RE: Website problems
Just thought I'd provide you with an update on the website position.
We've had a discussion with the people who built it about maintenance issues. We don't have an ongoing maintenance contract, so we would have to give them a one-off payment to go into the back end to investigate the problems in more detail.
To me, the problem seems fairly clear - a shortage of cache memory being made available by the server to "serve" your internet browser with information from the mySQL databases that form the "engine" of the site (ie there is a database for the forum, one of the reviews library, and so on). They agree that this could well be part of the problem but have said to use that upping the cache memory (keep up) would only be a temporary fix, and that a more permanent structural solution is necessary. Because the site is built on a proprietary system, which they own, only they can do this work and they have quoted us £3,000 to £5,000 to do it.
We also have some other niggling problems that we need to sort out. Many of you have mentioned the uselessness of the search function, and the inflexibility of the review library. The functionality of this forum leaves a lot to be desired too.
We have considered that the most cost-effective solution in the long term would be to combine how we respond to the short term (website crashing) and long term (website functionality) problems. Short term problems are likely to recur without us taking out an expensive maintenance contract - an expense we can ill afford.
We are now considering going out for tenders to another provider to essentially rebuild the website, migrating it over to WordPress. Some of you who are techy types will be familiar with WordPress as a blogging platform, but it is infinitely flexible and can be used as an engine for driving websites too. Most importantly, it is open source, which will give us total control over the website and any future problems we might have with it. It also gives us more flexibility over adding, and taking away, elements of the website in the future, on account of the modular way that WordPress works. In short, it is the best, and most sustainable, solution in the long term. This will cost us about £15,000 and will, we hope, deliver a new website by September. July and August tend to be our quietest times and will, we expect, see website problems reduce because of the lighter load placed on the server. The site will look more or less identical to this one but we will take the opportunity of the rebuild to make it a little more user friendly.
Part of the reason these issues arise is that we do not have access to the code of this website to make changes; with WordPress we will, as it is open source, and we will be able to rely on a large online community of developers, as well as on another, smaller provider (who given the competition in this field is likely to offer us a more competitive price) to carry out maintenance on a continual basis from September onwards.
I have not discussed this with the rest of the team but I think it would be useful to re-establish the website reference group, which Gareth convened in 2007/08 to discuss the format and "look" of this website. It'll give you an opportunity to feed into the process.
Lastly, however tempted you might be please do not suggest that someone carry out a scrutiny review into our procurement processes! I think that the best thing for me to say is that "lessons have been learned from the experience, mainly relating to the transfer and allocation of responsibilities between staff members at a time of high staff turnover at CfPS over the course of 2008" and leave it at that...