Inside a law enforcement intranet

     Deputies, officers, clerks and volunteers all seem to have the same two questions when it comes to law enforcement paperwork. The first is, "Where do I find that form?" Which is immediately followed by, "Is this the most recent version of that...

     By the time the project scope was defined and development started, discussions were already taking place about additional functionality in future versions.

     A content management system (CMS) approach was selected as the development platform. Essentially, CMS is a way to deploy a Web site where several editors are contributing content, and a large number of files are made available to users. Generally, CMS applications can offer an all-in-one solution by providing a Web site, a calendar, forums and storage for classified materials and an image gallery. A CMS is well known in Web site-development circles and is offered in many forms. Of the CMS applications tested, including Joomla, Mambo, Drupal and TYPO3, Joomla was selected for its ease of content editing, user-friendly interface and verbose functionality.

     Linux was originally selected as the production operation system (O/S). From my experience and training, Linux can be obtained free, configured to be very secure, requires little in the way of a central processing unit (CPU) or memory resources, and runs well on Windows networks. However, one of the information technology (IT) managers noted that space was available on a Windows 2003 server, which meant that no additional expense would have to be incurred with another server. The developed O/S was Windows XP (my workstation). The applications used for this project included:

  • WAMP5 version 1.7.3 (Windows Apache Web server, MySQL DB, and PHP)
  • Joomla 1.0.13 (version 1.5 was in development at the time of the project)

     These applications are Open Source GPL license, making them free to use with copyright restrictions consideration. High consideration should be given to a Linux server running the Apache Web server application and native Linux CMS applications; they play well together and provide a very stable and cost effective intranet solution. The deployment cost for the sheriff's department intranet was zero dollars; buying Windows IIS (Web server application) and a retail version of a CMS would have cost at least $3,000 to $5,000.

     After the development site was complete, it was copied to the production server. Both the development and production servers were tested by first accessing them at each of the satellite locations, then opening a page and editing content, and then viewing the revised page. Access to the intranet can be made by Internet Protocol (IP) address or by domain name using the dynamic name server (DNS). Your IT department can configure the latter.

     After the design and development of this intranet was approved and produced, training commenced. Each division assigned two editors to attend an editor class — during normal work hours, to save on overtime. The training was held in the Technical Services Division classroom, which houses 12 workstations; the classroom was booked about one month in advance, and two days were selected. Classes were five hours long, with a limit of 12 students per day. The importance of the selection of the editors cannot be overstated — they will be the gatekeepers of the content and must good writers. The editors' access the editing area (control panel) of the intranet is controlled by username and password combinations, and the editors replace a single Web master position.

     Using adult learning methodology, a Content Editor's Guide was created with two points in mind:

  1. To provide step-by-step tutorial on how to perform tasks with text and screen-shots; and
  2. To have the student editors bring their own content for practice, i.e., hands-on learning.

     The Content Editor's Guide was a mixture of hands-on experience, tutorials found online and Joomla's own Web site. After the first class, as lessons were learned and unanticipated questions were asked, additional graphic and document sections were added to the guide. The Content Editor's Guide started as a 13-page document and ended up with a total of 34 pages.

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