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Effective Web Content Management: Empowering Business Users While IT Maintains Control

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A Web site is often a visitor's first, and sometimes only, exposure to an organization. If the site's information is incomplete, out-of-date, or boring, visitors may go to a competitor's site and never return. The result: lost opportunity and lost revenue.

In recent years, it has become increasingly important to deliver fresh content via the Web--regardless of an organization's size or type. As a result, the challenge of managing Web content continues to intensify.

Web content management solutions help companies maintain and manage Web sites by enabling IT, Web developers, marketing, human resources, and others to add or modify content in a secure, controlled way. Content contributors are empowered to regularly update content without compromising Web site quality. See Figure 1.

How can an organization ensure that a content management solution meets its needs? To answer this question, it's important to understand how the content management (CM) market is evolving.

Key Trends in Web Content Management Market

According to the META Group, a leading Internet research firm, the CM market will grow from $800 million in 1999 to $10 billion by 2004. Several market trends are impacting this growth:

  • Web profitability--Researchers predict that the Internet will save companies worldwide $1.25 trillion by mid-2002. In putting business applications online, Cisco alone saved more than $800 million per year. By moving supply chain management (SCM) to the Web, IBM improved on-time delivery by 95 percent (Giga Information Group).
  • Demand for multi-language Web sites--Of the estimated 1 billion Internet users expected in 2005, more than two-thirds will live outside the United States. Currently more than three-quarters of all Web sites are written in English, but only about half of all users consider English their native language. International content will proliferate and challenge Web developers.
  • "Accidental" Web publishing--As larger, more complex Web sites become linked to operations, companies are becoming "accidental publishers." Unanticipated complexities arise due to a lack of publishing experience and misunderstanding of "publishing" technology. A 1999 Forrester Research report titled "Creation Tool Strategies" highlighted the challenges of "The Pros" (IT professionals) and "The Joes" (business professionals,) saying, "Today's WYSIWYG Web tools fail to meet the needs of a growing majority of non-technical contributors. These ... professionals would prefer to use familiar office applications like word processors." Web professionals who create and deploy CM solutions struggle to meet the needs of both technical and non-technical staff.
  • Affordability for smaller organizations--During the past decade, most CM vendors targeted their products to large companies. Price tags have been high and time-to-implementation has been significant. Today, new technologies are emerging, making content management more readily available to small and midsize companies.

The Dynamics of Content Management

Replacing a static "brochure-ware" site with a dynamic Web environment can enable an organization to more effectively manage Web content. Think of a dynamic site like a newspaper. Once a graphic artist designs the masthead and the paper's "look and feel," printing a new edition each day is relatively straightforward.

Similarly, once a dynamic site's format is created, content contributors use a CM solution to change text, graphics, audio, or video within specific content areas of the site. To separate the "look and feel" (or structure) of a site from content that resides on site pages, content is stored in a database and a Web application server is used to generate Web pages "on the fly."

With a CM solution in a dynamic Web environment, organizations can create workflow and publishing processes using standard network components. Business users can see and evaluate changes as they make them. Site administrators assign user privileges (e.g., create, edit, delete, restore, view, publish) across sections of the site, while enforcing a standard look and feel.

Keeping User Needs in Mind

When considering a CM solution, organizations must clearly understand the needs of various individuals who will use this solution.

  • Webmasters/developers--Web professionals install the CM solution and may also use it to create Web page templates that govern layout and format (e.g., font style/size, overall style, etc.). Once templates are created, anyone can update content within the templates, according to assigned privileges.
  • Web site administrators--Depending on an organization's size, an administrator could be a technical or non-technical staff member. This person establishes and updates user privilege information. The CM solution should make it easy to set up and manage permissions and content workflow.
  • Content contributors--Non-technical business users require a solution that is both easy-to-learn and easy-to-use. Rather than mastering HTML or using products like DreamWeaver or FrontPage, business users should be able to update content using a familiar Windows-like toolbar.

Cost Considerations

In recent years, CM solutions for a 30-page site with 10 business users updating content weekly might cost between $10,000 and $50,000. Pricing for a 150-page site with 50 employees might average $100,000 to $200,000. For enterprise Web operations, with thousands of pages and hundreds of contributors, costs can exceed $1 million.

Off-the-shelf solutions have recently become more affordable, especially for small and midsize companies and intranets. Some newer CM vendors are building their businesses by offering solutions in the $3,000 to $25,000 range.

In many organizations, labor cost savings is a driving factor for adopting CM. Figure 2 shows that the potential annual labor savings derived from a CM solution ranges from just under $18,000 for a small site with one person (full-time) to more than $175,000 for a Web operation with 10 full-time people responsible for updating content on a daily basis.


Buy vs. Build?

Should organizations--especially small and midsize companies--build their own CM solutions? What about off-the-shelf options? What can be expected in terms of time, cost, development effort, etc.? The answers to these questions will greatly depend on the results of an organization's ability to think and plan strategically.

It's critically important to have a well-defined strategy for the Web site itself and then to overlay the expectations and desired outcomes of the implementation of a content management system within the site. Focus planning efforts on the issues the organization is seeking to address with content management. Answer questions about the amount of Web content to be managed, the number and location of players involved in contributing and approving content, security, workflow, publishing needs, etc. What's the current process? What kind of process is needed today? What might be necessary in the future? Allow the build vs. buy decision to flow from intensive planning.

For many organizations, the "build" option seems attractive because it allows for the creation of a solution to meet very specific needs. But custom development of any application takes resources. In many companies, there are significant budgetary and/or staff constraints within the IT department. Multiple priorities compete for the time and energy of IT staff members. This will limit the organization's ability to quickly build and deploy its own custom solution.

Perhaps internal staff members are not equipped with the programming languages and/or techniques needed for custom development. Even if in-house expertise is available, the amount of time required for planning, development, bug-testing, fixing, documentation development, training, and support typically adds up to a scenario in which buying becomes more cost-effective than building.

Some organizations turn to a consulting Web developer to custom-build a CM solution. In this situation, it's important to find a Web developer with experience in creating and deploying Web content management solutions.

Some developers suggest pure custom development. This scenario presents many of the same challenges as custom in-house development. Many consulting Web developers resell commercially available products from various content management systems vendors. In this situation, be careful to shop for a developer and product with "traction" in this space. Do not rely solely on information from the developer. Do your own Internet research, read product reviews, and ask for references. With so many changes happening in this space today, an organization may want to identify and make suggestions for specific off-the-shelf options.

Today, it's becoming more common for organizations to purchase commercially available applications--either direct from the vendor or through a Web development firm. In this scenario, the purchaser benefits by leaving the lion's share of work to the vendor. With ready-to-configure, tested, proven solutions, the organization will benefit from a quicker time-to-implementation. Choosing a vendor that offers user-friendly interfaces, documentation, support, etc. minimizes training and support issues. Over time, the purchasing organization benefits from the vendor's ability to offer new features in future product releases. These enhancements often coincide with the changing needs of the purchaser as his organization grows over time.

The decision to build vs. buy is always a challenge. And today, for organizations that face this decision, there is both good news and bad news. The good news is that more and more vendors are offering more readily affordable and robust Web content management solutions systems. The bad news is that there is great confusion in the marketplace about Web content management. Many off-the-shelf solutions are available, and pricing varies greatly. Shop carefully and be cautious not to buy a line-up of features/functions that you may not necessarily need.

Impact on the Bottom Line

Web content management solutions lead to the delivery of timely and relevant Web content in a more cost-effective way. A site offering fresh and engaging content will attract visitors, inspire them to stay longer, and encourage them to make frequent repeat visits. This can significantly impact an organization's bottom line.

There is rapid development in the Web content management space. As new technologies emerge, CM solutions are becoming easier-to-use, more affordable, and more attractive, especially to the many small and midsize organizations that will seek out these solutions in the coming years.

Bill Rogers is founder and CEO of New Hampshire-based Ektron, Inc., a leading provider of business-user-friendly Web content management software. He frequently lectures on issues related to Web content management. For information, visit www.ektron.com.

Sidebar: Choosing a Solution

Today's commercially available Web content management solutions vary widely in terms of features, functions, and cost. Most midsize companies can meet their core needs by choosing a system with the following recommended features:

  • Versatile Web application server platform
  • Content authoring/management separate from site format/style
  • Browser-based "anytime anywhere" access
  • Security and authentication
  • Familiar Word-like toolbar for WYSIWYG authoring/editing
  • Text formatting
  • Support for tables, images, hyperlinks, and spell check
  • Cut and paste from Windows applications without losing formatting
  • Workflow and document management
  • Check-in/check-out
  • Flexible approval process
  • Email notification of changes
  • Version control--history archive and roll-back to previous versions
  • Preview of "staged" content in comparison to current content
  • Flexible, easy-to-use administrative interface
  • Workgroup creation--create as many groups as needed
  • Content group creation--limit access to appropriate pages
  • User roles/permissions--assign roles to various individuals, managers, departments, teams for viewing/editing/approving/publishing
  • Ability to enforce Web site standards (fonts, colors, graphics, navigation)

Additional features to consider: image and file upload, hyperlink library/pull-down menu, content scheduling, sample templates, transparent server-side software installation/upgrade (no client software), partial or full-site integration ability, XHTML or clean HTML output options, XML tag support, user-programmable meta-data support.




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