Choosing an open-source CMS, part 2: Why we use Joomla
Boston Children's Hospital enables collaboration
When Boston Children's Hospital wanted to replace its outdated social intranet software, it evaluated proposals to use WordPress and Drupal before finally settling on Joomla as the foundation for the new site. The new social intranet, Social Platform for Accelerating Resources and Connections (SPARC), began serving more than 2,500 users at the hospital on March 1, 2012.
SPARC serves as a central interaction point for collaboration and information sharing among the hospital's clinicians, healthcare providers, support staff and researchers, as well as with individuals from outside academic institutions and private industry. "It is a social network for accelerating resources and connections," says Paola Abello, clinical innovation program manager.
SPARC was built using a customized version of the JomSocial extension for Joomla. It offers a Facebook-like user interface where members can upload photos and post status updates, and it includes an Idea Lab area where staff can submit ideas that the community can vote up or down. SPARC users can also form public or private groups. One set of groups, called Innovators Communities, serve as meeting places where clinicians, scientists and others can brainstorm, exchange ideas and get feedback.
The hospital's previous social intranet, built using enterprise social software from Socialtext, had never fully met the organization's needs. So in early 2011, after running a pilot and determining that neither the existing software nor other proprietary social software packages could meet its new budget and functional requirements, the hospital focused in on the open-source Joomla, WordPress and Drupal CMS platforms.
The selection team entertained proposals from three different vendors, one for each platform, and evaluated each against 90 criteria, including the requirement that the system be easy enough for a nontechnical staff person to administer. The Joomla proposal won on the basis of both price and support.
The SPARC intranet needed to be integrated with the hospital's HIPAA-compliant security and authentication systems -- something that was easily accomplished using existing plug-ins for Joomla 2.5. "We were able to build an enterprise-level social application isolated to meet HIPAA standards," says Jonathan Gafill, head project manager at CloudAccess.net, which built the site.
Because many users would be accessing the site from mobile devices, the hospital wanted a responsive design, where the pages would render in different layouts depending on screen size. "The doctors had to access schedules and update documents. They had to be able to do all of the things they would normally do on a desktop and do them quickly and easily," Gafill says.
But Joomla didn't support responsive design at the time. So, to accomplish that, CloudAccess' developers created separate views of the site page that were formatted for mobile devices. Users could then use whatever view -- mobile or desktop -- was appropriate for the device they were using at the time. "It was particularly challenging to create separate mobile views for each of the main portions of the application," Gafill says.
Since then, that weakness in the Joomla platform has been addressed. "Now Joomla is capable of mobile responsive layouts out of the box. You can purchase prebuilt templates," he says.
With SPARC, users can create their own public or private groups, each with its own wiki document repository and a blog that others in the broader community can view. For example, members started a Craigslist-style resource exchange where employees can see if anyone has an unneeded printer or wants to carpool.
The old system had a document repository and a wiki as well, and had some fairly extensive features that CloudAccess needed to replicate as it imported the data from Socialtext. "We developed a custom component for that and built it into JomSocial," Gafill says.
The project, started in December 2011, wrapped three months later. "That's a pretty small amount of time to develop something with a scope like this," Gafill says. "It gives you an idea of the rapid development and relatively quick time to market that is possible with Joomla."
Joomla's administration tools are easy to use, Gafill says, and that served the hospital well when the site administrator left this fall. Abello, who has no technical background, took over the administration responsibilities on an interim basis. "Learning to administer the SPARC environment with little prior training was pain-free," she says. "The platform is extremely user friendly."
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