Site-in-a-Box Offers Fast, Affordable Website Development

Site-in-a-Box Offers Fast, Affordable Website Development

By Paul TumarkinExternal Relations Marketing
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Tablet displaying site in a box website
Tablet displaying site in a box website

You have probably seen a University of Arizona website that appeared to have no connection to the University at all. Maybe it had no logo, or no UA red and blue. Or maybe the design was lacking because someone needed to get a site up fast with limited funds.

External Relations Marketing and UITS Web Services have teamed up to solve all of these issues.

Two years ago, Kate Jensen, assistant vice president of External Relations Marketing, Paul Tumarkin, External Relations marketing manager, and Bernadine Cannon, Web services manager with University Information Technology Services, put their heads together to find a way that units on campus could build their own websites with high-quality designs that follow the UA's branding standards.

"When we floated this idea to our marcom (marketing and communications) network there was a lot of interest," Jensen said. "Proliferating sites with little or no connection to the department, the college or the University is a problem for everyone. We've had nine pilot clients and they've been very pleased with this new resource." The list of pilot clients includes the Appointed Professionals Advisory Council, ASUA Spring Fling and AnimalWatch Vi Suite

Jensen's office and UITS looked to blogging sites such as Wordpress and Blogger.com as models. These sites offered users the ability to sign up, choose a design and immediately publish a good-looking, template-based website.

They asked, "Why can't we do that for the UA?"

By pooling their resources and working with an outside developer, they have developed Site-in-a-Box, which enables UA campus units to create simple, content-driven websites based on a series of high-quality, UA design templates. Built in Drupal, each site comes fully designed and ready for the owner to start populating content.

Site-in-a-Box has an easy-to-use interface for non-Web professionals to edit and update text and images, and site owners can use the tool set to distribute news and manage contact lists and frequently asked questions, as well as create online forms and collect information, making it an excellent tool for creating surveys and managing RSVPs, Tumarkin said.

"We currently offer basic links to social media channels, but we'll be working on the ability to embed social media content right in the website in the future," said Cannon, who served as the technical lead on the project.

Aside from ease of use, one of the key features of the service is how quickly it can get a website up and running. From the moment a client makes a request, new sites with standard features can be live and ready for content to be added in about two business days. Sites with customized features take a bit longer.

Websites built with Site-in-a-Box will be updated automatically, meaning there's no danger in choosing a system that will go out of date as technology changes.

As soon as a new version of Drupal is out or a new feature is developed, tested and released into the master templates, the enhancements can be seamlessly rolled out to client sites, Cannon said.

"It works kind of like the way apps on your mobile device get automatically updated," Tumarkin said.

Tumarkin and Jensen, stewards of the UA brand, say they couldn't be happier, from the perspective of how the new sites affect the overall University image.

Site-in-a-Box websites – including a built-in news feed, calendar of events, people listings, FAQs and customizable forms – are available for $180 per year; the fee includes domain and site hosting (of up to 500 MB), app scanning, background maintenance and security. While the fee covers a specified baseline set of features, enhancements and consulting services are available.

"At $15 a month, it's a great deal," said Tumarkin, who co-led the project with Cannon. "Our clients get the speed and ease of use, and the University puts a stronger, more unified, high-quality image out to the world, elevating everyone's reputation. It's a win-win all around."

Click here to learn more about Site-in-a-Box.

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