Do It Yourself
A content management system eases the task of disseminating information to workers at the Oregon Employment Department.
Todd Brown was spending too much time with his webmaster.
Brown is executive and technical assistant in the Employment Services section of the Oregon Employment Department (OED). He posts a great deal of material on Edweb, OED's internal Web site for employees. A few years ago, when he needed to update or add a document, he called on Bill Rickman, OED's Internet administrator and webmaster, to handle the mechanics.
"And, boy, was he getting tired of me," Brown chuckled. Depending on how busy Rickman was, it could take a week or more to get material onto the site.
Today, Brown uses a content management system, developed by Stellent Inc. of Eden Prairie, Minn., to post marketing plans, newsletters and updates to a procedures manual. He does the work on his own, and the material becomes available to OED employees on the Web site almost immediately.
OED launched Edweb in 1996 as a way to distribute information to its employees, wherever in the state they worked. The Employment Services manual was the first major document it posted. "A lot of that was done by people editing [Microsoft] Word documents and e-mailing them to me," Rickman recalled. "I would convert them to HTML and build an index page that linked to all the chapters in the book."
Once he put the entire manual on the site, updating it was a nightmare. "Word doesn't make real clean HTML, so if they had to add a new paragraph or change the wording on something, it was quite a chore to go in there and do it," Rickman said.
In 1997, OED started adding its unemployment tax manual, a document totaling about 44 chapters. Instead of posting it in HTML, Rickman used Adobe Acrobat to convert the Word files to PDF format. That made the process simpler, but it still placed heavy demands on his time.
As more sections within OED asked to display material on the intranet, Rickman realized he needed a tool to make file conversion and indexing more efficient. In early 1998, OED implemented Intradoc -- now called Stellent Content Management. At the time, Rickman said, OED was running Windows 3.1 and Netscape 3.0 on its desktop machines, and Stellent's product was the only one in its category that would work on that platform.
Stellent Content Management is designed to manage any content an organization creates and wants to share on the Web, said Dan Ryan, the company's vice president of business and corporate development. The content might reside in document files, scanned images, e-mails, computer-aided design (CAD) files, spreadsheets, database reports or other formats.
"The problem we solve is how do we let people easily get the content that's in an organization, that's always been there," Ryan said. This includes content not originally created for the Web.
Stellent's proprietary technology can convert content from more than 200 formats into Web-ready formats such as PDF, HTML or XML. The system also provides a search engine and manages security, ensuring that users can post or view particular documents only if they are authorized to do so.
"We have several areas on our internal site that only certain managers can get to," Rickman said. "Because of the security group we assign to those documents, there are certain people who can check into that area. Those documents don't show up in the search results when someone who's not a manager is looking for something."
OED hired a consultant to help plan its Stellent Content Management implementation. First, they identified the people in the agency who would use the system and what permissions they required. In developing the security model, they had to account for the points where users' roles crossed functional lines.
"The person doing the tax manual was also a manager. They needed access to the management area under Personnel," Rickman explained. "Personnel needed to put in policies and forms that the rest of the agency would get, too. And Business Services needed to put in policies too, because they were the keepers of certain things like emergency procedures. So we had quite a matrix drawn on the board."
Once OED and the consultants defined individuals' functions, "it was just a matter of assigning roles to those people on the system and setting up document groups," Rickman said. With that planning exercise done, it didn't take long to get the software up and running. "We installed in the morning, and by the end of the day we were checking documents into the right places."
To add content to a site through the system, the user enters the document management page on Edweb and clicks on "new document check in." The user then completes an onscreen form to provide metadata -- information that helps determine where the document will be stored and who may access it. When that's done and the user clicks a button labeled "check in," the system picks up the document, "converts it to PDF, posts it to the directory that corresponds with your security permission and indexes all the text," Rickman said.
When it upgrades to a newer version of Stellent's system this year, OED will return to displaying most documents in HTML rather than PDF, Rickman said. The software will automatically apply the correct fonts, colors and other design elements, based on templates defined in the system.
Training a user to check documents into the system and search for material takes about half an hour, Rickman says. When OED first got the system running, Rickman and his assistant trained an initial 10 contributors. "That same week we had the tax manual, all 44 chapters, checked into the system in about half an hour. The original tax manual took a month," he said.
From Private to Public
Besides getting material to the Web site faster, the system has freed Rickman to work on other projects. Also, OED recently acquired a new module of the software that provides an easy way to duplicate news releases and similar items from Edweb onto OED's public Web site. "If we check something in internally and then we designate it to be available to the public, it will automatically copy it from the internal site to the external site and add it to the site search engine," Rickman said.
Currently, about 100 of OED's 1,300 employees use Stellent Content Management to check material into Edweb. Besides adding more users, OED plans to create personalized home pages for various groups of users. "Depending on their login, they would have a different set of links on their home page," Rickman said. For example, employees who adjudicate unemployment insurance cases might see links to previous decisions and to the unemployment insurance manual.
While OED trains more people to use Stellent Content Management, early users are discovering more documents they want to post on Edweb, now that the process is so easy. The Tax section originally expected to use Stellent Content Management only for manuals, but now the unit also uses the system to post papers that section employees should have access to, tax forms, employee phone lists, and training materials created in Microsoft PowerPoint.
Employment Services has boosted its volume of information on EDWEB to a level that would have been impossible without a document management system. With the amount of information he's posting these days, Brown laughed, "Bill Rickman would probably want to break my hands if we were under the old system."
Merrill Douglas is a freelance writer based in upstate New York. She specializes in applications of information technology.