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Simply put, University of Minnesota is enormous. Nearly 70,000 students are enrolled at this Big Ten university with five major campuses spread throughout the state of Minnesota. Much has evolved since it was founded in 1851, but the University’s core values remain the same: enrichment by understanding, advancement of learning through education, and the search for truth through research; all of this to benefit the people of the state of Minnesota, the nation, and the world.

The University of Minnesota was planning to replace its existing Oracle Universal Content Management (UCM) system with a flexible, hosted Drupal implementation. The University’s UCM implementation had more than 600 sites, which represented a considerable amount of storage, and millions of site visitors monthly. Furthermore, while the University has a central Office of Information Technology (OIT), the system is a distributed environment where each collegiate unit has its own management structure and its own internal Web team.

OIT wanted to create a centralized platform that would be an attractive and more easily maintainable alternative to departments spinning up their own independently-hosted sites. Several pilot sites would serve to provide representative real-life examples of various use cases for the platform.

Why Drupal was chosen: 

The University’s challenge was to build and maintain a site-building tool that meets the varied needs of its constituents. More than building a single website, the solution had to enable the University to:

  • Spin up new sites quickly, from a standard design and feature set.
  • Divide a single site into content sections or “subsites” that provide branding for departments and other groups that function as part of a larger community.
  • Provide a development framework for custom needs.
  • Enable easy deployment of code changes across the platform.
  • Remain secure and stable, such that their is no single point of failure.

Coming from the proprietary license of UCM, the University wanted an open source solution that they could own. For building such a robust platform, Drupal was the logical choice.

The UMN IT team now supports two flavors of Drupal: Enterprise and Drupal Lite, tailored to meet the needs of different campus organizations.

Describe the project (goals, requirements and outcome): 

We’ve worked with many higher education institutions, each of whom have varying levels of centralization. The question of which parts of the institution’s Web presence should be centrally administered is one that’s highly dependent on the institution’s existing culture and business processes. The University of Minnesota had an incredibly clear understanding of their goals, and not only understood the challenges associated with a project of this scale, but also appreciated the experience and expertise Palantir brought to the project.

The magnitude and potential internal impact of organizational change management is one that should not be underestimated. In our experience, sustainable organizational change is usually characterized by progressive, incremental changes, and this was absolutely true with the University of Minnesota. Ensuring that the process was as transparent as possible to all stakeholders and including as many people as possible in the conversation was vital to the success of the project.

Near the beginning of the project, we participated in a “town hall” style meeting attended by over one hundred stakeholders from across the University. This forum was designed to make sure everyone knew we were listening and wanted to make this project work for them and to address their needs.

During Discovery and Definition, we determined the user scenarios initially provided could be distilled to two main install profiles: one for individuals or smaller groups, and one for larger groups like departments and colleges. This enabled upgrades and security patches to be deployed as efficiently as possible, while still providing the necessary level of flexibility. Because the platform is hosted on Acquia Cloud and each install profile is maintained as a single service, code can be simultaneously updated across all sites with a single action.

Using Drupal install profiles, new sites may copy from successful models (such as a standard department-focused website) or may start from a solid foundation of features to develop more customized functionality. Developers and site administrators have a library of common tools for each new site build. Data can be migrated from legacy sites to the new platform using an automated process that reduces the amount of manual intervention necessary.

To help new users get up-to-speed on the new platform, we worked closely with OIT to ensure that their trainers had the knowledge and information necessary to train others within the University community. During the duration of the project, demos of our work were recorded and then used by OIT to both learn and train how to use the platform. We also provided OIT with tailored training on a list of specific topics, which were also recorded and made available to users.

Finally, we provided extensive written documentation which both supported the training sessions or other instruction related to platform usage. This training process was integral in showing both the OIT and internal clients by proxy how to install, migrate to, and manage this new platform.

In the end, it was about empowering those at the University who were in need of a website, whether big or small.

The University of Minnesota now has a platform that can be utilized University-wide – by satellite campuses, departments, organizations, small and large groups, and literally everyone between – that is centrally-maintained, and retains ever-important branding, while simultaneously giving each site built on it its own unique voice. This creates harmony across the University’s web presence and efficiency with regard to budget, security, and general infrastructure.

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Organizations involved: 
Key modules/theme/distribution used: 
Why these modules/theme/distribution were chosen: 

The Panopoly distribution provides solid base functionality for flexible page layouts using Panels and Panelizer. It offered a set of features that form the core of the Drupal Lite platform. We also used it as the basis for the Enterprise platform, extending its features to meet the design and functional requirements of the projects.

Administrative workflow and approvals were a critical component to the project. We used the Workbench suite of modules to provide extensible workflows, the ability to preview changes, and an editorial dashboard for each content author.

Migration from UCM -- and the ability to repeat that migration -- used the Migrate module to establish common patterns for data loading. The UMN team would export content from Oracle in a consistent format, and the use of a base install profile (with common content types) meant that migrations required little customization for each new site.

We used and developed the Zen theme in Drupal 7, which provided flexible, performant templating within a responsive framework. Using SASS (still new at the time) and Zen Grids, we were able to quickly build a set of base themes that met WCAG accessibility guidelines, performed well across devices, and allowed for future extension.

Community contributions: 

The largest benefit to the community was probably the enterprise adoption of Drupal by a major research university. Aside from any work that Palantir contributed, the UMN team’s commitment to the platform helped spur adoption of Drupal across higher education.

From a code standpoint, we made significant contributions to Panels, Zen, Workbench, and Workbench Moderation. We also beta-tested Acquia’s system for managing multiple distributions for an enterprise client.

Project team: 

Robin Barre, Amy Docimo, Ashley Cyborski, Ryan Wagner, Reese Morgan, Bill Sprowl

Team members: 
Homepage for University of Minnesota Rochester, one of the campuses within the UMN organization.
Homepage for University of Minnesota IT, of the niche sites created within the UMN organization.
UMN IT Department Website Solution Selection Guide page


ogursoy’s picture

Excellent job ! Thanks for the story!
Congratualations! - International University of Sarajevo.