Why NOAA Fisheries Chose Acquia for its Website Overhaul

Up until a couple years ago, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries operated more than 20 separate websites that, at times, delivered conflicting information to its users.

The agency, which employs 4,000 people at 50 different locations across the United States, acts as a steward for fish populations within the nation’s lakes, streams, rivers and oceans. Doing so means determining the health of fish stocks throughout the country.

“As a government agency, our primary responsibility is our stewardship mission, and our stewardship mission is more effective when we get our message out about the importance of what we do,” says Roy Varghese, chief information officer, NOAA Fisheries. “It is important that the public at large is knowledgeable about the science-based resource management that our agency champions. It is very important to us that the scientific products and publications that our 4,000 or so employees work hard to put together is easily accessed and disseminated across the globe.”

To manage those fish populations, NOAA Fisheries collaborates with local and state governments, academia, the commercial and recreational fishing industries and others. Communicating the latest research and regulations online to those audiences is critical to the organization. But a few years ago, NOAA Fisheries found itself managing dozens of websites and hundreds of content creators, without satisfying the end user.

“We had 200-some content contributors building content across the country, 20 different websites, our stakeholders would have to navigate five different places to get the same information and in some cases, inconsistent information,” he says. “The user experience of the stakeholders, our constituents, coming to us wasn’t ideal. Our customer satisfaction score was as low as 49%. That’s pretty bad.”

It was time for a change.

Selecting a New CMS

NOAA Fisheries took a number of steps to select a new CMS  provider. The agency researched several CMS providers and issued requests for proposals.

“We did what a lot of big organizations do, we did our market research, we talked to the research analysts, we talked to the Gartners, the Forresters of the world, we did our request for information, we did product evaluations of a couple of platforms and we did a formal request for proposals and selected the platform,” Varghese says.

Acquia’s Drupal 8 became the clear choice, for several reasons. The platform has the capability to expand products and services offered online and met federal regulations.

“We liked the openness of the platform so that it can be extended for the other products and services that we may or may not build on this platform, so it gives us maximum flexibility,” he says. “The Drupal ecosystem surrounding Acquia is pretty robust, which was important to us.”

The Acquia platform is Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) certified, which is required to provide cybersecurity on federal websites.

“It was a cloud platform, FedRAMP certified and ready to go on Drupal 8 on our timeline,” he says. “Those things made the decision easier. And obviously, the technology, architecture and the capabilities checked all the boxes from a technical evaluation.”

Acquia allows NOAA Fisheries to create content once and publish to multiple sites simultaneously.

“Create once, publish many times, was a big draw for us,” Varghese says. “Keeping the uniqueness of the content was important to us. For example, the folks in Alaskan fisheries with the unique mission of the salmon fishery and the seals and the polar bears and all that we’re dealing with. And the Native American constituents, it’s a different vibe, a different set of interests from the recreational fisherman in southeast Florida who comes to our site to figure out, ‘where do I get a permit to go marlin fishing?’ So, you can have a unique piece of content which is created and then can be pushed to whatever website it can go to.”

Acquia’s responsive capabilities were important, as well.

“The other big draw on the Acquia platform was the responsive design out of the box, that we can serve up any form factor without having to code for iPhone, iPad to Android devices and so forth,” he says.

NOAA Fisheries continues to migrate its content to the Acquia platform, with a few sites out of the more than 20 left to transition. Despite the remaining work, the site has so far been a success, snagging a Leader of the Pack: Public Sector Acquia Engage Award in 2018

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