By Kellsey Ruppel-Oracle on Oct 22, 2014
Originally released in 2011, Oracle WebCenter Sites 11g has subsequently had a couple of additional releases which have added lots of new functionality and addressed issues. The latest is 184.108.40.206 (or 11.8 for brevity's sake), and was released in late 2013.
Fatwire 7.6 (the previous version of the product) will be out of Premier Support in early 2016, which means no more Patches, Updates, Fixes, Certification or Tools and no access to other Oracle services for that version of the software.
If you’re using an older 7.x version of the product, and you haven’t already started planning an upgrade to Oracle WebCenter Sites 11g, now’s probably the time to do so.
The most recent version provides a raft of new and improved features over the older Fatwire releases. There is new functionality from both business user and developer standpoints. Here’s a high level summary of what you will find:
The user interface has undergone a total redesign. There are now two distinct interfaces, Contributor and Administrator. Contributor is where editorial folk will do their work. It now has a visual editing capability, including the ability to drag and drop content directly into the page and edit in situ. The interface is now tabbed, allowing for multiple pages to be opened at the same time. It also includes improved search features. Administrator is where your power users and technical folk can work with site design and configuration, publishing, user management, mobile device setup and integrations.
There are new tools for the development, preview and delivery of mobile websites. For editorial users mobile website support provides a series of device specific previews.This gives users an indication of what the site will look like rendered in a range of devices. There’s also product support for providing device specific templates and Site Plans to allow editorial users to create device specific versions of a site. From an Administrative point of view, you can add new devices and device groups, each with their own user agent and screen sizes to allow users to preview for new device types as they’re released.
Vanity URL Support
There is now out of the box support for producing custom URLs, which used to be a custom development task most implementations needed to undertake. The ability to automatically generate friendly and stable URLs provides editorial users with much greater control over the URLs for assets, which is useful for SEO. It also provides stable URLs for things like downloadable documents - meaning the URL to your annual report won’t change every time you publish it.
The proxy asset framework, new in Oracle WebCenter Sites 11.8, provides an out of the box way to integrate with external content sources, such as YouTube or other video sources, essentially allowing editorial users to drag and drop these videos into pages as they create them.
The personalisation part of Oracle WebCenter Sites has also undergone an interface redesign, making it easier for editorial staff to create and recommend segmented content to users. With past versions editorial users sometimes found the creation and management process challenging - this update addresses those issues.
Modifications to the core product have historically been problematic, particularly during the upgrade process. This new framework provides a means for developers to customise the product in a supportable, easily upgradable way. Given all the new features it’s definitely worth knowing about and even trialling the new version of the software to see what new functionality is available in Oracle WebCenter Sites 11g. It’ll be useful to see how those features align with both your users’ expectations and your digital and technical strategies.
Managing the Upgrade Process
To ensure that any upgrade is a success, from both business and technical perspectives, a number of essential steps and processes should be considered.
A good upgrade plan should identify the following phases:
- What benefits will the upgrade bring?
- Which problems does the upgrade solve?
- Will the upgrade cause any new problems?
- What work needs to be done to implement new features?
- What work needs to be done to preserve current features?
- What sort of test coverage do we need?
- What has changed in the product from an end users perspective?
- How will these changes affect how they perform their day to day work?
- When is the best time to perform the upgrade?
- Will you need an outage and if so for how long?
- What happens if something goes wrong? What’s your rollback plan?
- Who does a user talk to if there’s something they can’t work out how to do?
2. Familiarise Yourself with the New Features
How many times have you discovered that the new functionality an upgrade promises isn’t quite what it seems or that you can’t use it immediately because of the way your current system is designed or implemented? Make sure you do your homework and understand at the technical level what the impact of new changes in the product will have on your system.
3. Understand your Key Business User Functionality
Make sure you know which functions of your system are used most by your users and which are fundamental to the ongoing functioning of the business.
If you don’t already have it, think about performing an audit of the functionality the system provides. This information can provide the basis of a contract between the business and the developers performing the upgrade.
4. Provide a Safety Net
Once you’ve got a handle on your current functionality and the impact of the new product upgrade it’s time to get your developers some protection. Whether it’s manual or automated you should make sure you have some test coverage of your key business user functionality.
One of the big barriers to upgrading earlier versions of the Fatwire product was how customisations to the product itself behaved. Each change made to the product needed to be assessed against the upgraded version and a choice made about how to fold it back in to the upgraded product. Oracle WebCenter Sites 11g has much better support for customisations that survive upgrades – but if you’re coming from an earlier version of the product you should make sure that all the changes that have been made to the core application are documented and assessed. This is also an area in which having some test coverage is a boon.
6. Make End User Training a Core Part of the Program
Particularly if the changes an upgrade brings are large – and the leap from the old Fatwire product to WebCenter Sites 11g certainly is – you should make end user training a core part of your programme. It’s easy to forget how disruptive large changes to a piece of software can be. If there’s a new way of doing something within the product or you’re asking users to change how they think about how their content is structured or produced, then you should take steps to help soften that blow.
7. Practice Makes Perfect
Practice running the upgrade against a ‘real’ environment – the closer you can get your test upgrade environment to the real thing, the more issues you’ll catch early in the process. Make sure the upgrade process is described in step by step detail – each time you practice the upgrade make sure that you follow your own instructions. The first few times you’ll find small errors or additions that need to be documented. For the real upgrade you want to make the process as easy to follow as possible.
About the Author
Curtis Fox is the CTO at Manifesto Digital. He's a solution architect with a wealth of experience who's created publishing solutions for organizations across the globe. His recent projects include launching the National Trust’s website on a new platform and working with Avios on product upgrades. Before helping to found Manifesto Curtis was a Senior Principal Consultant at Oracle for Web Experience Management.