DNA Labs: Zooming in on content management.

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The rise of content management systems has fundamentally changed the way organisations work with their digital channels. Gone are the days that content changes needed to be sent to a developer in order to have the website updated. Changes could be made quicker and easier by the team involved – the benefit to organisations of speed, efficiency and collaboration have been plentiful. In addition, content has also undergone a more subtle change in the last few years, which may not be obvious from an outside perspective – it’s this change that has evolved the way content is created and delivered – and it’s this change that has unlocked greater benefits for users too.

In 2012 DNA embarked on one of our first large scale responsive design projects, wcc.govt.nz for the Wellington City Council. With audiences ranging from city visitors, ratepayers, users of pools and parks, dog owners, business owners and consent applicants – this site has hundreds of pages, clear sections, diverse content, and needed the content to be richer to enable better communication from Wellington City Council. After some initial analysis, we found over 40 templates were needed to deliver the range of content Wellington City Council handled. The number of templates was cost prohibitive and the number of common elements between the templates was high. We changed our approach. Three templates, around 15 content elements.

Approaching content as elements rather templates makes a radical change to how content is designed and managed. The reusability of code is much higher, templates become much more flexible and product owners can create a range of pages with much richer content than traditional single content field approaches. It also means content can be better aligned to a range of user needs.

In the subsequent years since the launch of the WCC site, we have continued to hone this approach, rolling it out over a myriad of sites and platforms. We also built a SilverStripe module called Elemental which enabled the SilverStripe CMS to handle content in an element based way. For sites like WellingtonNZ.com that meant moving away from more than a dozen templates to 3-4 with an array of content elements. This approach gives WellingtonNZ.com the ability to create an extensive range of pages and utilise the design and functionality developed for a specific purpose across the whole site.

WellingtonNZ has now taken this extensibility a step further. We have been working with them to launch VenuesWellington.com which launched recently. 

Rather than building a completely new site, our team utilised a SilverStripe module called Subsites to enable WellingtonNZ.com to run multiple sites from within one codebase and CMS. While the content is fundamentally different, once we broke down the content into elements, we could re-use extensive amounts of content elements from the main website and strip back the development to a few new elements specifically designed for the Venues content. These new elements are now also available to the main site, further extending the array of content the main site can handle.

Elemental and Subsites paired together now give WellingtonNZ.com an incredibly powerful platform to roll out other sites at significantly reduced costs because so much of the functionality is shared. We're already working with WellingtonNZ.com on their next subsite, which will no doubt have much more functionality, with richer and more diverse content than would have been possible for a Content Management System using a traditional template-driven approach.
This approach has meant the budgets have shifted away from delivering simple repeating tasks. We can now focus on the interactions and content which will set a site apart and create an amazing customer experience.