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U Arizona Helps Campus Organizations Build Branded Sites with Custom Web Management Suite

The University of Arizona (UA) has launched its own site creation and management platform, UA Site-in-a-Box (SIAB), to help campus departments, clubs, and organizations create and maintain high quality, UA-branded Web presences.

The university's External Relations Marketing team came up with the idea for SIAB in response to the large number of unbranded, unpolished sites being created by UA organizations for various campus projects, events, and clubs. "The quality of these Web sites was just not up to what the U of A expects them to be," said Paul Tumarkin, marketing manager for the University Relations Marketing department. "Not only was the quality not there, but nobody was adhering to our branding standards."

The External Relations Marketing department worked together with the University Information Technology Services (UITS) Web Services team to develop SIAB. Nine university organizations pilot tested the solution for the last few months, and it formally launched a few weeks ago. So far the response has been positive, according to Tumarkin.

Faculty and staff of any UA department, club, or organization can request an SIAB site. The SIAB team then sets up the arizona.edu subdomain name and creates the empty shell of the site with the design and UA branding in place. Within 48 hours of the initial request, the site is ready to populate with content, and no Web development skills are required. "However fast they can populate their content, they can have a live site," said Tumarkin.

SIAB is built on the Drupal platform, a free, open-source content management framework written in PHP, which is also the platform behind the main UA Web site. Whenever a new version of Drupal is released, the SIAB team can roll out those enhancements to the SIAB sites, so they're always up-to-date with current technology.

The UITS department charges $180 per year ($15 per month) for SIAB sites, which includes domain and site hosting, app scanning, background maintenance and security, and a baseline set of features. Although all UA SIAB sites are associated with UA, the campus operates under a decentralized financial structure, so departments are fiscally independent from each other. UITS must charge other departments for the service to cover infrastructure and security costs, according to information provided by the UITS and the Office of External Relations.

"It ends up being a lot cheaper than if you were to go out and develop a site, find someplace to host it, and have to manage that entire process," said Tumarkin. "It's hosted and managed and all the technology stuff behind the scenes is taken care of. What the university community is most concerned about it content. They want ways to get their Web sites up and to be able to manage their content quickly, efficiently, and easily. And that's what this does."

SIAB enables campus organizations to edit and update text and images on their sites, as well as distribute news, manage contact lists, create FAQs, collect information through online forms and surveys, and link to social media channels. In the future, the team will add the ability to embed social media directly in the Web site.

It's a win-win solution for both the university and its organizations, according to Tumarkin. The groups get an inexpensive, easy-to-use solution, and the university ensures that it maintains a high-quality, unified presence on the Web. And because UITS manages the domain and site hosting, if the department or club doesn't renew its subscription at the end of the year, UITS can take the site down, so out-of-date, unmaintained UA-associated sites aren't left to languish online.

SIAB includes an online training site to give people the how-to information they need to populate their sites with content. The team also hopes to "create a vibrant community of users who can teach and advise each other," said Tumarkin.

The university isn't forcing its groups to use the service, "but the goal was to create a service that makes it so easy and inexpensive that people will want to use it as opposed to going off and doing their own thing," said Tumarkin.

The University of Arizona is a public research university located in Tucson, AZ. It serves more than 40,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students and employs more than 15,000 faculty and staff. It is home to nearly 20 academic colleges and 20 schools, many with multiple departments, as well as hundreds of student clubs and organizations.

Further information about UA SIAB can be found at the university's SIAB site.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at leilameyer@gmail.com.

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