Team digs in to get control of Web site content

Who's in charge

Robert L. Otto

Vice President, Chief Technology Officer

Gary Wetherington

Manager, Business Solution Services, Raleigh, N.C.

Peter Myo Khin

Manager, Corporate Information Security, Washington

T. Wayne Grimes

Manager, Customer Care Operations, Raleigh, N.C.

Larry Wills

Distributed Computing Environment, Raleigh, N.C.

George Wright

Manager, USPS Systems Portfolio/Customer Owner, Washington

Joseph Gabris

Manager, IT Computing Services, Washington

Richard Lena

Manager, Host Computing Services, Minneapolis

Deborah Judy

Manager, IT Value/Business Investments, Washington

Suzanne Neat

Manager, Technology Planning, Policy and Communications, Washington

Top 10 IT contractors

Hewlett-Packard Co.

Northrop Grumman Corp.

SAP America Inc.

Oracle Corp.

Accenture Ltd.

IBM Corp.

NCR Corp.

MCI Communications Corp.

Lockheed Martin Corp.

Johnson McLamb Computing Services

Source: USPS

David West (left) and Pete Stark sifted through 11 years of Web pages to revise the USPS portal.

Rick Steele

For Pete Stark and David West, revising the Postal Service's intranet was like going on an archaeological dig. The trip they and other members of the USPS IT staff took was more about recovery than discovery.

As they sifted through layers of Web pages and applications, Stark and West found sites dating back as far as 11 years.

'We had hundreds of different pages and no management or control of them,' said West, the manger of employee publications in the Postal Service's Office of Public Affairs and Communications. 'We realized we needed structure or mechanism so employees can put information on the intranet and Internet sites in a standardized way.'

This was especially the case for its intranet and extranet portals, Blue and Lite Blue. Blue gives more than 200,000 employees the latest business and human resources information about the organization. Lite Blue provides information on career development, revenue and service performance, products, recognition and other topics to about 700,000 users in 80 districts around the country and at USPS headquarters.

Stark, USPS' manager for corporate business systems solutions, said he had an epiphany after giving Education Department officials an online tour of the intranet.

'They said we had a lot of good information and I said we do, but it kept coming back to my mind that while we did have good information, we did a good job of burying it,' Stark said. 'Our forms, applications, links were all there, but scattered throughout the sites. We had no control of the site; we had drop-down menus that didn't work. We had to do something to increase the value of the sites to our employees.'

An intra-agency group, led by West and Stark, of human resources, communications and IT professionals decided to use a content management system to improve the site by making it easier to find information and put new data or sites online in a matter of minutes.

Stark's office, along with integration contractor IBM Corp., implemented TeamSite Content Management software from Interwoven Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif. The application runs on Sun Microsystem's Solaris 9 servers in USPS' Eagan, Minn., data center.

'Now we have tens of thousands of pages under control,' Stark said. 'The sites are better organized, employees can find information more easily, and content managers can update pages using a standard template that ensures a consistent look and feel.'

Taking inventory

The first step toward controlling their Web content was to create an inventory of what was on the sites, Stark said.

Using LinkScan software from the Electronic Software Publishing Corp. of San Jose, Calif., Postal Service workers spent months categorizing and grouping pages into the work, home or life sections of Blue and Lite Blue.

'We found stuff we could get rid of and pages from people that had left the Postal Service seven years ago,' Stark said.

After separating the Web pages into the categories, the IT office developed templates for content managers. Now USPS has 12 templates for Blue and 18 for Lite Blue. And content managers can create content once and push it to both sites. This function especially helps Web developers in Stark's office.

'Before this, everyone had to come to the IT shop and we would look to make sure the HTML was right and then we would send it down to production,' Stark said. 'We acted like gatekeepers and now we are not in that business anymore. Now technical people can do more technical work.'

West said USPS established a content control board to decide what is featured most prominently on the sites, and make design and other administrative decisions.

The TeamSite application also stores each version of a Web page, which helps with privacy and security concerns as well as managing records.

Stark said there was a little push back from content managers, who feared they were losing control of their pages or those that wanted to continue to write code.

'Once the new structure was up, people liked it and were coming to us to ask to use it,' West said. 'They liked the design that didn't rely so much on buttons anymore.'

Stark said the Postal Service will add a single-sign-on capability for employees using Blue by mid-summer.

'The new content management system was like going from DOS to Windows,' West said. 'We could do different headline sizes and fonts, use larger or smaller photos and change background colors.'

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