b2ap3 large Clipboard01A communications project with which Integrated Media Strategies was involved for four years is at risk.  The visibility our communications afforded the initiative attracted more than $1.2 billion in new investments and expansions to North Carolina in the advanced manufacturing sector and helped create more than 6,000 new jobs.  You could have read about it on the website, but the website is down, returning a Fatal error.

At the heart of the project was a website that supported the advanced manufacturing training departments of 10 community colleges. The statewide training initiative showcased the specialized equipment, close collaborations with industry, instructor credentials, and technical curricula.  It also provided successful examples of how graduates and students were placed as interns in the workplace at facilities across the state. This information gave industry a risk-free method to find candidates for advanced manufacturing positions - a win-win for both candidates and industry. In the same way as complex multi-axis machine tools need maintenance, so too do websites based on database-driven content management systems.  


After grant funding for our contract ended, as a courtesy, notifications were forwarded to the lead community college from the open-source Joomla community of important security patches. Instead of using best practices to address these patches, the site is now unavailable to any visitors. The implications are far greater. To a company considering the state as a possible location for their new facility who visit the website, they are likely to be instantly turned off.  After all, if the consortium is unable to maintain a website, how will they be able to provide advanced and specialized training for complex machining, 3D printing, or working with advanced materials? This failure directly impacts credibility and perceptions of competence.

When helping other clients with similar issues recover sites, inevitably we have found that they attempted to maintain the site on the cheap.  Often they use someone not conversant with best practices for doing updates, or someone unfamiliar with the CMS.  These 'cheap' solutions turn into far more costly recoveries or scrapping the site and starting over from scratch. Database-driven content management systems are enormously powerful and provide huge functionality. But they are complex, and when overwritten by updates or when new extensions are added, should be backed up first. This presumes knowing what's dangerous and also how and when to do backups and having the authority and access to perform these tasks.  In many instances, unqualified staff are passed the administrator login and simply proceed. 

There are other automated best practices regarding backups at the hosting level, but this is another discussion entirely.  With a backup in place prior to a site change, if the change breaks the site, it can be rolled back without loss.  In this particular instance, clearly that did not occur. As with this site, we have found with other clients that often the person dealing with the task does it like a Windows Update and expects everything to turn out well. Usually, they do. But click carelessly at your peril.

Rather than having a low-cost maintenance contract in place for minimal disruption that also provides guidance on the implications of changes to the site architecture, many organizations use these high-risk practices.  In this case, it won't be clear how many millions of dollars of new investment - and the associated jobs created - may have been lost while the site was down. Which is a pity as it could have been easily averted.

If your organization would like more information about the website communications and maintenance services Integrated Media Strategies provides, please contact us.

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