Content management systems: short-lived satisfaction
By David Walker (Google profile)
As Internet technology advances, new things become suddenly possible. Take content management. Just five years ago, it was almost impossible to waste a million dollars building a Web site. But modern, twenty-first century Internet technology means that any medium-sized organisation with Web ambitions can now pour a seven-digit sum of money straight down the hole almost instantly.
And one of the easiest and most efficient ways to do this is to buy the wrong Web content management system, or CMS.
Web content can be articles, pictures, products, email archives, Flash presentations, streaming audio, whatever. This content needs a lot of things done to it. You might need systems for creating the content (authoring), describing it (metadata tagging), changing and updating it (editing), letting several people edit it together (collaboration), letting the right people do the right things to it (workflow), stopping the wrong people from manipulating it (security), keeping track of how it has changed (versioning), deciding when to display it (scheduling), displaying it in the right standard format (templating), allowing it to be displayed by others (syndication), allowing it be displayed differently to different visitors (personalisation) and more.
Your system may start as a couple of junior staff with HTML editors and the Windows file system. But that solution doesn't scale. The average large organisation's Web site has anywhere between ten thousand and ten million pieces of content. At which time, the organisation has a Web content management problem.
But when you go looking for software to fix this problem, you'll find yourself like a shopper in some exotic bazaar, besieged by a hundred content management system (CMS) vendors all promising to fix your problem. And whichever solution you choose, you're a good chance to end up out of pocket and unhappy. Most of today's content management systems simply don't work the way they should.
Many people in the nascent Web content management community have suspected this for a year or more. But by 2001 an established technology research firm, Forrester Research, was saying the same thing. Forrester examined a dozen commercial CMSs, including well-known solutions from Vignette, Broadvision, nCompass and Interwoven. In early 2001 Forrester's winner, Open Market Content Server, scored a mere 3.0 out of five. In a report entitled "Managing Content Hypergrowth", Forrester concluded that 2001's CMS offerings were "immature", that none adequately addressed all needs, and that the vendors all had very different visions of how the CMS will evolve. It also warned that organisations that have bought CMSs are going to run into problems maintaining and customising them - and that they are likely to discover nasty mismatches between their CMS and other software, such as application servers and outside systems. "Owner satisfaction will be short-lived", Forrester concluded bitingly.
Oh, and by the way, Forrester estimated that putting place a "basic content management system" will cost you over $A1 million ($US650,000), and a fancy solution will cost much more. The now-defunct Scape.com, the most extreme example of an expensive Australian content start-up, spent several million dollars on a Vignette-driven Web site (and packed it full of barely-readable text) before packing it all away when the cash ran out. The real cost isn't in the box of software. It's in the cheques you write to the people who install, adapt and maintain the software.
Faced with the prospect of spending $1 million-plus on a CMS which won't cover business needs or integrate with other systems, what's a large CMS buyer to do? Forrester warns firms to dodge vendors trying to lock them in to a proprietary technology; it recommends the few tools which integrate well with other software, like Interwoven's TeamSite, or use standard platforms, like Divine's Java-compliant Content Server (formerly Open Market). Forrester also encourages firms to spend more time describing and organising their data, so that it can be used with whatever CMS they eventually choose.
There's a school of thought which says most firms are better off building their own CMSs, and that in buying an off-the-shelf CMS solution you sacrifice too much business flexibility. Forrester rejects this argument. At the same time, it gives organisations a seven-digit reason to remain nervous about Web content management.