Back in mid 2018 we were approached by the Scottish Parliament (TSP) to partner with them to build their new online platform to replace the current Scottish Parliament website and a multitude of satellite sites. This is part of a wider Web & Online Roadmap at the Parliament to transform their online estate to ensure it is modern, sustainable and user centred meeting the needs of all of their stakeholders.
The partnership was also to include training for the internal team of content designers, and the development team, to bring them up to speed with Sitecore. Implementation of Continuous Integration with VSTS, and all hosted on Azure PaaS.
We were excited to get cracking with the project, as due to our history with the organisation we believed we could help bring real change to TSP.
What Was Said in Parliament
TSP had carried out an extensive user research phase on the current website, to identify the “Top Tasks” to address. This list was more than 25 items, some very large, some much smaller.
It was decided to deliver the top 3 tasks for the initial BETA release. These were: Legislation, Parliament Debates and Parliamentary Questions. Once this was agreed we split into workstreams (UX/Design and Development/Infrastructure) for this initial phase.
After the initial formulation of the Top Task approach by the internal team at the Scottish Parliament, the next step was to develop a strategy and clear approach in tackling the first three tasks identified as primary sections for the beta’s Minimum Viable Product.
This involved collaborative sessions which primarily looked at sketching how we envisioned these task functioning, whilst considering the existing user research as well as producing user personas that would serve as the basis for understanding how divergent user groups would interact with the site depending on their specific goals.
Following this our sketches developed into working prototypes generated on Axure, which then in turn became the focus of user testing sessions in order to gauge feedback and insights from our users. Three rounds of testing were applied to each task, returning crucial evidence to inform if we were approaching our tasks correctly, along with much needed observations where areas could be improved.
With our finalised prototype, we then began the process of integrating this with the Material Design framework in the collaborative design platform Figma. This tool has allowed us to build up a library of reusable components based on Material Design whilst catering for the specific requirements of the Scottish Parliament. Going forward this library will be developed and refined as new goals become evident and specifications arise from the creation of new content and user needs.
Following the Sitecore Helix principles we produced a robust, fast and scalable solution. Now as any developer know, lines of code written is not a good measure of a project, but hey, people like to see headline numbers, so it is just shy of 35,000 lines of code.
As this was a partnership, we fully integrated with TSP development team, with their developers joining us in our Glasgow studio on a regular basis to get fully immersed in our agency life to help with the training aspect of the project, this did include some playing with the VR equipment and lunchtime wrestling (on the PlayStation).
We delivered a fully responsive, experience editor friendly site, using a componentised method which enable great flexibility for content designers, and enables the full suite of Sitecore marketing tools to be used with ease.
As part of the top tasks, we needed to integrate with TSP data. Parliamentary Debates / Questions was a massive data set, with over 1.9 million (and growing) individual data records which needed to be reliably integrated into Sitecore.
We used Sitecore’s Data Exchange Framework to handle this amount of data, some of which we fed directly into the Sitecore database but the larger dataset (Parliamentary Debates) was far to much data to hold in these, so we decided to push this to a Azure Redis Cache. This worked incredibly well and allowed for extremely fast retrieval of data.
We created stub records for each data item in Sitecore, this allowed for full SEO friendly URLs and enabled content designers to tag and categorise the data to make it easier to find.
The project was specified to use Sitecore 9 on Azure Platform as a service (PaaS) to align with TSPs cloud commitment. We used the Sitecore ARM templates as a starting point to help build the environments, these have been developed into scripts that can be run by the Dev Ops team to rebuild any of the environments very quickly.
This was a massive project for us, involving our entire team, with a very tight timescale, which after a few late nights, we met.
The partnership with TSP is ongoing, and with another chunk of top tasks already in the pipeline, not to mention the organisations Intranet, Gaelic content, and multiple satellite sites to complete, and implementation of Sitecore marketing tools.
We are immensely proud of what we have delivered and look forward to the next challenge.