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Changes

This is a week of beginnings and endings. The new freshers are arriving. But we are bidding farewell to two members of the ECS Web Team. Sarah Prendergast and Joe Price. Both have applied for and been accepted for the university voluntary severance scheme.

We’re very sorry to see them go, they are valued members of the team.

Joe is a skilled all round web designer and developer who is going to start his own small business. To anyone considering engaging him, let me say that he has been a pleasure to work with. His designs are always of a high standard and he has shown a level headed pragmatism – balancing innovation with good basic design and use of standards. He finishes what he starts and people are always happy with the result. (I figured it would save me responding to queries for references if he can just link to this blog post *grin*)

Sarah has also been a pleasure to work with, and her work can be seen throughout our publications, posters and websites. As a new mother and an enthusiastic equestrian I’m sure she’s going to find plenty to keep her busy for a while!

Planning for the Future

With the university being restructured there’s bound to be some change, but with Web Science and Linked Data on the ascent, there’s still plenty of interesting stuff to look forward to. What I have been doing for the last month is trying to plan how to manage with such a reduction in resources. That horrible phrase “more with less” is being spoken.

I understand why web design has taken the brunt of our staff reductions. While I am sad and frustrated, I can see that reducing the web team means fewer and less rich websites, but reducing the network, servers or email means things take longer to get fixed when they break. This has a very obvious cost compared to the very subtle cost of confusing and out of date websites.

My job now is to work out where to cut the services we provide. Joe has had some simple but excellent suggestions.

Triage

The key thing is to work out what we currently do in terms of costs and benefits. The only real cost to my team is time, servers and bandwidth are negligible compared to staff time. The place I think we can reduce our effort is in providing bespoke websites for projects and conferences. Historically we’ve done some great work,  but we just don’t have the slack to build awesome sites from scratch for things. Joe’s suggestion is to build up some standard site templates and use these to build project & event websites. We’ve already started this in a small scale by creating a standard template for projects, and also building sites with the intent of reusing the templates and back-end design. I think this is a good approach as it reduces variation not quality. I’d rather have both, but needs must as the devil drives.

Other tasks we may hire students for. There’s some great talent amongst our students and they work relatively cheaply, but gain experience and it looks good on the CV. They are going to be inexperienced but we exist to help make students better, so that’s not a big concern.

Other very time consuming things which Joe and Sarah did for us, such as producing videos, we’ll just have to do less of.

I plan to take a firm line with academics expecting the same bespoke service they’ve got used to. We already work both smart and hard. I’m not going to spend my weekends doing work unless it’s the bits I enjoy. What does make me sad is seeing an academic on the pay grade above me go and buy a book on PHP. His time costs the university more than mine.

Austerely Awesome

At the past two Institutional Web Managers Workshops we have all talked about how big cuts to university web teams were on the way. For my team they are now here. If it was just us I would be more unhappy than I am. There’s some comfort in knowing we did nothing wrong. We’ll not be able to do us much now, but we’ll still run the ECS web systems to the best of our ability. The best of our ability is pretty darn awesome. Our level of awesomeness will remain high, just the quantity will have to reduce a little.

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4 Responses

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  1. Chris Rusbridge says

    Would something like Drupal fit your template idea… and still give you linked data options?

  2. Christopher Gutteridge says

    Actually, I was thinking of writing an on-brand wordpress template.

  3. Tim Chown says

    Good luck Joe and Sarah – it’s been brilliant having you around as part of the team.

    Thinking about how our sites(s) have developed prompted me to take a look at waybackwhen – just see how we’ve come on since you arrived – it’s been fantastic 🙂

    http://web.archive.org/web/20040131080815/http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Scenario Planning For Institutional Web Managers « UK Web Focus linked to this post on October 4, 2010

    […] coping with the new spending regime (and the University of Southampton’s ECS Web team blog has recently announced how it intends to cope with voluntary severances for two members of staff) I thought I could help […]



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