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Best Practice Award, April 2002-Rooted in history, Deere & Co. forges content globally

KMWorld Best Practice Award, April 2002

By Judith Lamont

Going global with a corporate Web site can be a perilous endeavor. Not only must the infrastructure be resilient, but many cultural and management issues must be addressed. Deere & Co. combined an astute management strategy with the right technology to bring its international dealers and customers into the e-business world in an efficient manner. In addition to the agricultural equipment for which it is famous, Deere also sells construction, forestry, commercial mowing and lawn and garden equipment, and has established a number of other businesses, including financing and landscape services.

Like many organizations exploring potential uses of the Internet, Deere began deploying Web pages that provided product information in the late 1990s. Later, the company added the ability for customers to locate dealers. Dealers in the United States and overseas also began setting up their own sites. Although there was a measure of consistency in the presentation of product information and branding, the company did not have an overall strategy for managing content on the Internet. After a thorough review of its needs, the company established an e-business group to oversee its Internet strategy.

"We wanted the Web sites for each region to reflect a consistent corporate image and content," says Lisa M. Smith, director of Global e-Business, "but also to adapt to the local culture and market." Deere sells products in more than 150 countries, so the challenge was significant. Another goal was to provide, through the dealer sites, electronic storefronts through which dealers could connect with customers. A key part of that effort was to educate customers so that when they approached the dealers they would have a clearer idea of what products matched their needs.

Deere began by developing the North American site for agricultural equipment as a model. The company selected Interwoven’s TeamSite as its new enterprise content management solution, based on several important product features. First, its ability to establish templates would allow Deere to reuse both the format and the navigational elements as new Web sites were migrated into TeamSite. In addition, TeamSite's ability to version not just the files but the entire site allowed Deere to have an audit trail of the site's development. If necessary, the site could be rolled back instantly to a previous version. Finally, the dealers who were developing content could, through TeamSite's virtualization capability, see how their pages would operate in relation to the entire Web site before going live.

The next step was a crucial one. Division Manager Cary David coordinated a team of representatives from each country, beginning with Germany, and worked with them to guide them through the migration process. Getting buy-in from the other countries to adopt the look and feel of the North American site allowed the use of the already-developed presentation templates.

"Without the templates," says David, "we would have had to start from scratch for each country." The templates were designed to be flexible enough so that each country could have a unique site, but standard in navigation and presentation of corporate collateral.

That careful planning paid off. While the North American site took about four months to develop, David reports that the other sites were launched in less than two months on average. And the dollar savings were significant, with costs reduced to just a fraction of those for the North American site. The other sites are less complex than the North American site, but nevertheless the savings in both time and cost are impressive.

The Deere corporate site is informative and friendly to users. Once a geographical region is selected from the home page, information is organized by consumer type (e.g., farmers/ranchers, homeowners, contractors). The farmer-oriented site, for example, presents a page that includes not only information about Deere products but also commodity prices for the day, including corn, soybeans and other products. Users can order parts or configure and price a tractor. The parts catalog goes back to 1977, and both price and availability from specific dealers can be checked. The so-called configurator works much like Dell's computer site, where a purchaser can select product options and see a price. Product content is generated centrally at the factory, but Deere employees are responsible for both localizing corporate content and the creation and contribution of country-specific content.

Efforts are underway to make the individual dealer sites more consistent as well. Deere now offers a service in which the company hosts the dealer's Web site and provides syndicated content to which the dealers can subscribe. In addition, Deere has developed an interface that simplifies the contribution of content by the dealers. The user interface through which dealers contribute content is a software "layer" placed over the TeamSite technology that provides a dealer-friendly way to author new material.

TeamSite's virtualization feature allows content contributors to see how their additions will integrate with existing content. That capability increases the comfort level for contributors and ensures functionality when the pages go live. Allowing for direct input of content relieves the burden on IT groups, which are frequently stretched by ongoing infrastructure development and security demands. The TeamSite workflow pushes certain content to reviewers who verify the accuracy of the product content before it goes to the Internet.

Although traditional businesses such as farming, construction and forestry may seem far from the dot.com world, the company's use of the Internet is consistent with a corporate culture that is based on innovation. The original John Deere was a Vermont blacksmith who became highly regarded for his top-quality farm implements early in his career. After moving to Illinois in 1836, he discovered that farmers were struggling with cast iron plows, which were ill-suited for the heavy Midwestern soil. He designed a steel plow that worked well, which he initially made from imported rolled steel and later, from cast steel rolled in Pittsburgh. By the early 1900s, Deere & Co. was manufacturing many types of farm implements, and also grew over the years through a series of acquisitions. Throughout its history, the company has invested heavily in new product development.

The emphasis on international Web sites is well aligned with Deere & Co.'s strategy of expanding its overseas market share. However, it also adds complexity to the task of content management because each market is different. One of Interwoven's tools that will assist in that ongoing task is a product called MetaTagger, which automates the tagging process, making content easier to repurpose, update and search. That phase of the deployment is not yet complete, but after product content is tagged and syndicated, it will be made available automatically to country authors for localization and translation.

Karen Aumen, product manager at Interwoven, says, "MetaTagger can also be pointed to existing information to create a corporate taxonomy." She notes that "good searching and personalization depend on a solid taxonomy."

From her perspective as director of Global e-Business, Smith believes that the company has just begun to tap into the potential offered by its new enterprise content management system. "Over time, we will continue to identify efficiencies to be gained through using TeamSite," says Smith. "We expect to be able to repurpose technical publications, training materials, owner's manuals and other content to effectively leverage our corporate knowledgebase."

Judith Lamont is a research analyst with Zentek Corp., e-mail jlamont@sprintmail.com.

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