To replace a legacy web portal service with a significantly improved interface for content search and recommendations.
BBC Monitoring (BBCM) provides a real-time view on news stories from around the world, sourcing content from local media and supplementing it with expert analysis and reference material.
Before the transformation project began, the legacy BBCM web portal was suffering from significant technical and usability problems, and a majority of users relied entirely on email alerts to access content. This outdated system was identified as a major obstacle to BBCM’s goal of growing as a commercial enterprise.
A new portal was needed which could provide a much more effective interface for actively exploring the BBCM archive, through search and content recommendations, and on a full range of modern browsers and devices. At the same time, it needed to continue to meet the needs of existing subscribers, in particular around rapid and highly configurable email alerting.
Most importantly though, the new portal needed to act as a showcase for BBCM, clearly demonstrating the depth and quality of content available to potential commercial subscribers.
Through a competitive tender, the BBC commissioned Softwire to build this new portal based on modern, durable technologies and architecture, and delivering a high quality user experience.
Initially, we worked to a very tight timescale to deliver a minimum viable release. This was released to selected users to help refine further requirements based on realistic feedback and analytics.
We then proceeded using an agile approach, making frequent use of the feedback we’d gained from user testing and from BBCM stakeholders to iteratively refine and prioritise a backlog of potential requirements.
We combined this flexible agile approach with a fixed price commercial model to give the BBC confidence in their total project budget. Softwire committed to a fixed price per “point” delivered, and a minimum number of points per sprint. The feature backlog was kept up to date with points costs for each pending item, leaving the BBC free to adapt their plans with clear visibility of the implications of any change.
The core of the underlying technical platform was an Elasticsearch database deployed on the AWS cloud. This provided rich search capabilities, as well as the ability to identify which users should be notified about newly published content via the percolator feature.
Following the success of the initial release, BBCM were able to quickly begin the process of migrating existing users to the new portal, and feedback was immediately very positive.
Users were impressed with the much greater speed and responsiveness to specific search queries. The improved custom search, email notifications and multiple-source search features were also extremely popular.
The new portal has enabled BBCM to showcase the quality and breadth of content they offer and to raise their profile. The success of the new portal has been a vital part of the wider transformation programme within BBCM, and has provided a strong technical foundation for the future.