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Easy, cost-effective management of more than 80 library websites with eZ Platform

Thursday 13 June 2019 5:23:27 pm

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One of the more powerful features of eZ Platform is its ability to serve multiple sites from a single database and instance of the CMS, while allowing local managers enormous flexibility in how they manage the appearance and content of each site instance.

This multi-site approach can reduce development costs and simplify site maintenance by reusing content structures, user permissions, templates/styles, and files between several sites operated by the same organization.

But configuring and managing each site still involves several steps that require additional hours of work if not done properly. In this blog post, we’ll walk through how we set up a workflow, for both eZ Platform administrators and local site managers, to simplify the process of generating and customizing more than 80 sites in a single installation.

Sites that are alike, but not exactly the same

Mugo Web was engaged to create sites for two distinct library systems with more than 80 libraries between them. Each site is published at its own public domain and is managed by each local library’s content creators.

So our challenge was to create a solution that provided a common set of functionality while enabling each library to customize the content and design of its specific site.

The concept is attractive, especially in an age where "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" is part of the common vocabulary. But the demands of each library for a somewhat customized solution creates some necessary steps and challenges.

Automating initial site setup

Our first step was to identify the features to be deployed among all 80 websites, and to define a common content structure and user permissions. We found that we needed to create sites from two base installs, one for each library system. Each base install has a slightly different content structure and initial information that would allow editors to easily expand the content.

Our second step was to identify all the manual work needed to set up each individual site and automate the process. We created an admin form that collects key site variables, such as the base install to be employed and the site’s URL, and a script that automatically generates the distinct site instance, based on this information.

Here’s a look at an automatically generated base site:

By automating this process, we saved about four hours of development and admin time per site, as opposed to building out each site instance individually. And that estimate does not include time saved on additional troubleshooting of problems that always come up in a manual build-out. Multi-site management tactics also provide cost-efficiency when rolling out new features to an entire network of sites.

Putting the details in the hands of site managers

Next, we developed tools to enable local site managers to customize the appearance and content elements of their local sites.

The Mugo theme manager

We created a theme manager interface within the eZ Platform CMS to help non-technical editors customize design element colors and other site information.

To make the process easier, we defined presets that editors can use as starting points. Each preset defines the six base colors, and which base color is applied to each page element. Editors can further fine-tune each of the base colors and assign different visual options for page elements, as you can see below:

Note that for each visual option, our theme manager offers a selection of colors that are appropriate to the overall color scheme being employed. This ensures that color selections still work within the overall design and branding for the library systems, while giving each individual library a sense of individuality.

Site editors can also use the theme manager to change information such as the specific library’s phone number, admin e-mail address, and social media URLs.

The theme manager also handles important information for library patrons, such as hours of operations and special operation days, like holidays.

Custom page blocks

Mugo also created several “page blocks” specific to the library system’s needs, that site managers can add or remove from key pages on local sites using eZ Platform’s intuitive page editing tools.

For example, as part of the base site installs we developed, we created a Reading List widget, which lets site managers suggest books and other media to site visitors in a visually compelling manner. (We’ll brag a little here and note that the Reading List is integrated with the libraries’ catalog system for easy content population and linking.)

You can see this page block in the image below:

By default, the Reading List page block is installed near the bottom of each site’s home page. However, authorized local site managers can easily add this page block to internal content pages – such as a page devoted to promoting a specific book club – with just simple drag-and-drop within the eZ Platform interface.

And each page block’s specific contents are just as easy to edit. Site managers can even populate each reading list item's description simply by looking it up with its catalog ID number.

A strong foundation for growth

After establishing these base sites and an easy way to roll them out, we’ve continued to develop new, custom features to be shared between the library systems, such as creating custom forms and an event registration system, always aiming to make them flexible enough to be useful for as many sites as possible. We built a solid foundation, and expanding from there for new feature development has proven quite straightforward.

Doing your homework always pays off.

Are you considering a multi-site project that can benefit from centralized management and automated rollout? Contact Mugo for a free consultation!

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