WordPress in Enterprise: Interview with Michael Kimb Jones
You guys already met Micheal Kimb Jones a few weeks back when I interviewed him about his theme marketplace, WonderThemes. But as well as running his own theme marketplace, the multi-talented Kimb also builds websites for the UK’s National Health Service.
Here’s his advice on using WordPress at enterprise level.
1) How do you use WordPress in Enterprise?
In Enterprise terms I work mainly on NHS projects for Barnsley Hospital and we were one of the first (I sometimes like to say ‘the’ first but sadly I don’t have solid evidence of that!) NHS Trusts to move to WordPress for our external public facing website.
We launched the WordPress powered site in 2008 and since then its been an interesting journey trying to find the best mix of WordPress elements to fit the requirements for such a site. WordPress has been a perfect fit for our public site and we haven’t looked back.
The next phase, and you could say this is more ‘Enterprise-y’, is to move our old creaking Intranet tool over to a WordPress (multisite enabled) installation running on Windows servers and serving more than 2000 staff over many different locations.
2) What applications do you run alongside WordPress?
The most obvious one is SharePoint, which is a great tool but very frustrating unless you have a tonne of funding and technical resources. We use this for mainly document management which its very good at out-of-the box but for simple website building and content management it really struggles with the basics and is incredibly difficult to use.
3) What sort of issues do you face?
The major one for me, and I suspect a lot of other Enterprise organisations is their reliance on Microsoft server technology. The NHS is deeply enthroned in the Microsoft ecosystem for both hardware and software and staff resources.
What this means for WordPress is your IT team will not be able to realistically support a fully-blown LAMP set-up meaning you will have to run WordPress on an IIS server, something that until very recently was a huge pain in the arse.
Thankfully, Microsoft have jumped onto the WordPress bandwagon and have developed a set of tools that allow PHP/MySQL applications to seamlessly run on your Windows-based Servers. You can read more about this move on the Ubelly Blog and from a great old post over at the ‘WordPress on Microsoft Blog’ titled ‘Why the BLEEP is Microsoft doing this?!?!‘
4) How do you deal with the fast release cycle?
I run a development server that is a mirror of our live site and generally spend around 2 to 3 weeks testing (when I get chance) that everything is working before we do the switch on the live site. We have had no technical issues yet.
The UI changes to the dashboard can be a little tricky as they always require an updated training session. Thankfully we have culled our editors down from over 15 to just 3 in recent months (purely editorial reasons) so this isn’t too much of a problem.
5) What sort of processes do you have in place for upgrading WordPress?
See above. One thing I will add is that you shouldn’t rush into upgrading. A lot of the time a new point release will come out just a few days after a major one so its better to hold out as long as you can.
6) What advice would you give to anyone planning to use WordPress at enterprise level?
Get you’re strategy right (plan, plan then plan some more) and if you need to, don’t even mention WordPress or PHP or MySQL or Open Source or anything like that. These terms can scare large organisations and because tools like WordPress are free they sometimes see that as a weakness in value.
My top tip is just call your project the ‘solution’. If you are building an Enterprise website/intranet/whatever, don’t even say what technology or systems it will run unless someone asks. If you have your technical strategy right it really shouldn’t matter.
7) What your essential plugins for using WordPress for enterprise?
Gravity Forms for data collection and surveys and bbPress for forums(the new 2.0 version). These are not only essential in so many ways they are also pretty reliable as they have some serious development weight behind them.
Another one I’ve been touting lately is the ‘Front End Editor‘ which allows users to change content without having to access the dashboard. However our strategy for editing content is tightly controlled so until we open this up to users I don’t have a need for it personally.
8) Anything else our readers would find useful?
Don’t worry about the ‘Microsoft barrier’. If you are semi-technical and want to play just install a version of Windows Server then hit yourself up with a copy of WebMatrix from the ‘Web Platform’ team. This will install WordPress (and some other CMS tools) for you on your local machine and you can play around and maybe start developing themes/plugins.
If you want to take this further then download a Virtual Machine (VM) product like Virtual Box, install a local Windows Server with IIS and have yourself a decent little development box that you can show the nay-sayers just how well (fingers crossed) it all works.
Finally, remember that the largest UK-Enterprise of all, the British Government uses WordPress at Number10.gov.uk if that’s not enough to convince your organisation that its a decent product then you are out of luck.
(header image CC license Dunechaser)