Best known as a method for personal web loggers to syndicate content, RSS feeds have evolved into an integral way to disseminate mission-critical information at Triple Point Technology Inc. Using a combination of Web-based technologies and Microsoft Corp.s Outlook e-mail client, Triple Point, of Westport, Conn., was able to leverage Resource Description Framework Site Summary feeds that enable users to access real-time reports from closed enterprise applications. Triple Point develops and manages commodity trading platforms for energy, power and financial services companies.
Allie Rogers, the companys chief technology officer, said collaboration among product development teams has increased dramatically, enabling the company to efficiently meet product cycle dates. An estimated 75 percent of Triple Points work force subscribes to at least one internal RSS feed, Rogers said.
"I wanted to try to improve the information flow between individuals and between project teams and departments," Rogers said. "We dont have an unlimited budget and have to do things on the cheap. Because we could leverage applications we already have in place, RSS was a great way to meet our needs."
Like Triple Point, an increasing number of corporations are using RSS feeds as a way to distribute information internally and externally. RSS stability and wide acceptance has made it an economical way to disseminate content. Both Microsoft and Cisco Systems Inc., for example, release security and update bulletins as RSS feeds.
RSS (also known as Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication) is a lightweight XML format for syndicating Web content and is often used for syndicating news and news-oriented information. Although commonly associated with blogs, the technology is now used for mission-critical functions at many enterprises.
Blogs were exactly how RSS came into use at Triple Point. The company relies heavily on individual mailboxes in Microsofts Exchange Server and Outlook. Rogers realized that although users spent a large portion of their day using Outlook, e-mail was not necessarily the most efficient way to communicate critical information as the company grew. Users complained that it was difficult to search for and to find archived information. Mailing lists were difficult to create and maintain as the company hired new employees.
Earlier this year, Rogers decided he needed a way for users to easily expose content. On a tight budget, he decided the most cost-effective solution would be to use the applications and tools in which his company had already invested. He also wanted to use open standards such as XML and HTML.
To jump-start collaboration, Rogers decided to create internal blogs using Movable Type, a Web-based publishing system from Six Apart Ltd., of San Francisco. He encouraged the companys development teams, for example, to use the blogs to post frequently asked questions, status reports, daily test results and design documentation.
Rogers also suggested that the sales force use blogs to keep everyone up-to-date on prospects, processes and prospective clients.
The content in those internal blogs is published using the RSS format, and updates are made available to users via NewsGator 1.3, a newsreader subscription tool from NewsGator Technologies, a division of Reinacker & Associates Inc., of Denver. NewsGator enables end users to subscribe to RSS feeds from the internal blogs and view new updates via their Outlook e-mail clients.
Triple Point also uses Microsofts SharePoint Portal Server 2003 for project management. Developers use the portal to collaborate on projects by uploading new documents and tracking change requests. As users became more familiar with RSS feeds, developers at the company wrote a module to publish RSS feeds off of the SharePoint portal.
As new documents are loaded onto the portal, the information is now cross-linked to a blog. Today, project leaders also publish new information on their blogs, then go to SharePoint and publish a link to what they published.
"Like many organizations, we have a variety of vertical systems that have developed and evolved. Some you build, and some you buy, but you need a way to cobble everything together," Rogers said. "RSS seemed to be the format of choice."
Coming off the success of the internal blogs, Rogers saw a way to use the subscription models to leverage the controlled systems that the company uses for quality assurance. Triple Point uses Borland Software Corp.s Borland StarTeam as its primary control system to manage the release and quality assurance processes. Because the StarTeam system is closed, however, it was difficult to extract the latest change-request lists or to be notified in real time of any new developments.
Using StarTeams API, developers at Triple Point mined data from the application and then used Perl to transform the data into XML-based RSS feeds. Individuals then subscribed to those feeds using NewsGator and can now get instant updates in their Outlook in-boxes when aspects of projects change.
Rogers said it would have made sense to use portal software such as SharePoint rather than RSS feeds to disseminate information, but he said it all comes down to cost. Licensing costs for new software would have been prohibitive. And RSS enabled Rogers to use open standards, whereas using proprietary tools would have locked him in to a particular program, something he wanted to avoid.
"Cost was really important to us but so was keeping with open standards," Rogers said. "If we ever become disenchanted with NewsGator, for example, we wont lose our investment. We could use a number of Web log aggregators."
Rogers is investigating the viability of tying Triple Points sales force automation system, from Salesforce.com Inc., to RSS feeds. He is also looking to do the same with the companys proprietary human resources applications.
Rogers said he would like to re-engineer a support portal thats used by external customers using RSS technologies. Although a Web-enabled customer site would be a $100,000 investment, Rogers said he thinks he can leverage what hes learned from RSS to build an alternate solution more cost-effectively.
"Id like to work with a lot of new products, but we have budget restrictions," Rogers said. "We have to do things on the cheap with respect to our internal systems, and you dont get cheaper than free."
Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.