Visit AIAG.org to check out the website enhancements that will give members, volunteers, and staff the tools they need to collaborate more efficiently.
Many of AIAG’s members, volunteers, and staff have noticed improvements and enhancements to the organization’s website over the past year, and we began to wonder about the planning and work that went into creating those enhancements.
So what better person to ask than AIAG Website Manager Carlton Smith, who has been working behind the scenes to ensure AIAG staff, members, and volunteers have the tools they need? Smith, a Ferndale native, served six years in the Air Force, working out of the National Security Agency. Surrounded by technology, he became interested in programing and coding, so moving into IT when he left the service seemed a natural fit. Most of his work has been for companies building and maintaining websites for other companies; AIAG is his first experience an in-house system since early in his career.
Here, Smith shares his insights into this long-term website and data management project.
AIAG: What were the drivers for this project?
Smith: AIAG has long had a backend data system tied into its website, but it was highly customized and based on a platform that didn’t include much of the newly available technology. So the needs of members outgrew the capabilities of the system, and much of my time as website manager was maintaining and band-aiding all that customized information.
About a year ago, we realized that we needed a content management system. Users were unable to update content on their own and had to rely upon programming staff to update anything on the website. It was hard to find anything and time-consuming to manage. After exploring the costs and what the project would look like, and coming to the conclusion that the direction was right, we began work in earnest about 10 months ago. We wanted to provide a system that would allow business users to publish, edit, and update pages on their own. The new software (Sitefinity) has templates already styled for AIAG’s design. Information can be available on the website quickly, a process that used to take weeks.
We also wanted a community site with customizable features that would allow work group members to communicate and publish more efficiently. This software (Zimbra) has numerous features that will take collaboration to a new level: discussion groups, polls, sharing of documents and media, a blogging platform where users can write articles or post notices and news items. There’s even a Wiki — a series of deep-dive links where users can create upper levels of links leading to more information. It is much more interactive and, at this point, we are only beginning to scratch the surface of its potential.
AIAG: What is the next step?
Smith: The next challenge with both the content management system and the community site will be determining the best way to roll out all the new functionality, as well as figuring out how we can leverage these capabilities and keep up with even more changes in available technology. It will be important to demonstrate all the capabilities of the system in a way that will allow users to take full advantage of all that’s offered without spending a lot of their valuable time in a learning curve. We’re confident there will be those who are interested in experimenting with the system, and then others will ask, “How can I do the same thing?”
It’s also important for our members to know that — in addition to these front-end changes — everything behind the scenes has also been upgraded, including the servers and the membership database. Users will find the search functions much more efficient.
AIAG: Is there another project on the horizon?
Smith: The project list is a mile long, but there are two priorities. One is a membership system that will allow potential members to sign up for memberships on the website at one sitting. The other is a database — sort of a lost-and-found — where members can post information to help them locate portable containers.
“Having the content management system and a functional community site will really free up time and resources to work on these and other new ideas,” says Smith. “And the more we can do, the more valuable and useful our online systems will be.”
Be sure to visit www.aiag.org often to take advantage of the enhancements.