Olympic Effort Not Required for Publishing Business Communications
September 14, 2004 Dan Burger
Publishing your own newsletter or product bulletins is a strategy used by many companies to achieve a polished and professional method of communicating with business partners, customers, employees, and other stakeholders. For years this was accomplished with printed publications that required substantial amounts of time and labor and costs. If you could reduce production expenses, primarily printing and mailing, and also accommodate the inclusion of more timely information, you would probably be looking at publishing content via an e-mail newsletter, Web site, or portal.
One organization that has taken advantage of this publishing opportunity is the United States Olympic Committee. The USOC uses IBM Lotus Notes/Domino and does application development on an AS/400 Model 170. About three years ago it purchased an e-publishing application called kNEWS, from Gallatin Technologies. Gallatin is an IBM business partner with expertise in Lotus. Not surprisingly, kNEWS runs on top of Notes/Domino.
Calvin Hedgeman is the Lead Notes Developer at the USOC, which has approximately 35 IT staff members. Hedgeman was involved in the initial implementation of kNEWS, about three years ago, and remains involved in the upgrades to the application and the publishing projects involving kNEWS.
When kNEWS was first brought into the USOC’s IT department, the network system was completely iSeries. At that time IBM was a major sponsor of USOC and Big Blue’s hardware dominated the USOC IT department. When IBM backed off from its high level of support, Gateway stepped in and the IT department started using Gateway Intel servers. Only the development server remains an iSeries. Hedgeman says the migration to Intel machines has had no effect on the use of kNEWS.
“We have kNEWS running on the iSeries for development purposes,” Hedgeman says. “But there is nothing specific to the AS/400 that ties it to kNEWS or vice versa.”
Minor changes to the look and feel of the out-of-the-box kNEWS were made to accommodate USOC logos, a design configuration feature built in to kNEWS. Only a small amount of customization to the kNEWS framework was required in order to create a look and feel that was compatible with the USOC identity. “We embedded into that frame elements from the USOC Web site,” Hedgeman explains. The application is attractive and functional; however, it does not allow major page layout reconfigurations.
Every Web application the IT department completes is developed in Domino and tested on the AS/400 before being moved over to quality and production on an Intel machine. The changes give the kNEWS-generated template the same look and feel as the USOC primary Web site.
“Running on Domino makes it easy to do development on an AS/400 and then run the applications on Intel,” Hedgeman days. “Domino is Domino, no matter which platforms are involved.”
The initial implementation was not without its hang nails and cow licks. “We initially tried to set up kNEWS using our in-house intranet server.” Hedgeman explains. “That wasn’t effective in handling outside requests. So we moved it to our external Internet server, so that everyone inside and outside our organization could access the software and get to the publication.”
There were some minor configuration issues that were worked with Gallatin, but internally the process of converting from a printed version of the newsletter to the electronic version was slow. Almost everyone who had a hand in the newsletter production had to learn a new way of handling graphics and content. Those things don’t happen automatically, and because the newsletter is a quarterly publication it only allows people to be working within the process on an infrequent basis. When three months pass between publication dates, some of the lessons learned are forgotten. The more times through the process, Hedgeman says, the more efficient people become and the better the product becomes.
USOC contracts with Gallatin to put together the final version of the newsletter and the Web magazine. Gallatin does some testing, and its people deal with the subscription list changes and handle e-mail routing to the 4,600 subscribers.
Hedgeman describes the functionality of kNEWS as “transparent to me.” His biggest involvement now is when a new release of kNEWS comes out. “I want to know what the new features are and what issues I might have during the upgrade,” he says. “Gallatin sets up Web-based demonstrations, so I can get a focused view of what’s involved.”
“The product upgrades take very little time, maybe an hour or two. The Web demo of the upgrade changes takes 30 minutes. I take about an hour to plan it with the software developer, who actually does the installation, and then I do some follow-up.”
He says that, because it’s a Notes database, the upgrade involves taking a ZIP file from Gallatin, unzipping it, and pulling out the four or five databases that are being updated, and using those to refresh the design of the development template. They test the new features, then move it over to production. That process might require three to four hours of work.