Christian Science Monitor seeks closer technology relationships

Traditional, proprietary software couldn't support an entrepreneurial approach to IT

The Christian Science Monitor for the past nine years has been saddled with an inflexible content management system that makes it difficult to modify the newspaper’s Web site or deliver content to new devices, such as smartphones. That tool is emblematic of what Curt Edge sees as a larger issue at the First Church of Christ, Scientist, which publishes the Monitor in newspaper and online editions.

“I need to hire inventors, and I want to be partnered with groups that want to do the same thing. We need a culture that does that,” Edge says. That’s why Edge has pushed the use of open source technology at the church, including adopting the Alfresco content management system for the Monitor. He’s also made changes in his IT staff to ensure that the church’s in-house IT culture fits the open source culture. In the past 18 months, he’s had 60 percent turnover in his IT staff as he changes the culture to a more flexible, entrepreneurial -- even creative -- approach to technology development.

Although Edge is happy to use commercial software for established business practices, such as Oracle Financials for accounting, he does not want to be tied to a specific vendor’s approach for an emerging, core technology like content management. “When it comes to the Web, we’re still sorting out best practices,” he says.

Instead, Edge wants the broader collaboration fostered in an open source community. He feels that the open source methodology allows problems and opportunities alike to be identified quickly by people who can do something about them.

“I like the open source community because anyone at any level can talk,” Edge says. “I want my developers to talk with other developers, rather than with a help desk or a support organization. There’s a lot of benefit from a grassroots community figuring out what’s good for everyone.”

Although it started its Alfresco deployment last summer, the church has already submitted two code modules to Alfresco, which Edge hopes will be improved and extended by other members of the community. Edge plans to complete the Monitor’s transition to Alfresco by June.

Having his developers participate actively in the open source community has helped Edge find other organizations with similar needs. He hopes this will lead to faster development of the Alfresco platform to support the needs of publishers managing content across multiple media. His initial focus is on Web content management, but Edge says he’d love to see a system that allows flexible management of the same content for both print and online. The alternative is to continue using proprietary platforms, which he says require significant modification to print content for online use.

Edge sees open source as a way to bring more resources to bear on the development of content management systems, but he also likes that the open source model allows him to decide what technology to adopt and when. “You choose your path,” he says. “We want to build in a modular manner.”