Written by Lance Baily, edited by Beverly Hewett.
This article highlights the development process of the new website which was lead by INACSL VP of Communications Beverly Hewett PhD, RN and Lance Baily, founder of HealthySimulation.com, HealthySimAdmin.com & The Gathering of Healthcare Simulation Technology Specialists (SimGHOSTS.Org).
Over the past two years from 2010-2012, the International Nursing Association for Clinical Simulation and Learning leadership has empowered a core team of volunteers and paid consultants to help redevelop the INACSL.Org website. The completely redeveloped website was released over the 2012 holiday break after a nine month long construction process.
In February of 2011, the INACSL Board of Directors requested Board Member and VP of Communications Beverly Hewett to redevelop the INACSL website.
Having little previous experience designing such a large-scale web-based project before, Beverly initially worked with Eric Bauman PhD, RN, Paramedic who helped to provide an initial comprehensive community survey and needs assessment review of the website. To assess the publically displayed pages a survey was sent to the INACSL membership, and to assess the website administrative ‘back-end’ control panel a survey was sent to the INACSL board of directors. Two primary concerns emerged from these surveys:
1) Requests for changes to the general information posted on the website had to be emailed to the host company by INACSL board members. As the host company did not have dedicated staff available to make such content-related changes, requests for edits could take several days or weeks to accomplish.
2) The overall navigation and look of the website was very outdated, which made finding key resources or pages difficult and time-consuming.
In 2008, INACSL partnered with an online membership management data company to host the INACSL.Org website. At that time there were 400 participants to the annual INACSL meeting. By 2010, annual meeting attendance increased to over 800 participants. As the membership continued to grow the need for more control of the website quickly became clear. In 2011 the INACSL board reflected on the survey outcomes and made the decision to financially commit to redeveloping the website. Continue reading to learn how INACSL consulted with HealthySim founder Lance Baily to help redevelop a modern day website for this professional nursing society!
Finding a Website Developer Began in August of 2011
After the 2011 INACSL conference, Beverly quickly set out to find a website consultant with technical and development experience to help guide the process. Lance Baily was recommended to Beverly because he had hand-built HealthySimulation.com, a free medical simulation resource website. Lance was well aware of the need to redevelop the INACSL.Org website and was thrilled to work on such an important project.
Lance immediately suggested to Beverly and the INACSL board that they should develop the new website infrastructure around a “Content Management System” or “CMS”. A CMS website utilized an easy-to-use backend interface which allows for simple textual editing of publically displayed webpages. Once constructed, the website could be modified by non-technically inclined editors using a generic “content publishing” system, similar to Microsoft Word. This would mean INACSL board members could be trained to edit website page content without needing to send email requests. Furthermore, a CMS system provided a seamless navigation and layout structure that makes for a more intuitive user experience. Furthermore, simple pages could be added and removed by INACSL administrators without massive website infrastructure changes. And finally, in the long run additional website components could be added into the pre-existing structure without having to start from scratch and rebuild the entire system. This ability would provide INACSL with the long-term flexibility currently missing with the existing website host.
Given the green light to move forward with a CMS-based system, Lance and Beverly began to develop a “Request for Proposal” or “RFP”. The team utilized Google to search for similar website RFPs shared by municipalities or other public institutions. Combining these examples with an outline of needs identified by the website committee lead to the development of a 16-page RFP. The RFP contained among other things:
- Website history and INACSL non-profit mission & online website goals
- Technical requirements including:
- CMS driven structure
- Administrative control
- Seamless navigation and appealing quality
- CMS driven structure
- Membership database requirements
- Public / Private pages
- Event management registration system
- Payment collection methods
- Communication systems
- News sharing blog posts
- Maintaining the list-serv email system
- Demonstration of previous work
- Demonstration of proposed CMS
- Timeline of production
- Breakdown of costs
After two months of review and almost fifteen revisions, the RFP was sent out to over sixty website development companies. These vendors were found through online searches as well as by inquiring with nursing-based websites that had membership systems.
Nine vendors responded to the RFP with varying degrees of proposals, which ranged from one-paragraph emails to thirty page packages. Beverly and Lance reviewed these proposals and immediately dismissed three vendors due to lack of detailed information. The remaining six vendors were ranked and phone calls were scheduled for Lance and Beverly to learn more. After these engagements an additional three vendors were eliminated and follow-up calls were scheduled with the three finalists. During these calls, Lance negotiated final asking prices and created a side-by-side comparison chart so that Beverly could relay key information to the INACSL board of directors. References of previous clients were also called to better review the potential candidates.
Finally, these final vendors were scheduled to make online demonstrations to the INACSL board of directors (and Lance) where they highlighted previous work and outlined their proposals. After a lengthy discussion and final recommendations, the INACSL board selected SankyNET to redevelop the INACSL.Org website.
Construction Begins, January 2012
After contracts were signed and initial payments made, the SANKY production team provided a scheduled timeline of production waypoints to Lance and Beverly. To better understand the website traffic to the INACSL.Org website, SANKY requested a google analytics tracking code be installed on the server. This analytics code would allow the redevelopment team to analyze the types of traffic visiting the site including: the number of visitors, their country and city of origin, most visited pages, general site navigation and more. After lengthy discussions, SANKY began providing Beverly and Lance with drafts of various website components for review and then final approval. Over the next eight months, weekly meetings with SANKY representatives were held to discuss needs, identify issues, review drafts and confirm actions-items.
An example of this draft-review process can be gained with the first item provided by SANKY: the “mood board” or “color style guide”. These boards demonstrated the feelings SANKY believed INACSL’s website was trying to convey. Obviously INACSL’s logo is primarily purple and so much of the color-motif for the website was based around this palette. Receiving this draft, Lance and Beverly discussed thoughts over the phone and the internet and made suggestions to SANKY the following week. Beverly represented the INACSL board of directors with regards to organizational needs while Lance provided the technical experience with regards to website development. Much like a healthcare simulation technology specialist (or “Sim Tech”) provides technical guidance to a clinical educator facilitating healthcare simulation, the pair brought unique experiences and skills to the process that ensured efficient and quality discussions during the development. Lance, Beverly, and SANKY continued this process with the following build items:
- Page Layout Boards – Examples of the way different types of pages (such as member profile pages or file-database pages) would look to website visitors.
- Copydeck & Site Architecture – Website textual data is called “copy”. Every single word, sentence and paragraph of the previous INACSL website had to be reviewed and restructured into the new website’s redesigned navigational architecture. SANKY understood INACSL’s desire to create a more intuitive website experience and proposed reconfiguring the navigation under five main areas: About, Attend, Learn, Connect and Join. Thus, all previous website pages had to be restructured into the new site navigation architecture. Redundant pages and links were combined or removed in-order to streamline user experiences.
- Technical Specifications – The exact technical requirements of the website had to be specifically identified before being produced. Once programmers completed the code for key website functionality additional changes would not be possible. Thus, Beverly and Lance had to identify as best as possible all of the functionality the new website would need to perform, from membership registration methods to file-database uploads and more. Every website function was clearly identified and reviewed for final submission to the SANKY’s programming team. This phase of the development took the most time and was the most critical for the website’s immediate and long-term success.
- Final review – Before the website was made public Lance, Beverly and the INACSL board of directors examined every single page in-order to confirm functionality, layout, navigation, copy, and more. The website underwent about a month of final reviews before being made public at the end of 2012.
Much of the above process was also performed for the special “mobile version” of the website. A mobile version allows tablets and phones to better access a slimmed down website, which was also a key request by the INACSL membership.
To complete the development, the data from the old website had to be backed up. Membership databases were pulled and reimported to the new website. List-serv archives were also downloaded and will be made available in the near future. Lastly, the payment processing systems had to be installed and key INACSL website administrators had to be trained in the back-end CMS control panels.
Final Thoughts & Advice
Beverly and Lance are thrilled with the launch of the new INACSL.Org website. They are proud of the new functionality, intuitive navigation, appealing layout and behind-the-scene control panel. After almost two years of work the board of directors are excited to share the new website with INACSL members.
As training continues for key administrators and the needs of the INACSL organization transforms over time, the needs of the website will be better identified. The benefit of working with a CMS is that major components can be modified or added in the future for a fraction of the cost of rebuilding the entire website.
For those embarking on a website development process, know that rebuilding a membership-based project is complex and takes a great deal of focused attention. The more planning and technical identification that can occur early on the easier the development process will flow and the better the overall website will be. Additionally, having experienced support from a web-savvy and technically experienced consultant, along with a key board member empowered to do her job will provide for a success story similar to the INACSL redevelopment project.
Most importantly of all, know that neither Lance nor Beverly had previous experience building such a large website before. However, they found that by working diligently together with a great team like Julie & Laura from Sanky.net that anything is possible!