A Case of Justice Served

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BEST PRACTICES SERIES

SOLUTION
In hindsight, Guzy says a confluence of factors made early 2005 the right time for a redesign. “In any leadership transition, everything is evaluated,” he explains. “You come in and inherit a lot of old systems. But we had a new attorney general who knew what he wanted to do. We also had a new CIO, George White, come on board that February. We had expressed to the transition team that the site needed some TLC, and the influx of new blood really gave us a chance to pursue the technology improvements we wanted.”

By late February, Guzy and White had begun looking at existing technology partners and at other products on the market, ultimately assembling a list of “heavy hitters” in the CMS space. “We had Vignette in,” Guzy recalls. “We looked at Microsoft Content Management Server, at BEA Systems and Plumtree Software, at a couple of vendors who had customized off-the-shelf products, but we weren’t satisfied with what we were seeing from a price and feature perspective.”

Enter Ektron, a company with which POAG had dealt previously. “George had tasked me with looking outside the traditional conglomerate box and finding a good tech partner,” Guzy says of the search process. “We had licensed Ektron’s eMPower intranet solution and were happy with it,” he adds. “So we started a discussion with them.”

Internal polling of staff, friends, and family members helped expand the list of weaknesses Guzy wanted a CMS-powered site to resolve. “We ultimately chose Ektron for a few reasons,” he says. “We knew we wanted to move away from ColdFusion and have a product that was .NET capable. We also wanted something that would be easy to integrate off the shelf and easy to use. Plus, when we talked to Ektron, we felt like a priority. We got immediate responses and a willingness on their part to refine their product to meet our needs.”

By early July 2005, POAG and Ektron had begun the deployment of a custom version of CMS400.NET, version 5.1. “We had some very specific requirements that the product didn’t do at the time—the email notification system, for example,” Guzy continues. “We also wanted to have built-in metadata—something not all CMSs had two years ago. Ektron was willing to put that in for us.”

For his part, Ektron COO Ed Rogers says the potential POAG partnership was “intriguing” because “Dennis had such a strong vision of what he was trying to accomplish. We realized other customers might be having the same problems POAG was having.” The collaboration, he adds, “gave us the opportunity to create, test, and refine a new feature and feel confident enough to roll it into the product. We’re always trying to figure out what people want their websites to do to ensure that CMS400.NET has practical use.”

Over the next 10 weeks, Ektron and POAG personnel redesigned the site, integrated the CMS, trained content contributors, and migrated 60,000 unique pages and 100,000 unique documents. “To do all of that in ten weeks—and to finish four days early, at that—is a real testament to the round-the-clock work that happened on both sides,” Guzy says.

THE OUTCOME
The new-and-improved www.attorneygeneral.gov launched on September 15, 2005. Tracking data compiled since then confirm its increased profile and usefulness. Within 30 days of the relaunch, for example, the site had risen from 13th to third in Google’s natural search rankings using the term “attorney general.” (As of April 2007, it had risen to second, ranking ahead of the United States Department of Justice’s Office of the Attorney General and behind the Office of the Attorney General of Texas.)

What’s more, thousands of Pennsylvania citizens have subscribed to Corbett’s email alerts, and the number of “legitimate visitors”—Guzy’s term for visitors who come to the site “knowing something about us and looking for something in particular”—has jumped from roughly 160,000 per day before the redesign to a daily average of 300,000. “Before, the average visitor would spend maybe two minutes on the site,” he explains. “Now, they’re averaging ten to fifteen minutes. That means they’re finding information and really using the site. We’re also seeing a huge number of repeat visitors, which is something we didn’t get a lot of before.”

The IT team is reaping the benefits too. “We used to have two people dedicated to the site, and I’d serve as the traffic cop to keep copy moving,” Guzy says. “Now, the site pretty much runs itself.”

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