Enterprise Software

The right CMS solution allows strapped IT org to easily build and maintain intranet and Web site

UMass Memorial used its intranet as a proof of concept to gain acceptance for the development of a Web site. The choice of the right CMS lets the IT group maintain and expand both sites, even though it doesn't have a lot of experience.


After a successful initial experience with its static intranet site, UMass Memorial Health Care System, the largest health-care system in central and western Massachusetts, decided to change the way it interacted externally with the public and internally with doctors and hospital staff. “Our objective was to improve the functionality of our current intranet site and to create an Internet site to put a public face to the largest healthcare system in central Massachusetts,” said Phillip Clough, executive director of information services at UMass Memorial. “But we also knew that we had to let content owners update content without requiring the assistance of an IT resource, and that we had to leverage existing NT authentication to manage security.”

With these requirements in mind, the IT department decided to build a content management system (CMS) to develop and maintain its two sites.

Selecting the solution
A Web developer within the IT department was tasked with researching CMS products to evaluate. By using Web and trade publications, the developer eventually came up with a short list of CMS vendors that met UMass Memorial’s technical requirements. The product had to integrate with UMass Memorial’s existing NT authentication and provide an intuitive interface that nontechnical users could comfortably use. And more importantly, the IT department had to be able to build and manage the product with limited internal IT resources. “Because we were relatively new to the Web, we didn’t have specific technology infrastructure requirements. We were looking for a tool that was easy enough to deploy immediately, but also scaleable enough to provide functionality we could grow into, as our needs evolved over time,” said Clough.

After evaluating a number of products (UMass Memorial declined to say which), it finally decided on  PaperThin’s flagship product, CommonSpot Content Server. The factors that tipped the scale in CommonSpot’s favor included the fact that CommonSpot was built on top of Macromedia ColdFusion, a stable, widely deployed, and easily customized application server, and CommonSpot’s out-of-the-box ability to provide NT authentication.

“UMass Memorial’s challenges were similar to those faced by many organizations in the middle market,” said Todd Peters, president of PaperThin. “They needed to rapidly deploy an easy-to-use CMS system affordably. They also needed a tool that provided a flexible and scalable yet controlled system to empower content contributors throughout the organization, all of whom had different skill sets and business responsibilities.”

CommonSpot is a full-featured CMS that provides organizations with an affordable, quick-to-implement, and easy-to-use tool for creating, publishing, and managing Web content in a controlled, distributed, and collaborative Web development environment. CommonSpot powers Internet, intranet, and extranet sites for companies worldwide, such as AFL-CIO, Booz Allen Hamilton, Gillette, and Kent State University.

The proof of concept
Experience teaches us that implementing technology is the easy part. The hard part is getting support for your IT initiatives. UMass Memorial senior management was initially unconvinced of the need for an Internet site, so to get management support for its initiative, the IT department used the launch of the new intranet as a proof of concept to show critics the value and potential of the new technology. The intranet allowed doctors, staff, and departments within the multihospital system to communicate with each other and share information.

Even then, many people within the organization were skeptical at first about the value of an intranet. However, the technology quickly proved its value. “A great example of this was one staffer who used to spend a week each month printing out and distributing financial reports,” remembered Clough. “Now thanks to the intranet site, that task takes less than a day—a tremendous time savings.” Following the successful deployment of the intranet, UMass Memorial launched its 700-plus page Internet site in the summer of 2001.

The development process
“After the initial design was approved, a proof of concept was developed. This went through iterations, and once the look and feel was finalized, the site was constructed,” explained Clough. “For the Internet site, the marketing department contracted with an outside design firm to develop a new look and feel for the site.” With the exception of initial training and consulting by PaperThin to get up and running in building the site structure and templates, UMass Memorial developed both sites in-house.

The in-house site designers were able to build a simple template hierarchy for the intranet site that allowed them to control the appearance of each page on the site, using just two CommonSpot templates in most cases. All of the site's navigational components and layout characteristics are controlled from the base template, making it very easy to manage content on the site.

“Within a short period of time, UMass Memorial’s small Web team was able to build a framework of templates, approval processes, navigation components, and security permissions that provided a controlled ‘playing field’ in which its much larger nontechnical content contributor group could efficiently play. Looking back, CommonSpot’s ability to meet 80 percent of their requirements out of the box provided for a fast and cost-effective time-to-market,” added Peters.

“CommonSpot’s strength in integration and customization allowed UMass to easily achieve its desired look and feel and build and integrate business-driven applications such as the Find-A-Doctor application,” Peters said. This application allows users to search for a doctor and query and filter results based on geography, specialty, and other criteria. By leveraging CommonSpot's powerful integration features and object-based architecture, UMass Memorial was able to easily embed this and other custom-developed applications directly into the site's framework.

In another case, CommonSpot was used to let physicians view and analyze data in a restricted Child Protection Group database. “Our developers built a SQL database that housed the Child Protection data, as well as a custom ColdFusion front-end application to allow authorized users to access the database via the Web site,” said Clough. “Thanks to this new Web application, one UMass Memorial physician was recently able to apply for and receive grant money for additional research.”

The CMS runs on a Windows box with Microsoft SQL Server. The intranet features a separate server for the SQL database, but as Clough pointed out, “We are currently looking at redundancy, the separation of CMS and SQL for our external site, and the possibility of upgrading the internal SQL server.”

Lessons from the field
Building a CMS is a difficult endeavor, but you can make the process easier by learning from those who have successfully been there and done that. Clough was kind enough to share some hard-earned lessons with us.

Look for friends in the right places
“Although we were ultimately able to convince senior management of the value of a Web presence, and the need for a content management tool to manage the site, in retrospect we would have been better off if we had tried to get the support of the marketing department right from the start. The marketing people were better positioned to justify the business benefit of the Web. Instead, the demand came from IT, where it could have been perceived as IT looking to do something cool. That said, we felt that a key factor in our success in rolling out both the Internet and intranet sites was the fact that we created a proof of concept to help people understand and accept what we were trying to do.”

Plan to grow
“As our Internet and intranet initiatives grew in success, we realized the need for a more redundant architecture with enhanced security. This was not something we had taken into consideration when the sites were initially launched. We are currently evaluating appropriate solutions for these issues, but ideally they should have been part of our initial rollout.”

Know the difference between Internet and intranet development
“The public Internet site, which is managed by the marketing department, has strict policies about what content can be published when and where. We deployed a more restrictive template structure to have more control over the look and feel of the site. We also implemented workflow to manage the review and approval of content prior to publication. We had to do this because the marketing department insisted on much stricter control over what gets published on the public site.

"The structure for the intranet is much more fluid, without any structured workflow for content. And since the audience for the intranet is internal, our departments have more freedom to update content without a strict approval and review process.”

Don’t forget to look after the people who will actually use the system
“Want to know the secret to how our content contributors from 10 different departments manage the constant updating of content on the intranet and Internet sites without going crazy? Make sure that everyone knows how to use the right tools to manage content. We appointed a member of the IS team to train our people using a custom training program. Before our content contributors are provided authoring rights in CommonSpot, they have to complete two two-hour training sessions with this trainer. Thanks to this training program, all our users have a minimum level of understanding of CommonSpot and are able to hit the ground running. They really appreciate that autonomy.”

Keep it simple
“The fact that the product is so easy for nontechnical staff to use has made adoption much easier, and they really are pleased with the intuitive interface and the fact that they don’t need to know HTML or other technical skills to author and publish content. Content contributors also appreciate the fact that they don’t need to install additional software to use CommonSpot—they can just navigate with their browsers and start updating content.”

The right CMS for you can make all the difference
“We started out with pretty limited experience with the Web. We feel that we picked a great tool in CommonSpot to help us both establish a presence on the Web and get an opportunity to learn at the same time. We were able to develop a Web site really without any experience but still have the ability to expand and enhance our site with this new tool. The CMS has also helped us initiate a deeper conversation with our users: As our users have become more comfortable with CommonSpot, they're coming up with innovative ideas for how to really use the Web as an effective communications tool and how to deploy the CMS to help them do their jobs more effectively. They’ve also begun to bring us suggestions for new features and enhancements."

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