Improving digital effectiveness with a 97% reduction in the size of a digital estate

This is the story of how we led a digital transformation project for 200-year-old institution, reducing the digital estate by 97%.
Improving digital effectiveness with a 97% reduction in the size of a digital estate
"Working with Distinction was a pleasure. Their team brought a strong balance of technical skills, stakeholder management and commercial acumen which were all pivotal to this project."
- Toby Rowe, Vice President - Communications

The challenge

For this 200-year-old executive education college, history weighed heavy.

It had resulted in a fragmented digital estate, with over 60 websites with outdated content and frustrating user experiences. All of which was restricting potential revenue.

As part of a programme of digital transformation, we were tasked with the consolidation and optimisation of the entire digital estate.

The results

Our work gave Hult Ashridge Business School true digital governance, and reducing 60 websites to just two also reaped significant cost savings.

The new digital estate is perfectly optimised for their two audiences - those interested in education at Hult Ashridge, and those interested in hosting events at the beautiful Ashridge House.

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The full story

For this 200 year-old business education college history weighed heavy. It had resulted in a fragmented website, outdated content and a frustrating UX – all of which was restricting potential revenue. By resolving the conflicting platforms and systems while keeping stakeholders – and Google – on board, we transformed the business and delivered significant cost savings as a result.

Educating the educators on smart digital governance

Providing MBAs and both open and closed training programmes to the business world, Hult Ashridge Business School operates in the highly competitive executive education environment.

Certainly, the School was a success. The School’s stunning 200 year-old Ashridge House spoke of a rich legacy. At the same time, its future success was being severely compromised by its website, which had evolved in a fractured and fragmented manner.

Reducing the cost – both actual and hidden

Slowly but surely the Hult Ashridge Business School website had steadily ballooned to around 60 websites, serving up a huge volume of content on an unwieldy mass of web pages. Built on too many different systems, the website was a mess of different platforms and pages. Some WordPress, many unsupported, all relying on one person to manage all the moving parts. It was difficult to navigate, frustrating for users, and an unhappy experience for everyone. In responding to the ever-changing business world, the site had lost its way.

It also cost far too much. Not only in the need to push water up hill on maintaining the site (at a huge commercial cost), but also on the fractured and weak presentation of what the School could do for business (at a huge cost to brand reputation).

Transforming the experience

So how do you set about rationalising a sprawling website that had escaped its original purpose? In this case, with impartial and independent expertise, and by casting an objective and dispassionate eye on where the website was now, where it needed to be, and how it was going to get there.

And so we began the process of transforming the Hult Ashridge Business School website. Our goal was simple: to share our expertise in how websites work both under the bonnet and in the face of the public to transform the website experience for a digital savvy audience.

Revealing a complex picture

We started by talking to stakeholders. We listened to users. We researched the business education market. We challenged the brief, which in its early stages suggested copying and pasting content from the old to the new website. We asked why, why, why?

The deeper we went, so the size and complexity increased. The truth slowly dawned on us that we had underestimated the obstacles and, in reality, didn’t know how disorganised things were until we really got into it. We discovered duplicate pages featuring contradictory content, microsites not on the latest platform version, off-brand content unfit for purpose. Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and accessibility issues. Our task was further complicated by the fact that Hult Ashridge Business School was already in the middle of a full rebrand.

Offering a singular view

Then the breakthrough. Having conducted eight workshops and extensive research over 10 months, we realised that a major part of the problem was that old favourite: too many chefs. So, while our instincts told us such a vast project needed plenty of people to sort it out, our rational minds told us something quite opposite. What was actually needed here was the singular vision and clear direction of a small, discreet and dedicated team.

So we set to work. For two months, it’s all our compact team – frequently two people, occasionally just one – actually did. So immersed were we in the project that at times the lines between agency and client became blurred. We operated as if we were the client.

Simplifying, rationalising, optimising… and protecting

We converted 60 websites into just two. A herculean task that separated the event and venue booking element of the School away from its core education and training purpose. By optimising the internet archive (IA) of the site, removing some content and updating the rest, we ensured users would find searching for relevant content a simple and seamless experience.

Due to the sheer volume and scale, it proved to be tiring and difficult work. As well as the immense difficulties of moving content over to the new website – without impacting Google search rankings – meeting the needs of various educational stakeholders required delicacy and diplomacy, especially for those who were understandably protective of their content.

Owning the project

At the same time, our deep involvement made this project hugely rewarding and always enjoyable. We felt like we owned it, like it was our website, like their customers were our customers.

And the end result? A whole new look and feel for the website. Giving the school the knowledge of what true digital governance feels like. Providing the security of content workflows to maintain quality in the future. Reducing the cost of ownership to a miniscule amount to what it once was.

For everyone, the lesson was clear: while complex problems may require complex solutions, often a small and simple team set-up is the best option in delivering the right result.

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