Case Studies

DODS

DODS is a political information, publishing, events and communications business operating in both the UK and Europe. They specialise in providing services designed for organisations wishing to understand and engage with Parliament, the Civil Service, the wider public sector and the public affairs community. DODS deliver a range of services including information, monitoring, training, events and integrated communications.

Dods, Video Case Study from Ixxus on Vimeo.

They have a long and successful history built upon providing contact and biographical information about and to the Houses of Parliament and the Civil Service since 1832. Renowned for the quality, accuracy and relevance of the political information it provides, DODS is one of the oldest political publishing houses, offering some of the most regarded and respected political titles globally.

Business Challenges

DODS had grown organically and by various acquisitions and new product launches, all of which had been contained within their own silos. It became apparent that changes to the publishing infrastructure were essential in order to move the business forward. There were several different content management systems for the ten different websites within the organisation, but none of which communicated to share data.

Increasingly, clients wanted DODS to link their information and combine the content supplied by their silo services, but this required difficult and complex integrations between products. Furthermore, due to the number of different technologies in use, development cycles were taking up to one year and taking new products to market became a very long, drawn-out process.

DODS realised this was unsustainable and decided to invest in a more holistic approach. They initiated a project to consolidate the different content management systems and integrate content, which in turn would:

  • Enhance the user experience for their clients
  • Enrich their existing services
  • Improve their ability to launch new product quickly
  • Increase their subscription renewal rates
  • Speed up their setup of trial services
  • Enhance the performance, reliability and maintainability of their systems

 

After undertaking extensive research, DODS decided that where possible open source was the correct path to take for a content management system, and while budget was a factor, it was not the deciding one when choosing which product. Their requirement for linking data more effectively led them to decide on an XML repository as the best data store integrated with an enterprise content management system, and so Alfresco and MarkLogic were selected as front runners. DODS then met partners of those organisations, and Ixxus was selected as DODS’ chosen systems integrator and technology partner as it was felt that there was an obvious cultural fit, and that Ixxus clearly understood DODS’ needs.

The Ixxus Approach

Ixxus spent a significant amount of vital time up-front with DODS, developing their ‘ideal world’ vision, ascertaining their current challenges, and defining the strategy DODS would need to implement in order to meet both their own internal needs, and those of their clients. Ixxus and DODS then devised the perfect architecture to fulfil those requirements, and created a transition plan to implement this in the most cost effective way without disrupting the core business, and whilst developing and launching new products along the way. This commenced with a small product launch which would put in place some of the foundations that would take DODS to their dream architecture and ‘ideal world’ position.

The augmentation of Ixxus staff with those in the DODS internal IT department worked extremely well. Ixxus quickly grasped the DODS business needs and have since also been able to successfully transfer knowledge to the DODS internal team.

An agile strategy was introduced for this project which involved frequent releases, continual integration, ongoing client involvement, iterative functional deliveries, and regular requirements reviews. Trust built early on ensured that Ixxus consultants and DODS staff have continued to work together closely with daily communications in small sprint cycle teams.

This way of working has enabled the timely construction of the following platform, initially through three development phases:

Phase 1

Installed the foundation software products and used them to develop a replacement for DODS’ existing Training Journal website. This was successfully launched in the summer.

ixxus--dods-training-journal

Phase 2

Started immediately afterwards and has extended the platform through the development of a Legislation Tracker site, a new product which enables subscribers to monitor UK Bills of interest. This was launched on March 17, 2011.

ixxus--dods-bills-in-parliament

Phase 3

Development has recently begun on the expansion of an existing product fulfilled by DODS’ Brussels office for their EU subscribers.

The Solution

The DODS solution is deployed as a multi-tier architecture which can support multiple websites. At its heart is an integration coupling of Alfresco and MarkLogic which combines Content Management with Unstructured Search to realise a powerful publishing platform.

ixxus-the-dods-solution

Editorial Tier

The Dods solution has been developed as a set of core bespoke services, built above the Foundation Services within Alfresco Enterprise v3.2.0 (r 416). Spring configuration allows for easy replacement of components and services, enhancing both testability and extension.

ixxus-editorial-tier

This architecture provides the following capabilities:

  • Content Ingestion: A custom Form Service built on top of the Alfresco Webscript framework handles incoming data over HTTP(s) and delegates node and metadata construction to appropriate handlers.
  • Content Creation and Association: Editors use both OOB and custom presentation templates and scripts to create custom content.
  • Content Transformation: A custom Transformation Service converts from the Node/Property/Association model used by Alfresco into XML using the Streaming API for XML (StAX).
  • Content Workflow: JBPM is used to model the content lifecycle until publication
  • Content Publication: The managed content stored within Alfresco is transformed into a rich XML format, published into MarkLogic via the Ixxus Publishing Connector which offers:
    • A Publication Service that synchronises data between the Master Alfresco repository and the MarkLogic data repository. This service controls writes, updates, moves and deletes between the two systems
    • A Notification Service that sends events e.g. Document Published / Unpublished, to any number of HTTP(s) endpoints. This service is used for synchronising static content associated with a published article and for cache busting at the presentation tier.

Editorial Features

Convention-based article structures

Creation and location of the editorial content associated with various article types has been greatly simplified via the creation of “Content Containers” which are tree structures with pre-build content and space types which are configurable on a per-type basis. Whilst traditional search and associate functions are still supported within the CMS the convention-based approach eases the 90% of editorial functions that the content creator faces.

By making an “article” a composite structure we allow for rich editing for various aspects of an article allow XHTML to be used for e.g. Summary, Description etc… as well as the article body.

  • Location-aware Content Creation Wizards
  • Rules are used both to guide editors and assist with coherent content situation by providing specific content creation wizards depending on the user’s current location within the CMS.
  • Multi-Tenancy
  • Multiple websites can be administered from a single installation.
  • Taxonomy
  • Content can be tagged using Alfresco categories which are made available for search at publication time.
  • Simplified Security
  • A simple security model removes administrative complexity and provides a unified solution across websites.
  • Forums
  • Forums can be added to any website with creation and moderation managed via the CMS.
  • Content Moderation
  • Content moderation for articles is controlled via workflows ensuring that user submitted content is validated prior to publication.
  • Content Protection
  • The ability to mark content as protected ensures that only summary content is visible to the end-user. This feature can be used where content subscription is required.

Data Services Tier

This is deployed on MarkLogic 4.1 as a custom XQuery application built using custom MarkLogic extensions to provide the following:

  • Transformation and Aggregation – Custom queries build new content structures based on requests which are transformed into a suitable format for the Presentation Tier.
  • Search – A custom Enterprise search application developed using the MarkLogic Search APIs.

Presentation Tier

A custom framework allows for rapid modular development of websites. Each page is built from a library of standard and bespoke components that can be easily configured for each page controller. This allows great flexibility in how a website will look and behave.

A MVC pattern is used which allows for clean separation between the presentation and model:

Model
A flexible XML data model is defined to allow rapid development of websites using a standard document structure which can then be extended to include domain specific data for each type of document such as a parliamentary Bill or a blog entry. XSDs are used to validate and ensure consistency of the model.

View
XSLT is used to provide the separation between the rendition and the content model. This provides a powerful mechanism for robust markup reuse for components and controllers.

Controller
PHP is used to control the page life-cycle, controller level user authentication and a host of other features such as session management. An abstracted service tier is used to retrieve data from various sources including the deployed Mark Logic data services tier and MySQL. This can easily be configured to use mock services which allow the presentation tier to be developed independently (and in advance) to the back-end services. This can be useful for many purposes such as creating a production quality demo/prototype that can be used for user testing or requirements confirmation.

Outcome and Future Objectives
This dream architecture will allow DODS to release more value from their information by enabling them to:

  • Gather it from “unlimited” sources – internal and external
  • Enrich it through multi-layered classification, entity extraction, geo & date tagging and the use of further meta data
  • Integrate it in one place, using one taxonomy and one set of controlled vocabularies
  • Use tools to query it by any dimension
  • Deliver it to any channel by separating content from format and structure
  • Analyze it in a multitude of ways
  • Contextualize and scale it for new markets

DODS future objective is to be in a position where all their content is all in one place and accessible to all internal staff and clients alike. The infrastructure should allow them to develop new products quickly; test the market with them; tweak and fine tune them, and so become far more responsive to their clients’ needs. They are now well on their way to achieving this objective and are working on a plan to migrate across all their legacy systems throughout 2011.

Date Published : 23rd of October 2014