The AIIM Website Tribulations


If you’ve been to the AIIM Website recently, you may have seen this message:

Thank you for your patience as we undergo a major system migration to improve the services we bring you. We ARE available to assist you if you encounter any problems.

While a majority of the issues have  been resolved, the message is still there until I am 100% sure that every open ticket is unrelated to the migration.

What migration do you ask?

The one I hinted earlier this year when I talked about AIIM’s Website Performance. The migration is part of our long-term plan to improve the services we provide to our members.

The future is here but the ride has been bumpier than expected.

Authentication Nightmare

Let me first show you how things used to work on the website.

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You would come to the website built on our Web Content Management System (CMS). When you logged in to participate in the Community features, download Research, or do just about anything, your credentials would be captured by the website and sent to our old Association Management System (AMS) to be validated.

When your AMS is old, slow, and prone to locking-up, this can be a problem. We decided that the new architecture should work as follows.

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Authentication now happens locally. After you log into the website, your data is updated from the AMS to make sure that your web experience is accurate. When the New AMS is unavailable, users will still be able to navigate the website. All we had to do was migrate the data.

The Member data went over smooth as silk. The AMS Web User data was brought into the Web CMS, which seemed to go smoothly. Except…there was a problem. The old Web User Accounts and Member Database wasn’t perfectly in synch.

  • Members had multiple Web User accounts. This led to difficultly linking the Web CMS users to the AMS Member Database.
  • Email addresses, the one “constant”, varied among all systems, even within the old AMS.
  • As with many migrations, core functionality worked when tested but when it hit outlier data, it failed.

This has been a challenge. For those of you who are Members, I thank you for your patience.

Of course, it doesn’t stop there. That would be too easy.

The Learning Management System Chaos

The issue is that the old AMS is still around delivering the training. This means that until we finish deploying our new Learning Management System (LMS) this summer, the old AMS is still a critical system.

To minimize the impact to the website performance, we divided the website between two servers. This wasn’t too big a deal thanks to our Web CMS. What was a big deal is that members have to be authenticated against the old AMS to take a class.

This makes the multiple Web User accounts a major issue as we have to be sure we are linked to the correct one for a member to take Training.

This meant that in order to fix any of the issues from the migration, we had to make sure that they still linked back to the original authentication method. Our new LMS will do this all automatically but it isn’t live.

Let the Lords of Chaos reign!

I’ll tell you right now that in the beginning it was tough at times to determine if a problem was a data or code issue. Right now I can find out in a heartbeat and 95% of the time it is data. We then spend effort to make the system self-correcting.

So, why did this all go south?

It Is My Fault

To put it simply. Some say my staff let me down. It wasn’t my staff. If they didn’t succeed, that is on me, not them. I should know my staff. If I ask them to do something that they can’t do, it is my fault.

For the record, my staff has busted their humps to get things fixed. I got into this mess and they are pulling me out.

There were calls to blame the vendors.

  • Web CMS provider? Nope. This is custom code. Their product is working like a champ, though I have a bone to pick about their data architecture.
  • New AMS provider? Nope. The issues aren’t with their software or the services they provided. When we have found an issue, it was quickly fixed and was usually just a configuration change.

It is my fault.

This project is why I didn’t write a post for two months. I’ve been working on the AMS migration. First to prepare to go live and now post-live clean-up.

The worst is behind us. We are now cleaning-up relatively small things that have to be closed-out before I declare victory. In theory, we should have been at this point 3-4 weeks ago.

I’ve learned a few lessons on this project and re-learned a few more. Included in that list:

  • Project Management. If you don’t have time to do it, make sure you get someone with authority and presence that won’t let things go.
  • Don’t over-commit your staff. You can to putting in extra hours but all staff members have different limits.
  • Don’t skimp on the design. Every critical piece should have at least a basic design worked out and reviewed by multiple people. It isn’t about lack of trust. It is about fresh eyes.

I am glad that May is over and I am looking forward to the innovation that we are going to be able to start doing.

That innovation has already started and you may have seen it if you attended one of our Spring Seminars in the U.S. this May. (Toronto didn’t get to partake as their seminar was on our go-live day.)

Once again, thank you for your patience. Oh, if you are an AIIM Chapter officer, I promise relief is on the way.

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