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Nick O'Connor
Nick O'Connor
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Ektron Powers Penn National Intranet

Ektron's CMS400.NET system allows Penn National to maintain a continuous flow of content on the carrier's intranet and extranet, both for routine use and crisis communications.

Penn National ($1.3 billion in total assets) knows that communicating effectively with customers and agents is critical for success. But keeping employees informed can be just as important. Back in 1995, to facilitate enterprisewide communication, using Microsoft's (Redmond, Wash.) FrontPage, the Harrisburg, Pa.-based P&C insurer launched an intranet dedicated to employee services.

According to Kevin Kauffman, Penn National's senior application development specialist, the carrier assigned Web content management to various managers and supervisors across the company. "FrontPage was dropped on them," he says, noting that the Web site administration tool had a steep learning curve. "The system ground to a halt under the weight of trying to teach nontechnical people FrontPage. ... It was very inefficient, and we were taking people who had important, pressing customer service duties and asking them to manage the intranet on the side. It just didn't work."

So in 2001, Penn National redesigned its corporate intranet, choosing Nashua, N.H.-based Ektron's CMS200 content management system. "We wanted a solution consistent across the company that all employees could use to maintain and update intranet content," Kauffman explains. "We researched several vendor products. Based on price, functionality, scalability and technology used, we chose the CMS200." The biggest challenge, he adds, "was converting existing content, all of it in physical documents, to the CMS200's dynamic content." Since the carrier already supported Web sites developed with Microsoft's ASP (active server pages) technology using SQL 2000, no new hardware or software was required, Kauffman notes.

After Microsoft rolled out its .NET technologies in 2003, Ektron introduced a .NET version of its system, Kauffman recalls. "So in spring 2004, we moved to CMS400.NET," he says. The change gave users the ability to interactively alter content at the time of access and use, Kauffman explains, adding that Penn National manages all of its intranet content, as well as sections of its corporate Web site and extranet, through the CMS400.NET tool.

The carrier upgraded to version 6.1 in early 2007. The latest release incorporates the technologies of .NET Framework 2.0 and SQL 2005. "Contrasted with bottlenecks in the previous version resulting from the way it was architected, version 6.1 has drastically improved performance and scalability of the system," says Kauffman. "Very little coding was required. The biggest challenge was upgrading the database structure and data -- training consisted only of updates to our internal training manual."

The CMS400.NET application offers a what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) editor for writing, adding and correcting Web content, according to Kauffman, who says manipulating content is similar to editing a Microsoft Word document. The solution also features a taxonomy directory control that applies content to a hierarchical navigation structure. Though IT controls site design changes and access issues, any authorized user can add content.

"The enterprisewide reach and control of the CMS400.NET system allows us to easily manage content across our intranet and extranet. It gives us a powerful crisis communications tool that allows immediate publication of emergency alerts on our sites," Kauffman relates. "I can't imagine how we could perform at the levels we do today without this system, and we certainly couldn't assure our customers of a continuous flow of information -- even following a catastrophe -- without it."

Penn National Insurance (Harrisburg, Pa.; $1.3 billion in assets)

Lines of business:
Property-casualty insurance; surety bonds.

Ektron (Nashua, N.H.) CMS400.NET content management system.

Implement a user-friendly content management system to empower employees to create and edit online content.

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