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LBI Aspect helps the world's largest university press to define success from its online publishing activities
Excellence, tradition and innovation…these are values that Oxford University Press (OUP) - which has its origins in the printing of the first book in Oxford in the late 15th century - adheres to. Today, OUP is one of the largest publishers in the UK, and the largest university press in the world, publishing more than 4,500 new books a year, from bibles to dictionaries.
In line with its innovative approach, OUP is a major provider of online information, through its web site www.oup.com. Here you can access everything from English Language Teaching (ELT) books, to information on the new 60-volume Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, due for release in September this year, which has already been described as ‘the publishing event of 2004’.
Millions of hits per month
The OUP web site is in fact a portal containing a number of different sites incorporating all the organisation’s publishing activities, from academic and professional books and journals, to teaching and learning resources, dictionaries and reference works and online products.
The web site attracts over one million hits each month from academics and consumers alike, and traffic has doubled annually in recent years, driven by new product launches and marketing activities. There has also been a huge increase in the amount of content on the main site and new sites, such as the US operation, have also been added.
OUP faced two key challenges: first, to ensure that its web site has the capacity to not only handle existing levels of visitor traffic, but also cope with projected growth; and second, to enable visitors to access information easily and quickly through a well-designed user interface.
To achieve these goals, OUP sought the help of LBI Aspect (new high level description here).
OUP had been working with LBI Aspect for around three years on web site design and development and called on the company’s technology skills for the capacity planning project. “We wanted to know where the potential bottlenecks were and what our capacity really is, given that our visitor traffic is increasing exponentially every year,” explained Mike Kavanagh of OUP’s Business Systems Development Group. “At the same time we wanted to look at ways of improving the performance of our site to make searching for information easier and faster. We called in LBI Aspect because it has experience of the site and the Mediasurface content management system (CMS) that we use.”
Capacity planning isn’t just about installing new hardware boxes to cope with demand - it’s also about being able to predict traffic flows based on typical user activities.
“LBI Aspect helped us by installing and configuring servers that can actually simulate ‘real-life’ visitor traffic according to given types of transactions on the site - and then ramp them up,” said Mike Kavanagh. “An example would be someone coming to our home page, typing a word into the search box, viewing the results and clicking through to a destination page. LBI Aspect was able to build up a transaction, called a user profile, and then use software to simulate 200 or more of those transactions per hour. Ramping up in this way means we can see how the site would perform in a ‘real-life’ scenario.”
He added: “LBI Aspect was selected do this work because they can configure the modelling software and have in-depth knowledge of our CMS, so they can make recommendations on how to avoid potential bottlenecks.”
The capacity planning tests started in May 2004 and are due to be completed in July this year. LBI Aspect will then report on the results and recommend any further action.
Capacity planning is required for not only OUP’s internally hosted sites, but also externally hosted sites. For example, LBI Aspect is working with OUP to manage the capacity of one of its largest publishing ventures yet – the Oxford Dictionary of National Biographies (DNB). This will be published in print and online in September this year, and is a £22 million, 10-year project to update, enlarge and rewrite this unique record of the most noteworthy people in British history. Including over 50,000 detailed biographies, 10,000 illustrations and 750,000 bibliographical references, the Oxford DNB launch will have a very high profile launch.
Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of hits are expected on the OUP web site around the launch period, so web site bottlenecks are simply not an option. LBI Aspect is using the same proven approach to capacity planning for this site.
To enhance the user experience for visitors to the OUP site, and ensure easy and fast access to information, OUP has been working with LBI Aspect on web site design. The first project was AskOxford.com, a consumer-oriented dictionary site. AskOxford.com pulls together a wealth of content from all areas of OUP, ranging from reference material to game shows, providing an innovative and engaging English language resource for a wide audience.
OUP appointed LBI Aspect to handle all aspects of the development starting with the brand creation. During an initial period of consultancy LBI Aspect and OUP set out to build an image of what AskOxford.com should be, apply some strategic thinking to its targets and start to build a concept to fit requirements.
Engaging users within an ‘approachable’ look and feel was the brand challenge. The creation of a strong and coherent information structure, page design and navigation system was crucial to a successful user experience. LBI Aspect integrated all this into the existing CMS, allowing OUP complete editorial control and no complex technical issues.
"LBI Aspect brought to the project its expertise in assessing our brand and interface requirements, as well as an understanding of the issues around our content management system, making them the natural partner to work with for AskOxford.com," said Kay Celtel, OUP’s Internet Marketing Manager.
The success of this design project led to work on OUP’s ELT site. LBI Aspect’s design team spoke to the business team at ELT initially, prototyping web pages on paper before coming up with a set design templates and integrating them into the CMS. The new site is due to go live in October 2004.
“Having a combination of design creativity and extensive CMS and technology infrastructure knowledge is a definite benefit,” added Mike Kavanagh. “LBI Aspect combines design with an understanding of the performance implications, how fast the web pages load up, how user friendly the site is and how easy it is to access information.”
He concluded: “LBI Aspect is very good at breaking down what needs to be done into clear, logical steps. Their people are very good at engaging the business users and understanding the issues - that may seem like a basic requirement, but it’s not something that is easily met in the market.”
Published on: 12:00AM on 25th August 2004