Franklin College Digitizes Buried Treasure Thanks to Pantheon

As deployments speed up from three days to 90 minutes, the University of Georgia’s web team finds freedom to explore new projects.

Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, University of Georgia (UGA), held its first classes in 1801 – just 17 years after the passing of its namesake, Benjamin Franklin. Today, the College is the oldest, largest and most academically diverse at UGA, serving 11,000+ students in their studies of arts, sciences and humanities.

Over the past few years, the University of Georgia has worked to create a consistent brand. The College was eager to implement that brand across all of its schools, departments, centers and institutes. Partnering with Pantheon empowered the College’s Web Services team to do just that. They were able to efficiently manage 118 websites – with time left to focus resources on new endeavors such as the digitization of its massive and rare collection of curated specimens, from rocks to invertebrates and beyond.  

“With Pantheon technology, we’ve created a well-governed, economy-of-scale web platform that allows us to centralize code and theme assets and provide security support for all our sites,” said Stephanie Lynn, Senior IT Manager, Franklin College. 

Previously, it took weeks to create new features, but now we can roll out new content types with Drupal's views and blocks in one day. It’s kind of a beautiful thing.

- Stephanie Lynn, Senior IT Manager, Franklin College

Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen

For decades, most of Franklin College’s departments ran their websites on-premises. It was a disparate environment where some sites had been created by former students and others not even featuring the UGA logo. The sites were built in a variety of content management systems: from hand-written HTML and WordPress to ExpressionEngine and OmniUpdate. The lack of standardization resulted in a confusing experience for prospective students.

The four-person Web Services team struggled to efficiently manage and support the College’s sites. In addition to dealing with frequent performance problems and site outages – the result of an increasingly complex hosting infrastructure and processes requiring a high degree of developer overhead to publish sites – the workflows made site updates tedious and time-consuming for the team. 

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Franklin College web page

Consolidating on Drupal

Franklin College solved its branding and technical challenges by consolidating all its sites on Drupal and developing a standardized theme for all its research groups and units. The new theme was a game-changer for the College, the University’s flagship school. From the Department of Sociology to the Department of Mathematics, the sites maintain a consistent look and feel, yet allow their content teams to self-serve and create their own custom experience. 

Pantheon’s Custom Upstreams allowed the Web Services to retain control over site standards while allowing content customization – a win-win for the team and the departmental sites it supports. The most recent examples of cross-functional collaboration included work on accessibility standards and a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) content type available for each school. 

However, while convenient, a standardized look and feel does not work for every department. The performing and visual arts schools want to branch out and introduce more visual effects for their sites. Under previous circumstances, Lynn’s team would have declined the request. But with Pantheon, she has time to build a new Custom Upstream to serve the College’s creative branch. 

Lynn credits Pantheon’s Dev, Test, Live workflow for her team’s increased speed, efficiency and expanded support capabilities.

"Pantheon never goes down, and I don’t even have to think about the websites anymore. When we were on the old server, it was just a nightmare, but we never have problems with Pantheon. It’s lovely, ” said Lynn.

No Longer Under a Rock: Digitizing Unique Natural History Collections

Pantheon’s consistent uptime and performance provide a better user experience, supporting an increase of 46% in monthly site traffic over the last few years and delivering a 31% improvement in page load speeds. 

With Pantheon, we can do a security update in 90 minutes on 100+ sites, which used to take three days. We just click some buttons and magic happens.

- Stephanie Lynn, Senior IT Manager, Franklin College 

So what do you do with all that newly gained time? 

The Web Services team has embarked on an exciting journey: seeking to digitize all of the collections housed within the Georgia Museum of Natural History. They chose Recollect, a collection management system popular with museums and libraries. It’s a massive undertaking that includes building buy-in and involves photographing and cataloging over seven million curated specimens from across a diversity of the College’s disciplines. The team has the potential to go beyond the museum’s collections and offer this service to other units that have collections of digital media or objects they want to make broadly available. “The initiative to build a single repository of digital collections has never been tackled by anyone at UGA,” Lynn explained.

The team has already completed The Allard Economic Geology Collection, where site visitors from around the world can easily find what they’re looking for amidst 10,000+ geologic specimens. 

Our goal is to ingest all UGA collections as they are digitized. We’ll make hundreds of thousands of items searchable, indexable and browsable in one massive collection by the time we’re done. This is what we’re able to focus on now that Drupal hosting and website maintenance is so much easier with Pantheon.

- Stephanie Lynn, Senior IT Manager, Franklin College

Franklin College Office of Information Technology is a winner of 2023 Best of WebOps Awards. By embracing the core principles of WebOps, this web team creates extraordinary websites and makes an incredible impact on their organization. 

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