Spanos Group is a company specializing in manufacturing and selling machinery for the construction sector. It was founded in 1993 and has been going strong to this day. I started working at Spanos Group in 2003 and have been working there until today.
As the CIO of the organisation I am responsible for creating, maintaining and aligning our current technology tools with the organisational vision. It is a constantly evolving project, mainly because of the everchanging technology landscape and a very demanding and harsh market, as is the one the company deals is.
Around 2015, during a state-of-union type meeting, we touched upon the issue of our aging website. The website (at that time) was running on the Drupal platform, with several custom non-responsive features. It served its purpose as an informational gateway for our organisation but it was nowhere near the level of functionality we needed. As such, we took it upon ourselves to build the website in-house, instead of outsourcing it to a creative agency, as we had done in the past. I had experience building websites on Wordpress, so I decided to spearhead the project, alongside with our Marketing department.
We needed our website to signify a new era for the organisation, demonstrating how we embraced our past and carried it forward in the future. We wanted to have website that would allow our customers and partners to get all necessary information about our own machinery production as well as about the equipment we deal in. We mapped out a number of functionality tasks that we wanted our website to have and started working on them. Some of the main point were: - We wanted the content management area to be user friendly. Our content editors are trained in editing content, but they need not be junior web developers in order to update a page entry, like our previous CMS was. - We needed the ability to list our products, categorised by sector and product family. This classification is similar to the one we use for our Enterpise Resource Planning software. This would create a link between our product databse and the website, allowing us easy access to quantitative data to analyze product popularity - We needed to establish a link between our ERP and our website, in order to have the same naming logic and visit reporting.
When deciding upon our new website infrastructure we went through a number of possible solutions we could use. Anything from readily available Content Management Systems (like Joomla, Drupal, Wordpress) to custom CMSes, to static sites was included in the project case study. In the end we settled on Wordpress.
The main reasons behind that decision were:
We were building a primarily marketing website. As such, we didn't have any hard custom requirements, but if we had any in the future, it is almost certain that the Wordpress platform will be able to support them
We needed the CMS backend to be as user friendly as possible. Like I mentioned before, we needed our content editors to be focused on their content and not on trying to find what
<div> element is not properly closed off
We needed to have the ability to outsource a certain custom project to another developer should the need arise. This was a concious choice to avoid vendor lock. There is a great community of Wordpress developers out there and we wanted to be able to take advantage of that fact.
It is a proven solution. Wordpress is the platform behind almost 30% of all web pages at the moment
There was internal knowledge and prior experience with the platform. This was very important for us, as it allowed us to know how we could handle the necessary workflows more efficiently and navigate any potential problem areas without so many issues.
I started the process of designing the new website on Sketch first. I wanted to make sure that we would be able to communicate our company image through our website efficiently. We wanted the website to be a strong statement of the organisation's identity. We wanted a minimal and (relatively) monochrome design of black, grey and white, using red as our main accent color. We only needed to go through a small number of incremental iterations on the original design until were satisfied with the look.
We wanted to utilize Wordpress' functionality of theming, so we sought out a theme that would match our needs. We looked at several leading theme companies, but eventually settled on a theme from CSSIgniter, a company that I have a deep appreciation for based on their level of craftmanship and work ethics.
After we found the theme, I started working on it locally in order to verify that it satisfied our requirements. After the initial testing, I started a child theme in order to customize some parts of the theme to better suit our needs. The CSSIgniter team has added a very valuable tool in every theme they create and that is a custom CSS section that gets injected in your Wordpress website everytime it runs. This allows you to make quick and easy customizations to the styling of the website, without having to create your own CSS files and spend time uploading them to the server, over and over again, with every change you make.
We decided to use a local company to host our website. They use a larger data center in Germany to host their websites (similar to a number of web hosting companies) and that was fine for us, based on our geographical location. One of the important reasons for choosing this company was also the support they provide for their hosting packages, which is pretty good; very good response times by very helpful and knowledgable staff.
You have to bear in mind that Wordpress is a living system, i.e. it requires care and attention, especially when it comes to security, version management and general backing up. The plugin system is great, allowing you to extend the functionality of your website quickly and efficiently, but with every new plugin you increase your Technical Debt, i.e. you need to maintain that piece of software. We set up a few workflows to cover of these tasks, in order to maintain the website as best as possible
A well designed workflow is imperative to the smooth operation of any website. In our case, we picked a couple of people from the Marketing team that would be responsible for updating the website's content and established the ground rules for these operations. We instructed them on how to use Wordpress' admin panel to create new pages, explained page hierarchies, how the media management system worked, etc. Educating your system's users is a crucial aspect of product usage in an organisation, so we made sure we spent a good amoutn of time on these activities in order to get everybody up to speed.
After finishing the implementation of our initial chanegs, we focused on creating the content for the new website locally. Once we were satisfied with the workflows we set and with the content we had, we uploaded the new website to our web host and changed our DNS record to point to the new one we were off. The reception we have had ever since the website was initially launched has been overwhelmingly positive. We have had multiple partners and customers comment on how much they enjoyed using our new website for both its informational and its aesthetic qualities.
You can find the Spanos Group website here