Updated: South Orange Seeks New Developer for Website Redesign

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Editor’s Note, Jan. 24, 6 p.m.: Village President Alex Torpey responded with further information and clarification on the specific work completed by MetaRhythm on the municipal website.

He said the majority of what MetaRhythm did, and was paid for, involved the bulk of designing the new site. That design will be used going forward in the new site.

“The actual design of the new website is basically completed,” Torpey said in an email. “That’s maybe around 3/4 done, probably closer to around 90%. A lot of planning, and iterations and suggestions and feedback went into that design, which took not just money really, but mostly time spent doing that, and again, that’s basically complete.

This is almost the complete cost of the amount of money that was paid to [MetaRhythm]. Probably between 70-90% of the money we paid…was for this function, which is 90% done, and will…flow into the next step of this project. We obviously provided guidance, as a client for a website redesign must do, so our own staff time was spent on it too, but this aspect…is the majority of the money that was paid out to them, and again, that will be used for the next step in the project.”

Torpey said MetaRhythm also worked on some of the restructuring of the site as well as some of the content migration.

South Orange Township has issued a request for proposals (RFP) seeking a new developer to overhaul the Village’s municipal website.

The full RFP can be found here. The deadline to submit proposals is March 5, 2015. Proposals must meet a 10-week soft launch and a 12-week hard launch, from the date the project begins.

The website overhaul has been a bumpy work in progress since the town awarded a contract to MetaRhythm to completely redesign the site in October of 2012. In October of 2014, Township Administrator Barry Lewis said the revamped site would launch by year’s end. That date came and went.

“Since [last] October, a lot has changed,” said Village President Alex Torpey in a recent interview. “The whole thing turned out to be much broader and bigger” than town officials first realized. At a recent Board of Trustees planning meeting, officials decided it would be more cost-effective to hire a new vendor to create a site on a different platform.

The RFP calls for a developer to use already existing design elements and content to build a new site on WordPress, an open-source content management system.

Torpey said that much work has already been completed on the new site, including a good portion of the design, as well as the migration and reformatting of hundreds of pages of content.

The town has paid a total of $11,250 to MetaRhythm. When asked what percentage of the work was completed by MetaRhythm versus what was done in-house by township employees, Torpey said “migration was done by both” but declined to be more specific.

In announcing the RFP, Torpey said the town “needs to go further and bigger in the website overhaul and create a new, dynamic, fully interactive website…” and the “increased scope is beyond a simple amendment or supplement to the original contract.”

Adding to the complexity is the number of major technology upgrades and additions the township has completed, including upgrading computer aided dispatch and records management systems for the Police Department; updating the emergency alert system; overhauling the township’s document management system, and launching a citizen service request portal, and a property information and management system.

The new site will be easier for residents to navigate and search and for Village committees and departments to post their own information. The town wants to have “relevant content everywhere on the site,” said Torpey.

A working group investigating the website revamp in 2012 originally rejected the idea of using an open-source content management system such as WordPress, because such systems “tend to have significant long-term in-house maintenance costs.”

On Friday, Torpey told The Village Green that ongoing maintenance of the site would continue to be done by the town’s IT staff. However, Torpey said, the benefit of using an open-source platform such as WordPress (as opposed to a proprietary system such as CivicPlus, which Maplewood uses) is that the South Orange can hire a developer as needed to complete specific projects or upgrades or build additional functionality onto the site.

Read Torpey’s complete statement explaining the RFP:

In the spring of 2013, South Orange embarked on a plan to update and replace our current website. At that time, the initial goal, and scope of work for the contracted vendor, was largely to simply transfer our existing website content to a new, more technologically updated website platform.

At the same time, the Village also moved forward with a number of exciting technologies and software solutions to improve our internal operations and provide better constituent service to our residents. These included projects such as:

  • SOConnect, our citizen service request portal, which has fielded nearly 2,000 requests since launching
  • Everbridge, our improved emergency notification system
  • Property Pilot, a fully interactive GIS parcel based information system that will be used internally to streamline our operations, and also be available in a public portal to provide a wealth of information to our residents in a single location
  • Novus Agenda, a software package which is improving our Agenda process and live streaming of meetings, including agenda indexing of meeting recordings to allow residents to immediately find a particular Board discussion or action,
  • A major upgrade to Laserfiche, our records archiving and information management suite, which will improve our internal efficiencies and make public documents more easily accessible to our residents, improving the way that residents can find agendas, resolutions, minutes and any other public document
  • Major upgrades to police and public safety technology, including a new police Records Management System, Computer Aided Dispatch system, and beginning the process of replacing the radio communication system with one of the most cutting-edge in the nation, projects which are significantly staff and time intensive, and required to continue to be able to provide adequate and improved public safety for the Village and support for our public safety employees
  • Also during this period, the Village reconstituted the Public Information and Marketing Committee, comprised of highly qualified volunteer residents with experience in technology and public information. This Committeem, in addition to several other major projects related to web technologies and new branding, then also became involved in reviewing our current website, the ongoing website update project, as well as all of the new technologies and software solutions referenced above.

In the course of this review, both administratively and through the PIMC, it became apparent that South Orange needed much more than simply a facelift to move our old website content to a new format. Each of the new software solutions have a public component and the ability to provide seamless, user friendly interfaces in a single location, a new website, was clearly critical to their success.

In short, officials determined that the Village needs to go further and bigger in the website overhaul and create a new, dynamic, fully interactive website, beyond the scope of the original solution envisioned. This new project will have to be procured through a public solicitation of bids or proposals, as the increased scope is beyond a simple amendment or supplement to the original contract.

As a result, the Village is issuing a Request for Proposals. This project will have the benefit of the prior work that has been completed, both design and content migration and updating, while also incorporating the new software solutions, improving the Village’s ability to keep the site current and make timely updates, all while providing residents with a single, user friendly source to access all of the information and services that the Village provides. The new site will be built on an open-source technology platform, not only continuing to keep costs down, but allowing easy access to a rich developer community that can continue to provide technology and usability enhancements to the website as it grows with the Village. It will allow the Village to easily add or modify components in the future without unnecessarily high cost or time required to do so.

Village President Alex Torpey commented about one aspect of the RFP in particular, “By seeking a license to be able to make a template, or the final version, of this project open-source and available to anyone upon it’s completion, hopefully we can help provide this resource to other local govermments so that they can go through quicker and more efficient web upgrades to provide their commnity with more information. It’s not something typically done, but I think it shows our commitment to collaboration and our interest in citizens everywhere having better and easier access to their governments.”

While the Village regrets that this new project will extend the timeline for the new website, all officials are confident that it is the right decision and will benefit the Village and its residents for many years to come.

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