. Internally, there's a growing understanding that staff need to have more responsibility for their own content, and this was a common theme in every process of the planning.

I began by looking at various examples of online events calendars, both in the HE and FE sectors and beyond, to get an idea of how we would like ours to work. As soon as we had a rough framework I then wrote an extremely detailed brief on the back end functionality and followed this with designs of how we would like it to look. As well as adhering to our brand, one thing that was particularly important was that it should be searchable and filterable - it's a good job we run Funnelback on our site which would be easily be up to the task!

After nearly two years our working relationship with Squiz and Funnelback is now particularly efficient. Hence, we only needed one project briefing meeting before they got up and running with the more technical aspects of the build. This involved weekly burn down reports, regular questions on variances in the functionality and design and finally, a weeks worth of (intensive) testing our end to ensure it was all good to go live.

To briefly summarise, the calendar works like this:
  • A member of staff accesses our online form which they populate with the full event details (with a number of required fields)
  • This then enters workflow so our team can ensure there are no errors in format or content
  • Once it is published it is added to the full events listing (following the Funnelback re indexing)
  • This is filterable by audience, department, category and campus (once applied there is the option to embed calendars for specific audiences on their pages)
  • It also feeds the day's events through to the homepage
  • An automated response is sent to the event originator two weeks before the event occurs
  • Once the event occurs it is then automatically archived
Crucially, this now empowers staff to be owners of their own content. We've also coordinated an internal communications campaign to ensure that all staff are aware of this new product. There's now no excuse as to why events are not well attended - so many different departments run them and once this becomes routine for them I have every confidence we'll be showcasing a very impressive portfolio.

Now that we're live and staff are populating it with content we're looking at some extra features for phase 2. These will include the ability to add key dates, the next event showing on the homepage rather than the events on that day and more details on the events pages themselves.

Upon completion, I was asked to present on this (among other things) at last Friday's Heads of Department meeting. So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive with staff particularly impressed that they can just fill in an online form to create new events (that one is thanks to the Squiz asset builder!)

See you at Immarsat Conference Centre,
Old Street, London on 24-25 October 2013
A massive thanks for all of the work carried out by Squiz and Funnelback to turn this around whilst broadly adhering to our brief (and for being able to interpret my designs!) I'll be delivering a presentation on the above process and also demoing some of the functionality at the Squiz and Funnelback User Summit 2013 on 24 October which will be entitled 'Super Search'. I'm really looking forward to it as it will be a great chance to highlight our work and learn about the work of others. Maybe I'll see you there?!
Working in the Marketing department is definitely very fast paced and this is what I really enjoy about it. We're allowed the flexibility to try new things (some work, some don't and our constant monitoring of our campaigns/website bear this out). Working like this allows us to keep up with the latest changes in web and we're supported by a healthy budget - all in the name of recruitment and improving the student experience.

Thankfully we're given the resources
for this not to happen!
It's always interesting to me to see how we're perceived in the institution. My opinion is that we have a responsibility to offer the best possible service to our colleagues, and in the last year I've spent a lot of time fostering relationships around campus and giving presentations on our working practices. I've particularly targeted staff who have been quite vocal about our digital/web provision in the past. More often than not they have good reason to be. Only by listening to them, giving them an understanding of what we do and why, can we improve our internal reputation. Sometimes they have some great ideas too!

This week I've been updating our section on our intranet for staff which includes our latest website developments, our strategy and project gantt chart and (of course) this Blog! I really enjoy writing this as it makes me realise what we have achieved and shows colleagues the wide range of projects we get involved in. Complete project transparency...

Can we fix it? Yes we can, (as long
as we know the asset number...!)
Quite often we're at the end of the line when it comes to getting jobs done. Someone has an idea for a project, they talk to various stakeholders, they get a budget approved, and then they come to us to action it! If someone reaches the end of their understanding of how to design or build something then when we get involved... This means we have quite a lot of power because we're relied upon as the 'doers'.

This is not without its own challenges though. Sometimes we get very little time to turn something around, sometimes we get a wooly brief (e.g. 'I want a banner/header image by Thursday!') and sometimes people's lack of technical understanding makes work take a lot longer than it should. Institutionally we do pretty well, with most staff understanding the more technical aspects, and the fact that we're in a more competitive sector has made a number of senior managers up their game, making our life much easier.
There's also increased understanding from above that we are the experts in what we do. This is because we back every decision up with reams of statistics to prove that our contribution works! As we are the 'doers' there's the danger that we're perceived as the people who are responsible for something going wrong or not getting delivered on time. By saying we'll fix something we're then admitting responsibility, which can be a problem. However, rather than pointing the finger we're keen to be the team who will say 'I know that's a problem - we'll fix it!' and often we do...

Our Clearing meetings have shown that senior staff are genuinely appreciative of our work (and the extra hours we've been putting in recently). All this leads to a much happier workforce and much better inter-departmental working.

Now, what do you want fixed...?!
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