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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Changing sites

Contrary to popular opinion, the website of the actuarial profession was not set up so that staff in Staple Inn could see whether there was any coffee in the pot before making the long trek down the stairs. It was created for the purpose of communicating not only with members of the actuarial profession but also with prospective members, and other parties interested in finding out more about the profession.
The website was originally introduced in 1996 and, through the hard work of the staff, has developed into a resource of thousands and thousands of pages. The site has grown as more and more information has been added and boards have seen the merits in using it as a communication tool. Although the peak usage of the site is by students checking exam results, it aims to cater for all.
Since its introduction, the site has had one revamp, when the actuarial profession changed its colours to maroon. Although this might sound like a simple change, unfortunately it was not; because of the way the site had been created, nearly every page had to be changed. There were still some old pages lying around (in the far corners of the old site) that bore the historical colours.
Another downside of having thousands of pages was managing them. Somebody has to take ownership of each and every page and ensure that it is relevant and up to date. This is too much for one or two individuals and in general had been given to board secretaries, but they were not able to change the pages online themselves; thus the task fell back to the two dedicated members of staff with the necessary skills.
So change was needed to make the site more manageable, easier to change, and easier for staff to update their pages without having to know their

tags from their tags.
The Internet Strategy Committee (with some external help) decided the best way forward was to move the site to a database-driven one.
A database-driven site is basically a large database that stores all the information that needs to go on the website. A program reads this information and interprets it into the format of the website. Pages can be added more easily by non-technical staff, as they are really only completing fields in a database.

The name remains the same www.actuaries.org.uk
The project was put out to tender and the new site developed. It was launched last month.
The new website has a different look and feel from the old site. The menus should be easier to use and we hope that users will find what they are looking for a lot more quickly than on the old site.
Members of the actuarial profession are now able to create their own personal home page of the site after logging in. You can create a tailor-made home page for your area of work or related to the exams.
Another advantage over the previous site is that all pages are fully indexed. Therefore the easiest way to find what you are looking for will be to use the search box. In fact, when using the menus you are still performing a search of the database it is just a more structured search than a free text search.
This is all well and good, you are no doubt saying but what have we gained from the changes? Well, apart from the points mentioned earlier, these changes give us the opportunity to implement further phased development of the site:
– phase II: members able to edit their own details in the Actuarial Directory; non-members able to create customisable views of the site after logging in; students able to view their exam history;
– phase III: full online facilities created to allow almost everything via the Web payment of subscriptions, event booking, exam entries, etc.
Watch this space!