Steamship website redesign reaches nearly $3 million

The Steamship Authority’s (SSA) website relaunch is facing another delay, and a cost spike that pushes it near $3 million.

The SSA board voted 3-1 to approve a change order with the firm managing the website redesign for $288,000, bringing up the total project cost to $2.8 million. 

Falmouth representative Peter Jeffrey was the sole dissenting vote during the Thursday afternoon meeting, but board members were not happy. Vineyard representative Jim Malkin called the creeping costs a “management failure.”

Stellar Elements — originally called Projekt202, which later changed to ADK Group — is running the redesign. 

SSA general manager Robert Davis said development of the website redesign will continue over the summer, with a fall release date. “There’s a number of elements on this project that still need to be resolved,” he said. “To be rolling this out at this time of year, we don’t feel is the best. We only have one chance to make a first impression.” 

The SSA initially planned to launch a redesigned website and mobile app, a project originally budgeted for $2.6 million, by this spring. However, the project was delayed in February.

According to SSA spokesperson Sean Driscoll, the original contract cost was $1.996 million, but previous change orders increased the costs to $2.5 million. 

The website also saw a mishap with its cloud servers during the opening of summer reservations for Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, during which many customers had difficulties accessing the website and experienced long wait times. Driscoll told The Times at the time that the difficulties were not related to the website redesign.

According to Driscoll, the website redesign is undergoing a “very rigorous” development and testing phase.

“Large portions of the functionality are complete from a development standpoint, but many items still remain to be fully tested and debugged,” he said. However, the website is not at a stage to do a “friends and family beta testing.” 

Board members were not thrilled by the cost increase. Malkin expressed concern about “cost creep” with the project. “This project is dragging out and costing considerably more money every time we turn around,” he said. 

“I’m a little outraged at this point,” Jeffrey said.

Jeffrey pointed out that this change order makes the third delay to a project originally meant to be on a one-year contract, now likely to last two years. He also said he asked last December, when the first change order occurred, whether further delays would occur. Jeffrey said he was “assured” by the project manager that no further delays would occur. Considering the delays, name changes, and the new launch date being close to when the SSA’s technology audit will be completed, Jeffrey expressed doubt over the project process.

“I don’t have any real confidence with any of the information I’m being given by the project manager, from the Steamship Authority, as to what the actual issues are and remain to be,” he said. 

Additionally, Jeffrey said the cost creep has already taken place. “I don’t see an end to this,” he said. “Correct me if I’m wrong; when will this launch? And at this point, I think we already made the wrong impression to the traveling public.” 

Barnstable representative Robert Jones said the board gets “stuck in the middle” of unexpectedly high costs for SSA projects, which he was uncomfortable with. However, Jones expressed a need to push the website redesign forward, since it seems to be near completion, as the SSA has done with other projects in the past. “We’ll just have to bite the bullet and move forward with it,” he said. 

Driscoll acknowledged the process has been taking longer than expected, saying more internal resources should have been brought onto the project. He also said that when the current website was being made around 10 years ago, there were also difficulties associated with the transition. “Due to sort of the inner nature of website design — you test, you find things, you have to go back and redesign, retest — the path forward is not always a straight one,” he said. 

Nantucket representative Robert Ranney said he felt the process was going in the right direction despite the complications. He said the move to the present website was “a little less complicated” compared with the current project, but the transition was still difficult. “Now, we’re in a world that is more complicated,” he said, adding that it was important to get the launch right. “We’re trying to get it right, I think, and we’re headed in the right direction. It’s just taking longer.” 

When Malkin asked what would happen if the board voted against the change order, Driscoll said the project would continue but would not be ready until 2024. 

After further discussion, the board gave its approval for the change order.

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