Magazine Article | December 1, 2005

Empower Employees To Manage Content

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

An ECM (enterprise content management) platform helps $1 billion Oglethorpe Power Corp. eliminate much of the IT intervention necessary to make critical information accessible to employees on its intranet.

Integrated Solutions, December 2005

The IT department never gets the glory. While most of your time should be dedicated to strategizing infrastructure changes and implementing upgrades to increase business speed and efficiency, you probably spend the better part of your days helping Bob from accounting figure out that the reason he can't log onto the system is that he accidentally unplugged his keyboard. IT is a world full of time-consuming and mundane tasks such as troubleshooting, equipment maintenance, and Web site and intranet management. Many man-hours are required to perform these tasks, yet IT is one of the last departments in which business executives are willing to dedicate human resources. As a result, you may have a small staff of very talented technical professionals who are being underutilized simply because they don't have enough time to devote to mission-critical IT projects. The lesson to be learned here is clear -- increasing the productivity of your business begins by increasing the productivity of your IT department.

A good example of the business benefits that can be gained by reducing the number of menial tasks with which an IT department is charged can be seen with Oglethorpe Power Corp. In 1997, the $1 billion power supply cooperative split into three separate companies -- Oglethorpe Power Corp., Georgia Transmission Corp., and Georgia System Operations Corp. (GSOC) -- to align each line of business more closely with the different regulatory environments each division faced.

This split amplified content management pressures the company was already experiencing. First, Oglethorpe Power's existing content management system was combined with its e-mail system and offered limited capabilities. For example, content was indexed based only by date and author. This often made files difficult to retrieve because an individual conducting a search needed to know one of these two criteria in order to locate the information they were seeking. Recovering content was further complicated by the fact that more than 1,600 different content folders existed on the system. These folders lacked a defined organizational structure and each had different read and write access rules.

Maintaining the corporate intranet site posed another challenge. GSOC's Shared Services Division provided IT services to all three companies and was responsible for making changes and publishing new content (e.g. departmental policies, goal documentation, company newsletters, personnel information, etc.) to the intranet site. Whenever an employee had a document that needed to be added to the site, they would forward it to one of three GSOC employees responsible for site development, who would convert the document to a Web compatible format, such as HTML. With more than 700 employees spread across the three companies, the amount of information submitted for publishing significantly exceeded GSOC's capacity to post the content.

"A huge backlog of content soon piled up," says Gary Williamson, chief director of IT for GSOC. "Our employees only had the time to publish three or four documents a day to the site. It was not uncommon for a new content submission to sit in limbo for three months or more before we could post it."

In 1999, GSOC decided to switch over to a Microsoft Exchange platform to facilitate its e-mail communications. By replacing its e-mail system, GSOC was also on the market for a new content management system. While Exchange offered improved e-mail functionality, it did not provide the content management features that were part of GSOC's existing e-mail platform. GSOC evaluated several content management platforms, but selected Stellent Content Management largely because of its automated content publishing capabilities (see sidebar on page 18).

The Stellent product allowed GSOC to select a variety of different metadata (e.g. document type, author, keywords) by which to index each document and facilitate the search and retrieval of content in the system. Assigning this metadata was a learning experience for GSOC.

"We established a committee consisting of several department heads to establish a universal metadata philosophy for our organization," says Williamson. "This was a bad idea. Too many people were involved and each wanted their own special field represented in the overall metadata scheme. Our initial metadata structure consisted of nearly 18 fields, which bogged down the process of checking a new document into the system. It only took us a few weeks to get the core Stellent system up and running, but we spent more than a year fine-tuning our metadata format."

Fields such as account, document title, document category, document subcategory, document type, data format, project, keywords, comments, and contact were among the 18 metadata fields that were initially required to check a document into GSOC's system. After a year of experimentation and observation, the number of required metadata fields has been reduced to three -- account, title, and data format. The rest are optional.

By streamlining its metadata format, GSOC made it easier for employees to check a document into the system, eliminating an obstacle that was hindering widespread adoption and acceptance of the solution. "Under our old system, employees were accustomed to just clicking on 'File' and 'Save As' to store content on our network drive," says Williamson. "They didn't have to worry about identifying what type of file the document was, how it should be categorized, and who should have access to it. This was a difficult concept for our employees to get used to. However, limiting the number of fields they had to concern themselves with helped them become comfortable with the process."

The Stellent product itself also helped foster end user adoption. During its first year of use at GSOC, Stellent released a new version of its software that included a "Check-In Similar" feature. This feature allows different metadata "menus" to be stored in the system, so that end users can simply click a button to populate data fields and quickly check-in documents with shared characteristics.

GSOC also established a series of training classes to further encourage user adoption. It developed two classes -- one for content viewers and another for content creators. The content viewer class teaches employees how to log in, navigate through the system, and search for documents. The content creator class covers these same steps, but also shows employees with write access how to place information in the correct account and how to check in and check out documents. These training classes are provided in a classroom setting and GSOC staff serve as instructors.

GSOC's Stellent Content Management solution helps eliminate several of the content challenges the company faced prior to its implementation. For example, the use of metadata to define documents in the system allows files to be easily retrieved and located. Employees no longer need to know the author or date of the information they seek. They can now search by attributes such as document type, title, and keywords. The system also offers a more organized folder structure and improved read and write capabilities. Content is now saved in one of three main repositories. The corporate repository includes documents such as accounting procedures, board policies, purchase orders, and vouchers. The records repository stores scanned images of contracts, invoices, and other important legal information. The TIPPS (technology, information, people, and process) repository has separate sections for each of the three companies in the enterprise and includes team goal documentation, company newsletters, and human resource materials.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of the Stellent product is the automatic content publishing capabilities it delivers. Employees no longer need to submit content to GSOC's Shared Services Division to post on the intranet. Most of the company's 650 nontechnical employees now simply contribute content to the Stellent Content Management Server where it is saved in its native format, such as a Word document, spreadsheet, or graphic file. The Content Server automatically converts the content from its native format to any one of a variety of Web formats such as HTML, XML, and PDF. The server then publishes this information to the intranet every 12 hours. This technology eliminates the need for IT to code and post this information.

"The three IT employees that were previously responsible for publishing content to the intranet site are now free to work on more critical IT systems projects," says Williamson. "Furthermore, by giving our employees control of the publishing process, we have eliminated our content backlog and increased the amount of content we publish each day by approximately 400%. Where we used to post three or four documents to the intranet a day, we now average about 20. This capability also ensures that the content on our intranet site is always up to date."

One of the critical IT projects GSOC employees have now been given more time to work on is enabling the threaded discussion capabilities of the Stellent product and integrating the platform with the company's Lawson HR system. Threaded discussion is a feature that allows employees to collaborate on documents instrumental to specific business projects. For example, Oglethorpe Power executives are currently using threaded discussion to interact and comment on proposed EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) rules for the electric industry. Integrating Stellent Content Management with its Lawson HR system will also help the company automate its reporting processes for Sarbanes-Oxley compliance. These IT initiatives will allow several departments within the organization to realize even more productivity gains from the Stellent Universal Content Management platform.