Web Site Management Using XML: A Testbed Project

Summary

Project started on June 1, 2005 (Completed)


As Web sites have grown in size, complexity, and prominence, Web site management, content management, cost, and accessibility have become growing concerns for government agencies. Despite the Web's promise for ease of use and access, creativity, and efficiency, agency managers and leaders are finding that their Web sites are increasingly presenting problems of inflexibility, inconsistency, bottlenecks, and new costs. Consequently, agencies are losing the ability to be responsive and flexible in providing new content or structure. And the costs of maintaining these Web sites have become prohibitive. Webmasters and system administrators have come to realize that the technologies and strategies used to build most Web sites are designed to produce individual Web pages. They do not provide a structure to easily maintain entire Web sites, keep them responsive to changing needs, or manage the workflow involved in Web content production and maintenance; nor do they facilitate the sharing and reuse of Web site content.

What is XML?

XML is generally understood to be a technology that supports effective data exchange between applications. However, XML has another value that is much less exploited or understood – it offers a viable long-term solution to many of the shortcomings of HTML because it structures and describes Web content in a meaningful way. As a technical strategy for managing Web sites, XML and associated organizational strategies offer:

  • Management benefits: Improved workflow management from content creation to publication and maintenance, allowing various types of work to be assigned to the people best suited for them. These strategies put control of and responsibility for Web content back in the hands of the business or program units, and the technical work in the hands of technical experts.
  • Productivity benefits: Dramatically reduced time, effort, and costs associated with Web site management. In addition, XML creates opportunities for easier information sharing due to standardized data formats. (In CTG's own implementation, Web site management costs dropped more than 75% and were matched by other productivity benefits.)
  • Consistency of content: XML accommodates enhanced version control of documents due to single source XML files. As a result, it guarantees consistency of content across multiple pages and multiple delivery formats (HTML, PDF, Doc) and devices (computer monitors, PDA's, cellphones).
  • Accessibility enhancements: XML enables consistent implementation of complementary Web standards, such as accessibility, through its standardized delivery capabilities.

Despite these clear advantages, agencies confront many obstacles to the adoption and implementation of XML-based Web site management. These include the need for technical training and infrastructure readiness, but more importantly, the need for solid business case justifications, understanding the impact of organizational change, leadership buy-in, and a firm understanding of where to begin.


Scope of Work

In cooperation with the Governor's Office of Employee Relations, Office of the Chief Information Officer, and the Office for Technology, the Center for Technology in Government offered New York state and local government agencies an opportunity to participate in a Web site management Testbed. The Testbed was designed to assist government agencies in examining the benefits as well as the challenges of Web site management using XML. 

The Testbed was not a technical how-to program about putting XML into operation, but a structured 18-month investigation to study best practices, work toward agency-defined practical goals, and build organizational capacity for better use of the Web.

Five NYS agencies were selected to participate in the Testbed:

  • NYS Department of Civil Service
  • NYS Division of Housing and Community Renewal
  • NYS Higher Education Services Corporation
  • NYS Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence
  • NYS Office of Cultural Education, State Education Department

During the first six months, the five agencies participated in hands-on workshops, organizational analysis, and development activities. The result of this phase for each agency was a working XML-based Web site prototype and a business case analysis for the organizational and policy changes that would be needed to fully develop and implement a new Web site management approach within their agency.

In addition, this phase involved the collection of data through multiple research methods such as semi-structured interviews, surveys, and analysis of relevant documents.

This phase culminated in the presentation of the lessons learned by the five agencies as to their working XML-based Web site prototypes and their business cases for expanding their individual efforts within their agency.

During the next six months, drawing on the Testbed activities and the agency results, CTG produced a set of practical guidelines and case studies that drew on the experiences of Testbed participants to provide guidance for others trying to improve the management, performance, and value of their Web sites. In addition, CTG created a sharable library of XML technical resources, called The XMLToolkit.

Project Activities

The Testbed started with a two-hour information session held on June 2, 2005 to provide those interested in submitting a proposal the opportunity to hear about the Testbed from the CTG project team. The presentation provided a project overview along with a discussion of what the specific proposal guidelines should be. Agencies then had three weeks to submit proposals. Five proposals were selected and the corresponding agencies were notified on July 6, 2005.

The Testbed involved a series of presentations, training sessions, workshops, and discussions to support the development of agency-specific prototypes:

  • On July 14, 2005 the selected five agencies attended a kick-off meeting to meet and discuss their individual projects.
  • The agency teams then participated in six one-day workshops and three training sessions held over the next six months. Each workshop and training session was devoted to specific topics and tasks leading to the development of a business case and a successful XML-based Web site prototype. The makeup of the teams and nature of their individual prototypes have determined specific workshop and training topics. The following is a brief listing of the training and workshop topics:
    • Making Smart IT Choices, CTG's IT business case methodology that provides an analytical approach as well as best practices for making IT investments
    • Introduction to XML/XSL
    • Advanced XML/XSL
    • Managing a Web Development Project
    • Content Management and Work Flow Management
    • Web Mapping and Story Boarding
    • Effective Web Site Design
    • NYS Accessibility Policy
    • Information Architecture
    • Cascading Style Sheets
    • Return on Investment and Cost Performance Analysis
  • A public event was held on January 25, 2006 where the participants showcased their prototypes and shared lessons learned.
  • At the end of the 18-month life cycle of the Testbed, CTG published and distributed practical guidelines and case studies based on the Testbed results, along with a sharable library of XML technical resources.

Deliverables

The Testbed has two categories of deliverables:

  • The first group of deliverables come directly from the Testbed agencies and include: 
    • Prototype XML Web site implementation by each participating agency. This is a coherent working subset of XML-based Web pages from the agency Web sites.
    • Individual business cases prepared by each agency for adopting and implementing XML based on their prototype project experience.
    • Initial online library of XML technical resources.  This includes such items as data structures and style sheets for accessing and presenting content. This library contains tips and coding samples developed during the Testbed that are judged to be useful as a public resource for others who choose to adopt XML approaches.
  • The second group of deliverables was produced as a result of research and evaluation of the Testbed activities and is available on this Web site. These deliverables include products that have relevance to the broader community beyond the Testbed agencies. 
    • Using XML for Web Site Management: Lessons Learned Report. This report is a recommended practices report for anyone interested in improving Web site management, performance, and value. This report was produced by CTG based on observation and analysis of the Testbed activities and includes lessons learned by the Testbed participants.
    • Using XML for Web Site Management: Getting Started Guide. A step by step guide helping government managers who wish to start exploring the use of XML for their own Web site management.
    • Using XML for Web Site Management: An Executive Briefing on streamlining workflow, reducing costs, and enhancing organizational value. One of the greatest challenges the Testbed participants faced was explaining the benefits of XML to their non-technical management teams. This guide helps bridge that gap.


Press Releases & News Stories

Press Releases

CTG In the News


Publications & Results

Issue Brief

Guide

Reports

Online Resource


Partners

Lead Partners

  • New York State Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO)
  • New York State Governor’s Office of Employee Relations (GOER)
  • New York State Office for Technology (OFT)

Agency Partners

  • New York Department of Civil Service
  • New York State Division of Housing & Community Renewal
  • New York State Higher Education Services Corporation
  • New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence
  • New York State Office of Cultural Education, State Education Department

Corporate Partners

  • Hewlett-Packard
  • Iceni Technology Ltd.
  • Logictran
  • MicroKnowledge
  • Sun Microsystems
  • SyncRO Soft Ltd.(<oXygen/> XML Editor)

Expert Presenters

  • Jennifer Kang
    Webmaster, NYS Office of Children & Family Services
  • Steve Gold
    Webmaster, Unified Court Systems, Office of the Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Courts Outside of New York City
  • Brenda Breslin, PMP
    Director, Project Management Office, NYS Office for Technology
  • F. Michael Donovan
    NYS Office of the CIO
  • Nancy Mulholland, PMP
    Deputy Commissioner Information Technologies; NYS Workers' Compensation Board
  • Diana Pinto, PMP
    Project Management Office; NYS Thruway Authority
  • Professor Thomas Mackey
    University at Albany
  • William R. Nimz
    Hewlett-Packard
  • Debi Orton
    Manager Technology Services/Web Manager; Governor’s Office of Employee Relations
  • Michael Short
    Department of Civil Service
  • Eleanora Morell
    MicroKnowledge
  • Jon Bosak
    Sun Microsystems
  • Tim Bray
    Sun Microsystems


Funding Sources

The project was funded in part by the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations.