The University of Eastern Finland online service UEF.fi opened in spring 2020. The easy-to-use online service is designed especially for users coming from outside the university community.
North Patrol is a consulting firm specialized in the design of digital services and information systems. We shape ideas into a vision and service concept, find the best architectural and technological solutions, design a functional user experience, and compete to find the ideal partner for implementation work. We do not sell implementation projects, nor do we sell licenses; we are genuinely on the side of the customer.
Katja Mielonen is the online service professional responsible for the renewal project. She opens up the big picture: “A complete renewal of this online service is a significant step in developing the university's online services as a whole. Before, the online presence was a compilation of separate websites. From now on, online services interlinking with each other will be developed as one entity. Each service will have a clearer, distinctive role with their own target audience.”
Browsing and choosing study programmes is easy
User experience is essential. The new online service concept takes into account all individual target groups’ viewpoints. This makes the university's multidisciplinary educational possibilities, research work and collaboration services easy to find and understand. Browsing and choosing study programmes is as easy as possible, providing the future university student an enjoyable UEF experience.
Those interested in science get a comprehensible and interesting introduction into the UEF research expertise. Partners are provided with a common service tray. The accurate definitions produced in the concept planning phase will also support the content process.
Mielonen describes the content goals: “The online service renewal is also visible in the university's topical content items. In addition to news, future content production includes extensive themed articles which provide the general public with a deeper understanding of interesting research topics and scientific phenomena.”
The online service renewal was not just about the websites and concept. The publishing platform was also changed from Liferay to Drupal. “This change required us to switch our mindset, but Drupal has seemed like a good system. The administrators have been praising the user friendly features,” states Mielonen.
The renewal project brought learnings and successes
The goal for the renewal was that the online service would reach the target groups, introduce the diverse services and be easy to use. Mielonen is happy with the results: “The goals were met and as a whole, the renewal was very successful. We were aiming for a modern, easy-to-use and clear online service that would respond to the needs of our user groups. The renewal project enabled us to clarify our content and gain a better understanding of our target audiences.”
The fresh visuals of the new online service have been much liked by the users outside the university community. Most of the feedback has still been in house. “The website was used as a transit point for entering the university's own service systems. Giving up the old routes has been challenging, regardless of the active communication and guidance. Also, the new kind of navigation takes some getting used to. We have been developing the site according to user feedback and will continue to do so in the future,” states Mielonen.
An online service project always teaches you something. Katja Mielonen says the team was surprised about how much internal communication was actually needed. It would have been good to prepare better for that. Creating a concept and communicating about it is important. In the future it is also important to reserve more resources for administrative support.
“We would have benefitted from more user experience reports in the development phase. As an expert organization we still have a lot to learn about service design,” says Mielonen, continuing the list.
The 2-year project had several phases
The online service renewal project began in early 2019. As a whole the project took nearly two years, including tendering and concept design. The actual implementation phase lasted for about a year.
The renewal proceeded in phases. First parts to get a new look were the main sections of the online service: front page, news page, event page as well as the introductory pages for studies, research, partnerships and the university itself. After that came the pages for faculties and units, university library, continuous learning course selection and the centre for continuous learning.
“A compact project group of a few university staff members were involved in the online service renewal process. A varying group of volunteers also gave their input about building the different sections. I am especially proud of us being able to push through a massive renewal like this with relatively small resources. We have great, hard working professionals both at the university and in our implementation partner, Exove's team,” says Mielonen, thankfully.
Mielonen sums it up: “In concepting and tendering we partnered with North Patrol. The collaboration went well and we got an extensive requirements specification package to use in the tendering process.”
Now that the online services have been renewed, we have moved to continuous development phase. “Already in the development project we were learning agile development methods, which required some effort and flexibility at first. Even so, the development model proved functional. We have a long line-up of development targets for this year. Our goal is to upkeep a constant tech & content development operation in the background in order to keep the site valid and relevant,” says Mielonen.
Technology platform: Drupal 8
Project scope: Concept design, tendering and the MVP phase implementation costs about €200 000 altogether.