How we built CenturyLink’s award-winning Business Markets Intranet: A Q&A with UpTop’s development team

In 2011, CenturyLink came to UpTop with a seemingly simple, but truly complex question: Can you help us fix our corporate intranet that serves our Business Markets Group?

We sat down recently for a quick Q&A session with VP of Account Services Rick Wangen and Lead Front End Developer Rhia Bucklin, who were part of the UpTop development team that overhauled CenturyLink’s BMI site.As one of the largest integrated telecommunications companies in the United States, CenturyLink provides a variety of services to millions of business customers. Thousands of CenturyLink employees rely on the Business Markets Intranet (BMI) as a business-critical source of up-to-date information, materials and data that enable them to provide outstanding services for their enterprise clients.

Q: What makes the Business Markets Intranet so important to CenturyLink’s business markets customer service staff?

Rick: Like most telecoms, CenturyLink is a sprawling company. It provides and manages more than 13 million access lines in 37 states, serves nearly six million broadband customers and operates more than 50 data centers in North America, Europe and Asia. Many of these customers are serviced by the Business Markets Group, so it’s essential that the members of the CenturyLink team can easily access current, topical information in order to provide the best service to their customers.

Q: CenturyLink already had an intranet in place when you took on the project. What was needed when the UpTop team came on board?

Rick: The existing BMI was outdated and lacked an intuitive way to update content. Information was scattered across nearly 1,300 pages, and the site had broken links, outdated documents and redundant content. The intranet is an essential employee resource for CenturyLink, but its inconsistent information architecture and outdated user experience made it difficult to use.

Q: That sounds like a big challenge. What was UpTop asked to do?

Rick: We were tasked with redeveloping the intranet portal and making it easy to use and maintain. We looked into several off-the-shelf content management systems (CMS) but they would have been expensive to purchase, license, maintain and customize to meet CenturyLink’s needs. Working with the CenturyLink team, we decided that the best approach was building a custom content management system (CMS) in Ruby, an open-source programming language.

Q: What are some of your favorite features in the new BMI?

Rhia: Well, a truly powerful feature is the ability to relate different types of content to each other and to individual users. For example, a product page provides pertinent product information and files, shows what promotions are available, lists the need-to-know news to stay current, and automatically links to other pages that will help sell the product. It even shows what people are saying on Salesforce Chatter, the internal social network, about the product.

Q: Anything else?

Rhia: There are lots of great features, but one that CenturyLink really likes is the BMI’s powerful administrative tool set that enables administrators to track what’s popular, who’s clicking on what (and how they get there), what’s being downloaded, and what’s getting missed. That way, the BMI can be specifically tuned and customized to meet the needs of the users.

Q: What are the advantages of building a CMS like this one using open-source rather than an off-the-shelf solution?

Rhia: There are lots of advantages and chief among them are upgrades and maintenance. By building the CMS in Ruby, we’ve been able to continually adapt CenturyLink’s BMI to meet the needs of the business without purchasing expensive software upgrades and licensing fees.

Q: What kind of recognition and feedback have you received about the CenturyLink BMI?

Rick: First and foremost, the folks at CenturyLink are thrilled with BMI and the results it delivers for their team and their customers. That’s the best feedback we could ask for. Of course, when the Nielsen Norman Group, a leading voice in the user experience field, recognized BMI as one of the world’s 10 best intranet sites for 2012, that was pretty good, too.

For a video tour of CenturyLink’s Business Markets Intranet, please click here.

Rick Wangen, co-founder and VP of Account Services at UpTop can be reached at rwangen@uptopcorp.com. Get in touch with Rhia Bucklin, a senior front-end developer at UpTop, via rbucklin@uptopcorp.com.