Detail of the Portland Oregon Website Replacement (POWR) project. Learn why the existing platform needed replacement, the vision for the new site, and a regularly updated report of the major phases of the project.
A new vision
Portland.gov will be a website where services and information are easy to find, easy to access, and easy to understand.
Easy to find
The current platform has over 350,000-plus items of content. Most of this content is PDF files and Microsoft Word documents. Using search on PortlandOregon.gov finds 10-year-old PDFs more often than current and reliable information about the services provided by the City of Portland.
We can do better.
Word choice is important. We are training our site editors to use words the community would use. We will test our word choice with real users of our site.
Easy to access
Content on the current platform has room for improvement with both mobile and assistive devices. We want Portland.gov to be accessible to all of our community members regardless of ability or device.
Easy to understand
Our goal is to write at a fifth-to-eighth grade reading level. This makes services easier to understand and to translate. When we cannot write at an inclusive reading level, it should be because technical precision is required or due to legal requirements.
In support of the vision to make services and information easy to find, access, and understand, we have objectives to make sure we are creating a platform to best support our community.
We are focusing on accessibility and equity above all else. The site should be usable and neutral in tone, which will help community members find what they are looking for and move on as quickly as possible. Search should be awesome. We will be spending a lot of time training our search index to show our community search results with words the community actually uses.
Content first design
We will write content for findability. Content will be easily presented on mobile devices, which make up nearly 50% of the public traffic to the website. Since 2013, we have seen a 300% increase in mobile traffic.
In addition to mobility and findability, content should be structured when possible to help share that information and the date within with other systems. Good examples of this would be service location information that can be easily shared with Google Places or project information that could be summarized on a map for the community member to see construction or planning projects near them.
The platform should be well-developed and easily maintained. Choosing Drupal allows us to create a content management platform that should serve the City well for years to come.
While we do not mean “environmentally sound” when we discuss “sustainability", we do consider that important—the site is run in cloud-based data centers that allow for the scaling of resources and energy use to match current site needs.
Fast and efficient
Page load speed builds trust and can be an equity issue for the many community members that are using their mobile plan data to access our site. The site must be able to scale, and we have tested the platform with two times the peak traffic ever seen for the existing platform.
While the content management system should not be a place where payment card industry (PCI) information is stored, we will ensure that it integrates with existing payment vendors in a secure way. Additionally, we respect the privacy and security of our community and will only obtain the minimum personally identifiable information (PII) that is necessary to provide a service.
Our software security is also critical. With Drupal, we have an open source platform that has a dedicated security team keeping a watchful eye on vulnerabilities and responsibly reporting those security issues to its community.
Easy to use
We want Portland.gov to be easy to use for all our community members regardless of ability. Our design process is focused on clarity, simplicity, and transparency.
Our editors should be able to create content that meets those needs without needing to fully understand the technology stack we use.
A new domain
With support from Mayor Wheeler, the project team registered Portland.gov to serve as the new domain for the city website at the conclusion of the migration.
Any work to migrate City email addresses to the new domain will happen in a future project.
Migrating to an Open Platform
This software, sometimes referred to as the 4C platform or POG, was built using Adobe's Coldfusion programming language and Microsoft SQL database servers. This solution was, and still is, completely proprietary—created and maintained exclusively by City of Portland employees in the Bureau of Technology Services (BTS).
According to W3Techs, as of May 2019 fewer than .5% of all websites are using Coldfusion. (Compare this with 79% of websites using PHP in one form or another.)
In addition to questions of the sustainability of supporting a custom platform over a long period of time, it was also desirable to move to a platform with wide use by other government websites of a similar size and scale of the City of Portland.
BTS leadership made the decision to migrate the platform to Drupal—an open source content management framework.
Drupal is the choice of many government websites around the world. As open source software, a global network of contributors freely give their code to the Drupal project. This open standard and lack of licensing fees makes it easy to adopt. A broad selection of companies that support and develop Drupal websites makes it viable for government IT organizations to develop a flexible solution without vendor lock in. Finally, Drupal is aggressively accessible ensuring a path to compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
Major phases of website replacement
This project has three major phases, the first of which is complete.
Phase 1 - 2018
Internal “alpha” website – COMPLETED
In August 2018, we released the “alpha” or initial test release of the website to begin collecting internal feedback.
Initial content writing workshops – COMPLETED
In the summer and fall of 2018, we met with bureaus and offices with public-facing services that our community members regularly use. Additional content workshops will continue throughout the migration project and beyond to ensure our editors are well-educated on best practices in web communication.
Service directory released to public beta – COMPLETED
In December 2018, we made beta.portland.gov public. While the marketing of the new site will not begin until enough critical content is published, making the site public allowed us to begin testing. Load tests allowed us to see the amount of traffic we can handle. User tests allowed us to meet with real members of the community and test our assumptions of how well search and discovery work on the new site.
Phase 2 - 2019
Migration of public facing content – IN PROGRESS
Starting in early 2019, we began working with bureaus to migrate their programs and projects onto the new platform. This work is ongoing and will continue through most of the year.
Portland.gov is primary homepage – NO LATER THAN June 2020
We will reach a point when enough content has been migrated that the primary homepage for the City will switch from PortlandOregon.gov to Portland.gov. Read the implementation plan for this work that outlines the milestones we need to hit to make the switch.
The new platform has the ability for us to track important legacy paths that were part of the links on PortlandOregon.gov and redirect users to the newly written content with easier to remember links on the new Portland.gov.
Phase 3 - through 2020
Intranet, a new home for employees – EARLY 2020
In early 2020, we will launch a second site dedicated on employee-focused content. This two-site approach will allow us to tailor the journey an employee uses to look for content that is aimed at them—employee directories, internal news and notices, documentation for how processes work, etc.
The new intranet will allow content that is related to services or public information to be kept separate from internal information, which will improve the search experience for both sites. Employees will use their city network credentials to interact with employees.portland.gov.
Identity and access for community users – STARTED
The now 16-year-old platform that is PortlandOregon.gov is also where all the usernames and passwords are stored for the community to access applications to accomplish tasks like register a business or request a permit online. While the system has served the City well, it is not a standard that can easily be supported long term.
Going forward, the use of an employee portal tied to whether or not an employee is still with the City will make access to those systems more secure.
Changing our identity and access solution is a large project of its own. Every existing application that uses the PortlandOregon.gov system for login, will need to be updated to use the new identity and access management system or active directory. The full scope of this effort is in discussion.
TrackIT (webforms) replacement – STARTED
We have identified a collection of services, a toolkit, to replace the webform solution that is a part of the current platform. The new form system will be easy to use, accessible, and available to users of mobile devices. Additionally, we expect the system to integrate well with customer service management systems that can be used as a part of the City’s service redesign happening in conjunction with the 311 project.
Retire PortlandOregon.gov platform – 2021
If we make it through all three phases as planned, we should be ready to retire the software behind PortlandOregon.gov and rely solely on new systems for our digital communications. Sometime after the start of 2021, we will be able to shutter this system, but turning off the system is not a requirement for the success of the migration project.
We can do this
Not everything needs to be migrated from the old site and, while rewriting our services and guides for the public, we should focus on reducing the quantity and improving the quality of our content.
Additionally, the team is working on features to import news and events from the past few years to make it easier to see historical information in context.
The new system is much easier for editors to use and should result in far less time spent maintaining the content. That additional time should allow us to reduce costs or use the time focusing on better writing and communication.
1. Identify admins and editors
2. Create a migration plan
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a session with our digital strategists and identify your programs, projects, and crucial content for the community and intranet sites.
3. Create drafts of all crucial content on Portland.gov
We are starting with the public content. Once content is on the new site in a draft mode, even if it is just a title, we can track how much work is remaining to complete your migration. For this work, copy and paste of content from the old system will be quick and easy way to start building a base that can be rewritten and restructured going forward.
4. Decide if you want to migrate news and events
For many programs, you will want to migrate news and events that were created in the old system. We have tools to migrate this structured content into the new system.
5. Report on your progress to leadership
Going forward, we will be able to report on total work “in draft”, “in review”, or “published” and create a percent complete metric for each site. Your leadership should prioritize this work to help us get better more effective communication and services for our community.