The national press release wire has some news of its own this year: it has completed an upgrade from legacy computer systems to an integrated content management system that will manage virtually all aspects of the process of formatting and distributing its clients’ press releases to Canadian newsrooms.

CNW Group – founded in 1960 as Canada Newswire and now jointly owned by its U.S. counterpart PR Newswire and Britain’s PA Group – distributes about 120,000 press releases annually for some 10,000 organizations in both official languages. A couple of years ago, CNW management realized aging software systems were hampering the company’s ability to keep those customers happy.

“We had a number of different systems that were actually acting in isolation and we didn’t have the ability to integrate them,” said Melanie Kurzuk, senior vice-president of news and information technology at CNW.

CNW knew from ongoing customer satisfaction surveys that its clients care most about two things. They want their press releases to go out on the wire as quickly as possible, and they want them to be accurate.

The old systems were getting in the way of both those objectives, Kurzuk said. They weren’t as efficient as they needed to be, and they required manual processing steps that created opportunities for errors to be introduced.

“We knew that we had to hit those points in our new system,” Kurzuk said.

When a client issues a press release, CNW first needs to create a work order. The text of the release – prepared by the client – has to be formatted according to accepted standards. The release must be directed to the appropriate network (for instance, CNW operates a French-language service, CNW Telbec, in Quebec). And the company needs to keep monthly statistics.

CNW defined its requirements in the fall of 2004, and issued a request for proposal in the summer of 2005. After narrowing down the proposals to a short list of three, the company settled on Livelink ECM, from Open Text Corp. in Toronto. Livelink ECM was chosen because it could manage all CNW’s client information, provided the work-order component and work-flow engine the company needed and had the management and statistics components. “This is what we like about Livelink,” Kurzuk said. “It has so many applications across our organization.”

John Wilkerson, Open Text’s executive vice-president of global sales and service, said customers “need a comprehensive architecture that allow the ability to additional capability as it becomes available in the marketplace.” They need to be able to tie in components from other sources, as CNW has linked Livelink ECM to its existing database software.

So Open Text uses a modular, enterprise software bus approach with an enterprise library and application programming interfaces (APIs) designed to help its customers and partners customize the software to meet different needs, he said.

A key challenge was training. Kurzuk said CNW had to train 120 people in two operations centres on the new system, a process that took a couple of months. The new system went live on March 1, she said, and by the end of June all the staff were fully trained.

Getting people who were used to the legacy system comfortable with its replacement wasn’t easy at first, Kurzuk said, but “now that they’re on the new system, in a very short period of time you could never even contemplate going back.”

Secrets of success included doing the training in house, which made employees more comfortable, and using a certificate-based system – once employees completed training on the new system they were given certificates and new job titles.

The transition was completed in the spring, Kurzuk said, and Livelink ECM is now the core platform for CNW’s operations.

With all press releases now going through the Livelink system, CNW plans over the next six months or so to move its other lines of business, including photos, translation, Webcasts and regulatory filing, onto the system as well.

The terms of the contract weren’t disclosed, but Wilkerson said it is a significant deal for Open Text.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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