Multi-site Management and User Data Controls

The UK Chamber of Shipping have been pressing forward with a unique and modern communications and member engagement policy. Omni have worked with the communications team for almost two years, and together we have worked on some interesting challenges around the status of web technology within the shipping industry.

Covering the Basics and Establishing Change

At the beginning of our relationship, we realised that the Chamber's data publishing requirements, had outgrown those on their previous site. This change was influenced largely by the new communications policy, in particular with regards a shift towards greater transparency plus the need to give more streamlined communication controls to the management team.

We embarked upon a rebuild from scratch - conveniently this also meant that we could reinvogorate the design, which had previously slipped behind developments made to the Chamber's print branding. Gone was most of the member's area functionality in favour of an open-by-default publishing approach. In came a single interface for managers to publish Chamber materials, populate a document repository, run mailing list campaigns to committee members.

Two choices were made at the beginning which in retrospect proved to be very successful. The first was a technology choice: Wagtail - the elegant new CMS built on Django. The second was methodology: the Chamber team agreed to let Omni run the project using purely Agile techniques. 

The Chamber had only run digital projects using Waterfall before, so this was quite a leap of faith on their behalf. The working methodology developed over time, but ultimately it is largely the same today, several projects forward. 

Wagtail itself was very well received by the Chamber staff - in particular its ease of use and friendly editing experience. From a training perspective, too, it excelled - it was simply easier for the Chamber project team to learn and then train the wider communications staff than any other system they had used previously.

More Advanced Projects

With a successful re-launch out of the way, the Chamber could begin to focus its efforts in improving the management of its member communications. 

We started by building a system which allowed them to dynamically match the membership of users of a particular committee to a relevant mailing list handled by our chosen provider, Mailchimp. This dramatically reduced the burden on Chamber administrators, as Chamber members could declare their interest in a given committee in one place, and our system would add them to the relevant documentation access list in the Library as well as include them on the automated circulars.

Once this was completed, we built a function which allowed the Chamber to effectively go to its members and help them approach the web in a more modern fashion. The Chamber is now able to 'host' any one of their member or partner organisations' sites on the back of the Chamber's own. Any such partner site, crucially, has a strict separation of data at the database layer, meaning that their own user's data was kept separate from that of the Chamber's, and it also boasts a brand identity and theme of its own.

The benefits of this to the Chamber's partners is clear: they are able to learn lessons from the Chamber's own digital experience, and leverage a strong technology stack to promote themselves and their core operations. But it is also a cost effective offering - this 'stronger together' approach reduces the up-front back-end development costs; the hosting fees per month; and the yearly cost of keeping software up-to-date with security releases.

This was by no means an easy project. The initial results have been encouraging, however - with Maritime UK having launched in late summer 2016.

Next Steps

We are currently working with the UK Chamber of Shipping on three long-term projects, which are rolling out over the next 6 months. 

The first is to produce a beta-test of a member knowledge-sharing service, an internal-facing reddit-style link and information sharing service to foster and encourage member discussion and co-operation outside of the Chamber's regular events. Following this, we are looking into producing a series of indexes of data gathered from the community which will be used to enhance public debate. Crucially, this will also involve production of an automated system to curate and process the raw source data.

Finally, we are preparing to create a management dashboard to help the Chamber's events staff manage, run, and analyse their day-to-day work - with the aim of streamlining their efforts and increasing their efficiency.


“As Head of Communications for the UK Chamber of Shipping I have worked with a number of external suppliers. Since first employing the services of Omni Digital 18 months ago, we have found them to be forward thinking, strategic, honest, trustworthy, hard working and utterly committed to our needs. 

They are now a fundamentally important asset to our work.

Jonathan Roberts, Head of Communications