Michigan starts website refresh after 20 years on old platform

(Scoop News Group)

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The State of Michigan last week launched its first batch of brand-new government websites as part of a project to overhaul its online presence. The first set of websites, including the top-level Michigan.gov, are the first to run on a new content management system that’s replacing one the state had been using for more than 20 years.

Over the next four months, every statewide agency will get an updated website running on the new platform from Sitecore, a customer-experience and marketing software company. The state had since 2000 been running on a publishing platform made by a company called Vignettes, which has been defunct since 2009, after being bought and sold several times.

The Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget will eventually launch more than 110 executive-branch websites, totaling more than 170,000 pages and 133 gigabytes of digital assets, officials said.

Suzanne Pauley, the director of the department’s eMichigan program, which oversees the state’s websites, said that while the refresh has been planned since 2017, the explosion in web traffic to government agencies caused by the COVID-19 pandemic emphasized the need for a better digital experience.

“It’s a long-haul kind of project,” she told StateScoop. “Coordinating an effort like this is a huge undertaking. Agency content teams from every executive branch agency have been getting their sites ready to go.”

Pauley said the new sites are designed to be personalized to individual users and to promote the most requested services. During the first peak of the pandemic in March and April of 2020, she recalled, traffic to all Michigan.gov sites jumped from about 1 million per day to more than 20 million per week, with some of the heaviest loads on sites for unemployment benefits and coronavirus resources.

“A lot of people learned about and explored online services,” she said.

Michigan’s new homepage features a trio of lists of “popular services”: benefit programs including unemployment and small-business assistance, tourism and recreational information and vehicle services.

The design is also meant to give a defined look to a “State of Michigan site,” Pauley said. Visitors to Michigan.gov are currently greeted with a video reel of winter activities, including sledding, skiing and ice climbing, while DTMB’s new site features a similarly shaped banner with an overhead photo of Lansing, the state capital.

On the back end, Pauley said the Sitecore platform is much more user-friendly for individual agencies’ web administrators, offering visual interfaces for building sites and uploading content. Pauley said her team is also leading workshops and offering one-on-one trainings as more agencies get ready to relaunch their pages. And while every site will have some unified branding, individual agencies will have some degree of customization, she said.

“Consistency, not uniformity,” Pauley said. “But also leveling the playing field for all the content teams to create great content.”

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