Prisma IT Prisma IT

Dutch Railways (NS)

”Create once, publish everywhere"

NS ePublisher made by Prisma IT

Our Challenge

Realize a COPE (Create Once Publish Everywhere) solution to disseminate information and communications to a broad range of online and offline channels.

Our Approach

Prisma IT expanded the Alliant DXP platform to realize a scalable solution that not only meets today’s needs, but tomorrow’s as well.

The Result

Every day, over 200 editors use the Alliant platform to communicate with the NS’ various target audiences. Over 2 million messages annually! The Alliant platform API can publish to a wide range of channels: web, mobile, apps, Yammer and more.

Interesting fact

The Alliant platform automatically geocodes and channel codes all content. With this information, the platform can easily publish content to any desired channel.

Tech stack

Java based backend. REST API handles the content distribution to all channels.

Three principles – unity, simplicity, ownership

Manager Multichannel Edger Louwaard is not one to blow his own horn, but he is one of the driving forces behind NS’ digital communication revolution. “In 2010 or so, we tentatively concluded that the time was ripe to erase the strict boundaries between our internal and external communication platforms. It seemed logical from a technical perspective. For example, why would you want to continue using different content management systems for internal and external newsletters? The NS used a bunch of different CMS platforms at the time. This realization coincided with a senior management decision to adopt three new principles – unity, simplicity, ownership – which created an opportune moment to research if we could redesign our communications in a more effective and user friendly way.”

Very ambitious

“We set ourselves a stiff challenge. Corporate Communications wanted to communicate and publish everything from one central system, regardless the location and channel of dissemination. So we set out to realize a ‘create once, publish everywhere’ (COPE) content management pipeline. Regarding this purely from communications perspective, you’d never guess that this is actually a very tall demand. To tell a story, you use a limited set of building blocks such as text, images, audio and video. You want to combine these blocks in a certain way, in sequences that tell a story logically. Of course, the technological challenge to accomplish this is far from trivial. Every content type has its own set of attributes to consider. For example, video and text are encoded completely differently. And if you want to stream video, you’ll need to invest in bandwidth to improve your upload speeds. In 2011 COPE was still very ambitious!”

Prisma-IT the best suited

After some market research, it became evident that Prisma-IT was the company best equipped to take on this challenge. Louwaard: “They proposed a custom solution that was reminiscent of ‘traditional’ content management systems, but was in fact based on a different philosophy. Most platforms are built on the concept of hierarchy – think of websites with rigid navigation trees – but with NS ePublisher the content is unstructured. The great thing about this approach is that we can push all of our content to all of our different communication platforms. We have ‘standard’ channels such as Facebook and RSS, but we also operate a few NS-specific enterprise solutions, ranging from internal mobile applications and a customized Office365/SharePoint environment to over 100 narrowcasting video screens. This makes NS ePublisher an incredibly powerful tool that enables us to easily present – with open source! – exactly the right content, at the right time, to precisely the right target audience.”

A warranted ‘everybody can do it’ feeling

Even though NS ePublisher boasts a powerful and extensive feature set, it’s remarkably easy to use. “By design,” explains Louwaard. “The interface was kept very simple on purpose. We want our communications specialists to immerse themselves in their work and not in a user manual. It has an ‘everybody can do it’ feel that Ikea tries to give off, but without springing infernal instructions and an Allen wrench on you. We succeeded in making ePublisher feel like a browser. When you log in, you can instantly write an article, add content and publish to any platform you choose. It’s all very intuitive. Simply check the desired channels and retrieve content straight from the databases. And it only uses open standards – the Brightcove cloud solution for video for example – which avoids conflicts and, incidentally, licensing fees.”

Future-proof

Another advantage of the solution Prisma-IT developed, is that it’s future-proof. “With the possibilities offered by internet, communications initiatives have sprouted like mushrooms. We don’t latch onto every idea and hype, but it is important that a CMS can incorporate new distribution channel options. Suppose that Apple Watches or the Microsoft HoloLens become instant hits, you don’t want to spend a couple of years developing a means to reach these devices.” Remarkably, NS allows Prisma IT to market their custom-made solution to other customers. “They’ve already integrated it into their Alliant software suite. We gladly permit them to do this, because every new customer that uses this technology will have their own insights for further enhancements. The more customers, the better the product becomes. We also gain from that. Giving back to the development community. And benefiting.”

Rolling content

NS ePublisher is under continuous development, as the recent OBIS 2.0 pilot demonstrated. Louwaard: “This is a very exciting next step. We also want to use NS e-Publisher to publish content to in-train video screens. What makes this challenging, is that you need a dynamic playlist. When a train approaches a station, you have to interrupt the program to show travel information, for example to display transfer options. Or to broadcast an Amber alert, or a breaking news item. It takes complex algorithms to handle these contingencies. Also: when a train pulls in, we need to synchronize data in no time flat. Our current platform dates back to 2009 and isn’t up to this task. If you want to replace a video now, the turnaround time is measured in months! Eventually we intend to ‘feed’ about 5,600 ‘rolling screens’ with NS ePublisher. The preliminary test results are very encouraging. And I notice that we’re very much in the lead with our platform. We have the aviation sector interested, too. You might think they’d be ahead of us – planes have a more innovative image than trains – but we happened to reach this destination first!
 

About this client

With about 28,500 employees transporting over 2.3 million passengers per day (!), Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) is the undisputed king of the rails. NS is committed to keeping all of its employees and travelers informed non-stop, and invests heavily in perfecting its communication platforms to accomplish this goal. Since 2011, efforts to publish content platform-independently have clearly been on the right track …