Running smarter means hitting the ground running for Minneapolis, Minnesota’s Star Tribune
Newspapers are used to working on tight deadlines, but nothing could have prepared 2008 Run Smarter Award winners The Star Tribune for the time-crunch the Minneapolis newspaper faced when it needed to replace its legacy document imaging system—one with no support or upgrade path—with one that could migrate massive databases from shared servers in less than a year.
On December 26, 2006, it was announced that the Star Tribune’s corporate parent, McClatchy, had sold the newspaper effective March 7, 2007. With the sale, says Star Tribune Software Engineer Corrie Kuester, came a provision that the paper had just one year (now ticking down to nine months from the time of the announcement) to pull and replace all its legacy data and bolt-on financial systems from McClatchy. One of these systems was the Bluebird imaging software utilized by the Star Tribune’s Asset Management, Accounts Payable, and Travel & Expense systems.
IT staff had to move fast, narrowing their choices down within just two months. Finally, they chose Laserfiche, for two main reasons: cost and support.
First, there was the immediate value-added benefit that Laserfiche was less expensive than the competition. “We decided on Laserfiche mostly because of cost,” Kuester admits. But he’s quick to add that facing such a quick turnaround schedule, the Star Tribune needed ambitious and experienced help integrating with their existing systems.
“Our decision was also based on the fact that our local Laserfiche reseller Solbrekk had experience implementing document imaging with PeopleSoft financials,” he explains. “Plus they had a willingness to explore RightFax as a data collection vehicle for our Travel & Expense and Asset Management systems.”
Utilizing RightFax was critical to the Star Tribune, Kuester says, since its legacy workflow systems had heavily relied on RightFax for document collection, leftover from McClatchy’s nationwide presence.
“We needed an imaging partner that would work with us to ‘lift and load’ our existing processes from McClatchy and yet make our tight six-month implementation schedule without having to re-invent processing workflows,” he says.
The mid-August deadline to “lift and load” meant Kuester’s team had less than nine months to re-install the Star Tribune’s PeopleSoft HR and financial applications along with the associated bolt-on systems that had been developed over the previous 10 years. The newspaper, remember, had agreed to be off McClatchy’s system within a year.
IT staff partnered with Oracle to strip the legacy systems and re-load the Star Tribune data into their newly acquired systems.
Where most Laserfiche users sing the praises of patient, phase-wise implementation gradually expanded over time from office to office or department to department, The Star Tribune didn’t have that luxury.
“Since all our data needed to be pulled all at once, our approach wasn’t focused on phases or how many people at a time, but how we could pull our data and insure we got it all,” Kuester says, “as well as assuring the knowledge transfer of the custom bolt-on systems that McClatchy had developed.”
The challenge they faced now was where they could store their data, since the Star Tribune’s new servers and databases wouldn’t be ready for the initial testing phases. And here’s where the Star Tribune’s new Laserfiche system really started to shine.
In the past, Kuester relays, any PeopleSoft upgrade at McClatchy was always hindered with the fact that Bluebird could only be linked to a production server, which negated proper testing. Oracle had supplied Star Tribune IT staff with a lab environment to make multiple passes of extracting and loading data while the servers and databases were being installed, but the lab didn’t allow for testing the newspaper’s newly-acquired Laserfiche imaging processes.
Running smarter now meant the Star Tribune needed to use Laserfiche to hit the ground running.
“We opted to convert Bluebird to Laserfiche concurrent with performing multiple data extraction passes on our legacy data. Once the Bluebird data was converted to the Laserfiche server and test databases were built, then staff could test the imaging processes and their interaction with PeopleSoft,” says Kuester.
“It was Laserfiche’s search mechanism for retrieving documents from the image repository that now allowed us to access images from both our production and test databases,” he adds. This allowed the Star Tribune to test its workflow, document scanning, retrieval and custom coding changes in a test PeopleSoft environment without affecting the lab environment being utilized for its ‘lift and load’ testing.
“Basically, because of Laserfiche’s search function, we could develop the new custom code for linking Laserfiche to PeopleSoft in a separate database and could apply them to production after our final conversion, knowing there would be none of the test-versus-production problems we experienced with Bluebird,” Kuester says.
And then a funny thing happened on Star Tribune’s way to becoming a Run Smarter winner: the August deadline was not only met, but during the migration process over 25,000 missing files were found. “My best guess is that they were files that were stored in Bluebird but were not linked to PeopleSoft due to business rules,” Kuester proffers. “Because they were not visible to PeopleSoft, they really were not accessible—but now they are right there in Laserfiche.”
Since then, the integration has been seamless, due in no small part of Laserfiche. Here’s how it works. Database fields in Oracle and SQL associate a PeopleSoft record with a Laserfiche document. By integrating PeopleSoft, RightFax, Oracle and Laserfiche, the Star Tribune is also able to automate workflow, such that, say, an expense report entered in PeopleSoft has a barcode, which RightFax sends to a network folder where Laserfiche Quick Agent recognizes the barcode, files the receipt in Laserfiche and then notifies PeopleSoft that the expense can be reimbursed.
What started as an Accounts Payable solution is now being used by Circulation, HR, Asset Management and Interactive Media, with Laserfiche Records Manager on deck to manage contracts for the entire company.
“We’re still using Laserfiche within a departmental structure, with each department managing their own records’ life cycle,” Kuester adds. “We’ll be looking at Records Management Edition as we roll out Laserfiche to more departments.”
Though the Star Tribune’s story is hardly a typical one, Kuester agrees Laserfiche more than earned its keep in the effort.
“We’d recommend Laserfiche to other organizations. It’s very easy to learn how to use Laserfiche with a minimal amount of training,” he says. Owing to the particular integrations and migrations, he also sings the praises of a hand-on reseller like Solbrekk.
“We were very impressed with the amount of support we received from Solbrekk during our conversion that allowed us to make our implementation date,” Kuester says. “Their experience with PeopleSoft in prior conversions meant they could give us all the help we needed to code the retrieval of images from within PeopleSoft.”
Still, despite the success making its implementation date, Laserfiche’s ongoing value to the Star Tribune is empowering its staff.
“Once people have an opportunity to see what some of the capabilities are, they are excited to begin using Laserfiche,” says Kuester. “Because it is easy to learn, users have found that they can become productive in a very short time.”