A common type of project we handle is content management system (CMS) implementations. We have experience with a variety of third party CMS products (e.g., SharePoint, Ektron, Sitecore, Adobe CQ, Vignette, Kentico). One thing often overlooked is the opportunity for multi-channel or offline delivery.
Even if the primary focus of the project is on web delivery, which modern CMSs do very well, CMS implementations should at least consider the possibility of managing offline content as well. Some CMSs have inherent capabilities or additional plugins allowing an even tighter integration between online and offline delivery. For example, Sitecore’s Adaptive Print studio integrates with Adobe InDesign to extract content in the Sitecore CMS to create offline print materials. Furthermore, most CMSs will expose any content via an API or web service layer, which allows developers to write custom code to extract content from the CMS and manipulate it for other applications.
On a recent project for a large health insurance provider, we worked with one particular CMS, Sitecore (www.sitecore.net). Sitecore has a good balance between ease of use in the editing environment and a flexible API and development platform. The overarching project included a complete site redesign, with modular components allowing content authors to build out site pages using either the admin console or an in-context “live” view. As with any CMS implementation, it put the main content authoring responsibility in the hands of the marketing department, rather than the IT department.
What made this project unique was a particular section of the site called the “Provider Manual”. The Provider Manual contains complete information for providers on their responsibilities and contractual obligations when working with the company’s health insurance plans. The information-packed document is a whopping 500+ pages long, separated into chapters and sections. Previously, the content was updated manually, requiring a new PDF to be generated whenever changes were made, with proper documentation and archiving in case an audit trail was needed. Furthermore, it was near impossible to keep providers notified of changes relevant to them, and updates could only be distributed by resending/downloading the PDF file, since the information was not available or searchable online.
In order to solve these challenges, we first ported the provider manual to a web interface, improving the experience on many facets:
- With the entire manual in web format, it improved the user experience with a navigable interface by chapter, section, and subsection.
- All information in the Provider Manual is now driven by the CMS, thus the owners of the manual’s content can make updates as often as they like, using a regular rich text editor.
- Providers can subscribe to specific sections of the manual, and receive automatic email notifications whenever a particular section is updated. Subscriptions are stored within the CMS, and a secure process allows providers to manage their subscriptions without requiring them to login.
- The entire online experience was further exposed through a robust search interface, including results preview, category and keyword filtering, and type-ahead auto-complete against a provided list of suggested search terms and common misspellings.
Most importantly, we also used this same CMS-driven content to dynamically generate a downloadable PDF version of the manual. Using a 3rd party software package called ABCpdf (www.websupergoo.com) combined with Sitecore’s API, we read the content from the CMS and then generate the PDF asynchronously via a windows service and web services. The table of contents, for each chapter and the entire document, is also regenerated each time to reflect any new content.
The end result is that updates to the web content are simultaneously queued to update the offline PDF version. This also provides an audit trail for regulatory purposes by archiving previous versions. This “update once, viewable everywhere” approach to content management reduces the manual overhead associated with delivering business-critical content updates to multiple channels.