Case Study

Columbia Center To Smooth Web Operations with Collaboration Suite

A college or university without a Web site is inconceivable today, but with every site comes the challenge of managing content. Some sort of automated system is a given, but how much should the site's content management system integrate with other aspects of the campus computing infrastructure?

Bluenog, an enterprise software and solutions company, is taking a somewhat different approach to content management with a new suite that integrates three content and data management tools into a single product, called Bluenog ICE (Integrated Collaborative Environment). ICE combines business intelligence (BI) software, portal management tools, and an enterprise content management system (CMS) into a single framework. That combination, while unusual in a software suite, can greatly simplify Web site administration and security because there's far less integration work. If you already have other tools in place for some of those functions, Bluenog saidits product can also integrate with your existing commercial portal, CMS, and BI systems.

One interesting use of the Bluenog ICE suite is taking place at Columbia University's Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN). The nearly 20-year-old non-profit center, which joined Columbia 10 years ago, aims to help scientists, politicians, and the public better understand the changing relationship between humans and the environment. As such, it has a large number of public-facing Web sites and pages. The center recently began deploying Bluenog ICE to help manage some 10,000 pages of content under 15 Web domains.

According to CIESIN's associate director of IT, Sri Vinay, the 40-person center is rolling out the Bluenog product gradually, beginning with the content management system for news items and other material that the center updates regularly. In a year, the goal is to have most of the center's newest Web sites, where content is updated regularly, migrated to the Bluenog CMS.

Although CIESIN is focusing first on content management, Vinay said, the decision to select Bluenog was also related to the portal and BI components in ICE. Once the CMS portion is solidly in place, those functions will be deployed gradually over the next several years.

Content management at the center currently, Vinay said, involves a series of labor-intensive steps using a standard Web page editing tool from Macromedia. The process makes heavy use of email to solicit approval of updated pages from content owners--generally scientists.

Editing a page involves obtaining the necessary approvals by sending the content owner an e-mail with a link to the page, then asking IT to make the change. "The content editors and developers make edits on the staging server, then send e-mail so that the owner can OK it. Once a content manager says it's OK, then it can be posted," Vinay explained.

The resulting request for a content change can take his 12-person IT staff up to a week, Vinay said, because the process is so manual and because IT is often busy with other projects. Except for emergency requests, Vinay said, "we don't want to commit to a faster turnaround than that. We consolidate all the requests and updates to the end of the week."

Requests to IT for changes--items as small as fixing a typographical error--can come in several times a day, and "it tends to drive everyone crazy," Vinay said. With other projects in the works, IT staff must drop something else to take care of urgent or time-sensitive Web change requests.

Once Bluenog is in place, all of that will change. Content owners will be able to use a Web-based CMS interface from Bluenog that they can access from anywhere with an Internet connection. With that tool, Vinay explained, owners and editors can automatically notify anyone in the approval chain; users with access can then make changes to the content themselves through the Bluenog interface. Once approved, the content can be published "just by pushing a button," Vinay said. "There's no need for IT."

That will free his IT staff for tasks other than content updates, but more than that, Vinay said, it "gives flexibility and ownership to the content owners themselves."

CIESIN considered a handful of other products, Vinay said, but liked the combined suite Bluenog offered, as well as the simplicity of the user interface and the software's ability to connect with legacy systems. CIESIN also wanted a product that would fit seamlessly with its Java and Unix environment.

In addition to combining three functions in one suite, Bluenog differs from other content management systems in that it is a commercial product--pricing is based on the number of servers required--but is based on open source, and customers are provided the open-source code behind the product. Bluenog co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Scott Barnett said in a recent interview that this offers a "best of both worlds" approach to software development. It removes customers from dealing with open source licensing by selling a straightforward commercial software license, he said, but also makes the underlying software available to customers. "[Customers] get both sets of benefits--all the source code like an open source project, but business benefits such as customer support, updates, upgrades, and indemnification."

The company says that Bluenog ICE costs significantly less than the licenses and integration of separate content management, portal, and BI products. The product is backed by support, maintenance updates, upgrades, and professional services and includes a Foundation Application that leverages features from all three components to jump start new development efforts.

About the Author

Linda Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She can be reached at lbriggs@lindabriggs.com.

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