Two years after South Orange awarded a contract to a company to completely redesign the township’s municipal website, officials have announced the site is set to launch within the next two months.
“It has been longer than everyone contemplated,” said Barry Lewis, Township Administrator, in a phone interview Thursday. Lewis said the delay was in part because the town “significantly underestimated” how long it would take town staff to import and migrate all content onto the new site. Also, staff and administration have been spread thin working on numerous other IT-related projects.
Village President Alex Torpey said during the last two years, the town has worked on: launching a computer aided dispatch and records management systems for the Police Department; replacing the public safety radio communication system; computer upgrades at the Fire House; updating the Everbridge emergency alert system; replacing the agenda creation/minute taking process and overhauling the Laserfiche document management system, and launching Property Pilot.
Lewis said he anticipated the site would soft launch in the next 30-60 days and fully launch within two months. The new site is already up and running in the background of the current one, he said.
He said that in retrospect, officials should not have kept announcing the new site was imminent, which set up expectations that then were not met.
“No one was deliberately trying to mislead anyone,” he said.
In October of 2012, the township passed a resolution awarding a contract to Metarhythm to redesign, rebuild and host a new municipal website, for an amount not to exceed $16,800. Thus far, the town has paid the company that amount, Lewis confirmed. There have also been associated personnel costs related to the time township employees have spent migrating data onto the new site.
“Ultimately we realized it was such a massive undertaking [that] if we wait until everything is perfect, we may never finish,” Lewis said. “At some point, we have to say enough is enough.”
He said the Village will continue to grow the site and add content after it is launched.
By comparison, Maplewood Township launched its new website in January 2011, using a platform called CivicPlus. According to Asst. Township Administrator Cesar Correa, the Township began working with CivicPlus in July of 2010. The company helped the town establish the website’s focus and design; set up the site; trained town staff; migrated content from the previous website; developed new pages for the site based on conversations with town staff, and launched the site.
The total cost of the website design, development and training was $26,786, said Correa. In addition, the town pays an annual support, maintenance and hosting services fee of roughly $5,400, which includes hosting of the Mobile App.
Torpey said South Orange did consider using CivicPlus among other companies, but ultimately decided Metarhythm better fit South Orange’s needs.
“We went with Metarhythm for a handful of reasons, including substantial cost savings over the other available options, more flexible customization with the actual product (where many are just pre-packaged deals), workflow capabilities that seemed to match what we needed (drafting, publishing, permissions, tagging/categorization, etc), ownership of the site and content, and ability to tie it in with several other third party technology platforms that we’re using,” said Torpey.
He said so little maintenance and upkeep had been done to the previous site, it made the transition to a new site much more challenging.
Torpey said in its recent goals meeting, the Board of Trustees agreed “that we need to increase our IT capacity right now to be able to do all the projects that we have pending.”
The newly reformed Public Information and Marketing Committee took over some of the responsibility of getting the new site close to launch, said Lewis. “Although we are not satisfied with the existing web site in terms of its design and complete functionality, it does work in terms of housing pertinent information for the Village,” said Trustee Stephen Schnall, PIMC committee liaison, in an email.
“When the new Web site launches, there will be access to new features and functions, and applications that will be interactive and more engaging,” said Schnall.