A long-awaited new website for the Steamship Authority may finally arrive as soon as next month. The boat line first began planning the new site more than three years ago and has since spent $2.9 million with a developer to bring it across the finish line.
But the new website won’t be here in time for next week’s general openings for summer boat reservations to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard - the two days of the year when online traffic to SteamshipAuthority.com reaches its highest levels. The rush to secure coveted spots aboard the Steamship’s vessels during the summer months has caused significant problems for the website on those days, with some customers unable to book reservations and others spending hours in a “waiting room” after being told they were “11,821st in line!” With the new website not quite ready for primetime, Steamship customers could encounter similar headaches next week.
While the new website is expected to improve many aspects of the user experience - and hopefully address some of the capacity issues on high-traffic opening days for reservations - one thing that will remain the same is the Steamship’s online reservation system.
Separate from the website project but integrated into the Steamship’s online platform, the reservation system is one aspect of the boat line’s IT infrastructure that “must change,” a consultant recently told its board of governors.
The vendor who built the Steamship’s reservation system is soon getting out of the business, and the boat line will have to contract with a new company to revamp the aging platform or build a new one. On Tuesday, the Steamship’s board of governors were told by another consultant that it will likely cost “several million” to do so.
“The current reservation system was developed by one guy who has been running it and is now looking to retire and get out of the business,” said Rob Ranney, Nantucket’s representative on the Steamship Board of Governors. “The system has evolved and become very specialized and very difficult to duplicate. We’re running into IT challenges with that and how it’s going to work.”
As for the new website, Ranney and other members of the Steamship Board of Governors have expressed frustration with the length of time it has taken the company - Stellar Elements - to complete the work. Sean Driscoll, the Steamship’s communications director, said Stellar Elements started work in January 2022, but even before that, there was a year of internal development work. The Steamship’s first internal meeting about building a new website, in fact, was all the way back in October 2020.
Ranney said the company is now testing the site to ensure its functioning properly before going live next month.
“When they’re testing, they’re throwing everything at it,” Ranney said. “Stuff no one will do ever. They’re debugging it, but it’s taking forever. It’s not for a lack of trying. These things are complicated.”