When Brigitte Hamilton looks back on the humble beginnings of her organization's intranet, there were only six divisional areas of the site and upwards of about 500 pages.That was in 1997. Since then, Oregon's largest workers' compensation insurance company, Salem-based State Accident Insurance Fund of Oregon (SAIF), has added nearly a dozen other divisional areas to its Web site, resulting in a page count pushing 15,000.

"The Web site's structure made it difficult for the company's 860 employees to find content, and authors faced an uphill battle trying to update posted information," recalls Hamilton, lead business analyst and Web site administrator.

SAIF had developed an extranet for its external customers that offers a variety of services, including claims management, marketing, underwriting, vocational rehabilitation, return-to-work, loss control, industrial hygiene and legal representation, and its intranet was just as complex. Content resident on the intranet site grew to include corporate policies and procedures, internal messages to employees, information and reports to help employees execute their job duties, employee benefit information, job postings, cafeteria menu, internal training schedules, division organizational charts and more.

For Hamilton and SAIF's IT team, organization of this vast sea of content was becoming a behemoth.

"There were the usual challenges that all grassroots intranets face," she says.

"Inconsistent look and feel, difficulty for employees to find the information they needed and continuous training for end-users who had a difficult time mastering the Web publishing tools they were using."

That inconsistency naturally lent itself to navigation problems. Each search resulted in a different return, with many hits but not the information the employee had been searching for. "Employees were calling each other for help," Hamilton recalls.

"The intranet was a drain on manpower and man-hours, and we had to do something about that."

In 2003, SAIF spent about six months evaluating its Web site needs. SAIF's intranet review included an examination of content organization, Web site navigation, and the Web site's look and feel. In addition, the review involved seeking ways to keep Web site content current and allow for its continued growth.

SAIF officials devoted months pondering three possible solutions: continue to use existing tools, build the software in-house or buy a software package, says Marsha Malonson, SAIF application development manager.

After reviewing several software products, Malonson recommended RedDot CMS, a Web content management system (CMS) from New York-based RedDot Solutions Corp. The software includes tools for editing, importing, translation, asset and site management.

Malonson notes that SAIF officials "thought it would be prudent to consolidate the data, reorganize the system, and inject a common look and feel as you go from page to page. We also wanted to make it easier for employees to find information."

SAIF made its CMS purchase in January 2004, and in the six-month span that followed, SAIF Web designer Adriel Henderson zeroed in on clearing the tallest of the carrier's hurdles: "The biggest challenge was determining whether we should migrate the information in an incremental approach or all at once. SAIF opted to implement RedDot gradually, migrating content so the material could be reviewed for relevance and updated as needed," says Henderson.

ENFORCING STANDARDS

Hamilton says key implementation goals included being able to simplify the author's job, while enforcing look-and-feel standards. "Today, new authors and even those who infrequently contribute can be brought up to speed on how to use the RedDot CMS environment due to its intuitive nature," says Hamilton.

Through RedDot's CMS, SAIF intranet content was "made uniform in terms of size of type, font, color and overall look, and the navigation from page to page was made uniform," says Henderson.

RedDot's Director of Technology Darren Guarnaccia admits SAIF's old intranet structure may have been "disjointed and confusing," but not insurmountable, especially if SAIF could tackle the restructuring of the content.

Henderson used RedDot's system to reorganize structure and content to meet the company needs.

"We placed our Web page design, navigation structure, business rules and workflow into RedDot. The software couples that with the content of the Web authors. The outcome is Web author content being put into the proper Web site design and structure automatically," he says.

Henderson says that using RedDot becomes intuitive for the author. "Authors interact with red dots that are easy to use" for editing content. RedDot's CMS strategically places red dots that enable authors to edit content and make changes on a Web page by simply pointing and clicking to open an edit-copy field, explains Henderson.

GETTING MESSAGES WRITTEN

Henderson touts RedDot CMS's ability to make SAIF information readily available and actionable for employees. The system enables SAIF workers to enter data on their department's site or elsewhere on the intranet under the watchful eye of two SAIF intranet administrators, Hamilton and Henderson.

"One person doesn't have to understand the whole thing; authors don't need to understand the design or workflow," says Henderson. "They only have to concentrate on getting their messages written without being encumbered by technical issues."

This plays out to manpower and man-hour savings. For example, an article written by internal communications had to be re-entered into the system multiple times to reach different audiences using the old technology. In contrast, "we can do more with the information, without having to re-key documents to reach various audiences," Henderson says.

Using organizational charts as another example, Hamilton describes how the Web CMS has become a valuable tool for employees who revise posted copy or contribute new pieces.

"Organizational charts showing how SAIF's divisions are structured are an important part of the SAIF intranet. Unfortunately, there was no clear tool set for Web authors to use in creating them with the old publishing tool," she says.

With the old Web site management tool, Hamilton continues, "making changes to organizational charts was time-consuming, and each divisional site's page had a different look to those charts. The SAIF intranet team used the CMS tool to develop a template that-with very little involvement from the Web author-creates an interactive organizational chart that is consistent in appearance and fits nicely into a Web site format."

MULTIPLE LOCATIONS

Henderson admits that although training was required to build templates, "if you understand how to make HTML pages, it is not difficult to convert these pages into RedDot templates."

That time saving led to other benefits. With RedDot, content can be presented in many different ways and in different areas of the Web site. For example, in an article on employee benefit changes, an author clicks on an appropriate RedDot key word in the template to have the article appear in multiple locations, such as human resources divisional news, as well as the companywide news section.

"Overall content contribution has increased on topics such as internal news, since there is greater ease of use in creating new content," says Hamilton.

Henderson believes creating new content and making it easy to find existing content reduces the time employees spend looking for information.

"The combination of these benefits means that SAIF is better at sharing and leveraging internal knowledge. That has increased employee productivity, while freeing up IT resources," he says. "This is a Microsoft shop. [The RedDot product] needed to be compatible with Microsoft's database and other tool sets that we have, and it was."

Now that 11 of SAIF's 16 divisions have converted their Web site content, it's clear that SAIF in on a successful track to managing its ever-expanding content.

"It's clear that employees are finding what they're looking for much faster, and that frees up time for them to perform other tasks," says Henderson.

Ron Lent is a business writer based in San Rafael, Calif.

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