C. Rendell - July 9th, 2016
Walking around town talking to people, fielding emails, and getting texts I continue to get the question.. "We had a great website - why change over now?"
It's a fair question considering the hassle of setting up new accounts, transferring volunteer hours, and re-creating an entire website with years of incremental changes.
The first thing I would say is that we - the 2016 Board of Directors - did not take this decision lightly. In fact this has been an on-going conversation for at least two years.
In my role as the webmaster, I continually look at new technology and how it can be used for the league to make every experience better. The website is the hub of communication for everyone with information about registration, events, games, practices, and so much more. It's also a tool for league administrators who use it nearly everyday. With all that use the website should be as easy to use for those adding / updating information as it is for our league volunteers and families.
With the goals of continued improvement, better functionality, and long term support, I review each and every website platform offering out there to see if a new platform can improve the user experience over what ever we currently have.
As a result, I identified SportsEngine as a possiblity for replacement and I did our due-diligence including comparing the offering to half-a-dozen other platforms. Though we ultimately chose SportsEngine, this was not a simple decision for the board. As a Board of Directors we are extremely loyal to those individuals and companies that support our league year-over-year with their goods and services. However, as an elected board we have a duty to our members, coaches, and families to seek out competitive pricing and services for the good of Benicia Little League.
This is where the hard decisions are for a board, and when we make these decisions, there is a tinge of regret as we move away from one of our long term relationships.
Ok, so the bottom line is... "Why change the website?"
I won't get into the technical aspects of it because all but two or three of you reading this - who have not already become so - will be completely bored.
Here are a few of the key elements that went into the decision:
By now nearly everyone of our Benicia Little League family members - including many of our players! - have a mobile device of one type or another. In more and more cases, phones, tablets, and iPods have replaced computers as the primary way to gather information, make purchases on the internet, and more.
We needed to find a platform (website service) that would use technology to make it as easy to use the website functions on a mobile device as it is on the computer.
Our new website is designed so that the experience is as close as possible to being the same regardless of what device you are using to view the site. Now you can move seamlessly from your desktop at work, to your laptop on the road, or your phone when your out and about and still be able to get to the page or pages you need to AND be able to read them!
Nearly everything we need to do with the site - yes including registration - can be done on a smart phone, tablet, or computer with equal results and ease of use.
Volunteering and Dibs
Our previous website platform was innovative, and when we first deployed the site the platform was unique because it allowed us to track volunteer commitments and volunteer hours on-line.
As fantastic as that was for the league, there were many hours of behind the scenes work that had to be done to keep it going. The end of season crunch to apply hours, consolidate them, and then ask for user confirmation was a full time job from May 15th to July 31st.
More over, there were many times when the manual processes would fail, and as webmaster I would need to jump in and make some fix to ensure the volunteer hours were applied properly.
With SportsEngine's Dibs functionality, we remove a significant portion of the manual burden off of our technical and volunteer staff. Not only do we retain the ability to create volunteer opportunities in Dibs, but each time credit is given, you - the volunteer - receive an email confirmation so you know the credit was given.
It's also much easier for you - the volunteer - to track your Dibs credits (volunteer hours) for the current volunteer season to ensure you have met the expectations for number of hours required.
Dibs also has many behind the scenes functions that will make the entire process more timely, and accurate as well as ensuring the credits are applied properly during registration.
Families in SportsEngine
It may seem trivial, but linking members together with a player or players has been - up to this point - difficult. Those of us on the administration side found it challenging to determine which members and their player(s) were part of a family.
This determination is key in so many areas - communication, volunteer credits, etc. - that we needed the functionality to keep things running.
With SportsEngine, tasks like inviting family members to the family, adding an additional email address, and more are built right into the platform.
With the large resources they have at hand - SportsEngine has developed an App (iOs and Android) that gives each person a customized and personal information hub right on their mobile device.
The app allows you to subscribe to any team, but especially to the teams you are interested in with players from your own family or friends.
With the app you get alerts for game scores, practices, and team or division news so that you do not need to navigate through the website to find out what has happened recently with your teams.
Coaches can enter scores on the app as well to make the process of reporting scores and pitch counts much simpler and faster.
In addition - you may subscribe to your teams calendar so that all your team games and events are part of your every day mobile device calendar. You'll never wonder when practices have been changed, or when games have been rescheduled.
SportsEngine's registration system is built to be extremely flexible and allows for more complex options than we've had in the past. No only can you complete a registration from your phone or tablet - something very difficult in our old system - but the league can leverage the functionality for Membership Drives, Coaching Applications, Volunteer Applications, and more.
There are also built in survey functions that will allow the league to create surveys, have them completed, and analyze the results without having to go to third party solutions.
Because of the deeply embedded Family concept - Dibs Credits (volunteer hours) are easily applied to ensure that one of our long standing issues - double volunteer payments - is eliminated so that you are not charged and the league does not have to issue refunds.
Site Setup, Management, and Growth
As it turns out, this was a big factor in our decision to move over onto the SportsEngine platform. On our old platform we could not add a new web page or a new section.
This meant that we had to augment existing sections with information not necessarily associated with the section. There are three prime examples of this:
1: Coaching and Team Staff Information / Documentation
Because we could not create our own pages or sections, we high-jacked the Coaching page and used it as our place for depositing documents and other information relative to Coaches and Team Staff.
However, each document that needed to be added or changed had to go through a request process where we added the document to a request, and waited for confirmation that the document was on the website. Then - and only then - could we add links in the Coaching section to the document.
Over time, the lack of agility in the document request process became too burdensome so we moved our documents onto our Google Docs repository and had our links on the Coaching page point to the document there.
2: Home Run Listing
When we first rolled out the new (previous) site, I had many BLL family members - in some case very angry family members - asking for a home run listing on the site.
It's a great thing for the players and their families, but there was no integrated way to do this. I asked the website developer for the functionality to be added, but adding it did not make sense for him in his vision of the application.
After a few years of emails - both polite and impolite - I figured out a way to add the home run listing to the website.
However, creating and maintaining the home run listing was a 100% manual effort. You can imagine having to field emails, and text's reporting home runs, and then going to the website to edit the underlying code on the page just to get the home runs updated.
This process was especially painful when I had to change the sort (home runs + last name) of the list as totals changed or new players were added to the list.
3: Home Page News and Updates
On the old site, each and every item on the home page had to be created and then edited by hand. Each change - no matter how subtle - required the webmaster [me] to go into a special website editor, find the page, and make the edits by hand.
In 90% of the cases there was special coding that needed to be done to ensure the home page maintained its look and feel.
This meant that only the webmaster [me] could make changes. If I was busy with work, coaching, or otherwise not available - the home page could not be updated.
SportsEngine is different because it provides the tools necessary so that multiple people can contribute to areas of the site. News and Events are gathered onto the home page from all around the site, and security allows us to divide up the areas so that individuals can manage their own section.
Documents are easily added to the site, and can be mirrored when necessary so that they only need to be changed once, and everyone sees the same thing.
We can also create new pages and entire new sections when ever it becomes necessary to do so and... give specific permissions for the new page or section so that an individual or team can manage that new section.
League Email Communications
In our old system our webmaster [me] would have to take input from board members or others [Giants Ticket Drive for example] to create an email message. Then the email message would need to be setup in an email request queue 48 hours in advance of the date of delivery.
This process - while mechanically effective - did not provide the flexibility necessary for those in the League Staff to get communications out in a timely manner.
The opt-in / opt-out process for users was not completely clear to everyone and there was no unsubscribe option on the emails themselves.
Finally - we've had particular problems with yahoo (@yahoo.com) email addresses where emails sent by coaches in our old system would not get delivered and parents would miss practices or in some cases games when the schedule was changed.
SportsEngine has the tools and their own internally run email service. This gives SportsEngine the control over email that results in a better over all use and experience by everyone.
Vast Library of Help Information and Services
SportsEngine has done a fantastic job with their 'Help Center' [help.sportngin.com]. Everything you could ever want to know about the platform and functions is there with guides and videos to make it easy.
The Get Started section is great for all of our BLL's families to get acquainted with Sport Ngin and find out how to do specific tasks or find specific information.
The Help Center also provides a long term support function as new board members can learn - from the help center - how to perform tasks without relying on 'tribal knowledge' or specific people - like yours truly - to point them in the right direction.
Transition of roles from one Board to the next are much more straight forward, and the impact of board members leaving is greatly reduced.
Having the Help Center may seem like a trivial aspect of the decision, but it is a huge benefit for the long term use of the site and the continuity of web based League Services.
There is so much more that I could go into on the benefits of our migration to SportsEngine. Having been an Information Technology professional for years in Fortune 500 companies, I know the impact on users when a big change like this is thrust upon them.
There is a big learning curve, and often frustration because the organization - in this case Benicia Little League - making the change has made a decision that makes the user [you] learn something completely new.
However, in building out the site I've tried to lessen the impact by setting up sections with similar names, or naming sections with more obvious names than they had before.
We now have a platform that meets the needs of mobile device growth, and can grow and adapt as league needs change over time. I'm particularly pleased by the support and help I've been given through the transition. I've had a team of 4 people supporting me via email, phone calls, and web meetings to ensure I understand the functions and that they are working as I would expect.
It's been years in making the decision, and three long hard months creating the new sites pages and functions so that Benicia Little League has a website designed to support it's community today, and well into the future.
I hope you enjoy using the new website, and that you'll take some time to learn all of the new functionality. I'm certain It will be worth your time to explore the site, functions, information, and get used to everything we now have to offer.
Thanks for reading,
Carl Rendell - Webmaster