Choosing the Best Web Content Management System

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:: By Paul Markun ::

Consumers are demanding more than ever from their online experience. As evidenced by the overwhelming popularity of Apple’s iPhone and the more than 800 million app downloads to date, the user experience is what’s driving today’s interests and demands.

Today, you have to overcome certain obstacles to ensure that your website provides optimal user experiences. Often, pre-existing technology prevents companies from realizing their Web business goals. Many sites don’t fully support all browsers, some aren’t user-friendly for the disabled and others are not optimized for Internet-enabled mobile devices.

Having the right Web content management (WCM) solution is imperative to overcoming the hurdles to creating a successful website. The right WCM solution enables you to rapidly respond to changing consumer needs and market conditions, and ensures that your organization has a solid foundation from which to leverage its Web presence.

NARROWING DOWN YOUR WCM CHOICES
With hundreds of different options available, narrow the field by making some key decisions upfront including choosing between: open source or commercial; enterprise content management or Web-specific; and Java or Microsoft .NET.

Open Source or Commercial
Choosing between open source and commercial options immediately reduces the number of solutions to consider. On the surface it might seem to be simply a matter of available resources. But there are several key differences between open source and commercial solutions including, but not limited to cost. Organizations with little open source experience should consider the following factors before making a final decision:

1. Open source isn’t synonymous with free. While there are no license fees, support fees and development and maintenance costs can be higher than with commercial software.
2. To choose open source you must be willing to forego commercial-grade support, training and enhancements.
3. Open source may not deliver the performance, security, reliability and functionality needed to sustain a high-quality, compelling customer experience.

Enterprise Content Management or Web-Specific
Many enterprise content management (ECM) solutions can deliver basic Web publishing capabilities, but are primarily structured around managing documents and can only create static websites.

A structured, Web-specific WCM enables non-linear navigation and fine-grained control of individual pieces of content — all necessary to deliver a dynamic, optimized site that enables flexibility and scalability without the complexity of page-oriented ECMs. The ideal WCM is a valuable marketing tool with capabilities ECMs generally lack out of the box.

Java or Microsoft .NET
Consider whether your IT organization has standardized on Java or Microsoft .NET or both, and evaluate your WCM needs.

Beware of WCM solutions that claim to accommodate both Java and .NET as they often result in product deficiencies or far greater overhead requiring you to implement both to access full capabilities. You will want to choose a solution that caters to one or the other technology, to keep operations streamlined and training requirements reasonable.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A WCM
Until recently Web publishing was primarily centered on linear, document-oriented concepts. But to support the requirements of today’s websites focusing more on user experiences, organizations need a WCM designed to deliver enterprise-scale flexibility, scalability, and adaptability.

Evaluating a WCM Solution from the Business Perspective
Business users and decision makers must realize that a WCM solution isn’t just an IT technology of choice — it can also meet Web business objectives. Consider the following criteria:

  • Ease-of-Use: Non-technical content owners and providers should be able to easily edit site content.
  • Control: Marketing or other content owners should have website control — branding, navigation, and other components of user experiences — without requiring programming expertise.
  • Integrated Marketing Capabilities: Online marketing capabilities including SEO tools, website monitoring and analysis tools, and segmentation optimize Web experiences.
  • Integrated Business Applications: Insist on support and experience that integrates all of your business applications.
  • Flexibility: For dynamic user experiences, your solution should support multiple languages and optimize for different device types without re-rendering the site for each variation.


Evaluating a WCM Solution from the IT Perspective
Developers and IT should evaluate solutions based on the underlying infrastructure, development tools, and capabilities. Evaluate your solution based on the following criteria to ensure your development staff has the right tools for your overall website objectives.

  • Architecture: The WCM should take a structured content approach and separate content from presentation — dynamically creating each webpage by assembling each piece of data for that page, allowing content to be displayed in different ways
  • Development Tools, Controls and Capabilities: The WCM should streamline development and maintenance with easy-to use tools, controls and capabilities.
  • Built-in Support for:
    – SEO
    – Accessibility: supporting international accessibility standards
    – Security: providing permission management and supporting external authentication and authorization systems
    – Multiple sites: languages, and devices
    – Navigation: providing automated functions that simplify new page, section or site creation
  • Scalability and Performance: Consider IT maintenance overhead and total cost of ownership. It’s important to support deployment of multiple websites on a single system


ENSURING A SUCCESSFUL EVALUATION
Because of the many options for website owners and the importance of a stable WCM, a thorough evaluation process is needed before deciding on a solution. Make sure all angles are examined, as oversights can lead to time-consuming and costly delays.

Consider Expert Advice
Leading analysts or specialty advisers can provide insight into WCM vendors and implementations to understand which solutions suit your business requirements. Specialized websites also offer free valuable information, paid-for reports, or vendor selection services. CMS Watch (cmswatch.com), CMSWire (cmswire.com), and CMSmatrix.org offer news, forums and other resources about WCM solutions.

Include Developers in the Evaluation Process
Lastly, ensure your development team is familiar with the WCM solution. Consider the following technical evaluation steps to ensure your developers get a clear view of the core functions:

  • Demonstrations: The entire team —marketing, content editors, and developers — should participate in comprehensive demonstrations.
  • Installation: Request the WCM vendor install an out-of-the-box version of its product for your development team to evaluate immediate ease of use.
  • Test Website: Ask the vendor to build a simple website from scratch for your development team, revealing what functionality ships with the product.
  • Vendor Training: Developers who attend vendor’s technical training classes will gain a clearer perspective of the product’s capabilities and shortcomings.
  • Developer Community: The community, as well as vendor support, is important in getting started and growing website capabilities successfully.

To truly understand the importance of the WCM decision, consider the benefits your business will see by ranking higher than competitors on Google, getting to market weeks faster when responding to changing market conditions and converting 50 percent or more of site visitors.

The right solution will help your website optimization efforts from the search engines to the user experience and beyond.

About the Author: Paul Markun is VP Marketing for Sitecore, a leader in website content management solutions. He has over 20 years of experience in marketing for software and networking companies. Paul leads Sitecore’s initiatives in online activities, including marketing automation, website activity and community.

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6 comments

04-13-2009 10:00 AM

Pingback from  Choosing the Best Web Content Management System « Evans’  Blog

04-14-2009 8:51 AM

Pingback from  PixieGirl Blog | My World Through Graphic Design

Virgil Huston 04-21-2009 5:55 PM

This is one of the most misleading and biased articles on web content management systems I've seen. I have written a rebuttal at www.acqal.com/.../busting-4-myths-about-open-source-162.html

Website Magazine was the only free industry trade pub I ever actually read. Articles like this (where I know the topic)  make me question what other articles have been just as inaccurate.

Paul Markun 04-22-2009 9:37 PM

In fairness to Website Magazine’s excellent reputation and quality product, I would like to address this critical posting by Mr. Huston.

Mr. Huston is in the commercial business of providing professional services with Typo3 and other open source solutions. He of course has a vested interest in presenting those in the best light from his perspective.

Let’s examine his concerns.

"1. Open source isn't synonymous with free. While there are no license fees, support fees and development and maintenance costs can be higher than with commercial software."

The difference between a commercial product and open source is that Commercial products require configuration in order to be set up, while open source typically involve far more custom coding. While “firing”  your Agency may seem a simple solution to  Mr. Huston, with that Agency is all the intellectual property that went into that custom code- an investment most organizations are rightfully reluctant to walk away from.

Websites today  are enterprise class, business applications that represent considerable investment from marketing and other organizational  stakeholders as well as technical investment. They aren’t pet technology projects that can be easily walked away from.

A Commercial vendor like Sitecore has literally hundreds of certified implementation Partners  who are professional services experts. Unlike a fully custom coded project, with a commercial product like Sitecore they implement highly creative and robust website solutions based on an established and  supported code base-which is the transportable license clients pay for.

"2. To choose open source you must be willing to fore go commercial-grade support, training and enhancements."

We lack details from Mr. Huston  to support his remarks here. For example, commercial-grade support can include service availability for  7 days per week, 24 hours per day, 1 hour response time, with engineering teams that follow the sun. Commercial organizations have it. It is spelled out on Sitecore’s website, for example. There is no mention of this level commitment or resource availability on Typo3’s website, for example.

Finally we get to this.

"3. Open source may not deliver the performance, security, reliability and functionality needed to sustain a high-quality, compelling customer experience."

Leading analysts have surveyed the mid to large enterprise market for website content management software and pointed out by far the vast majority is either Java or .NET based, with open source trailing far behind.  This is the very market that is most concerned about performance, security, reliability and functionality as they push their websites harder with very high traffic volumes, a higher hacker attraction due to their market prominence, visitor expectations for more complete functionality, and the resulting concerns for reliability since this is all the more complicated.

Are there exceptions- of course. That is why the wording used is “may not”.  But Open Source for Web CMS  is  the distinct minority in the enterprise space. So rather than speculate, it is simpler to look at the analyst’s market share numbers.

Despite our differences, my critic and I share common ground in is the belief that Professional Services firms, from Interactive Agencies, Web Design organizations or Technical Integration firms, are critical to the successful  design and implementation of compelling websites.  Sitecore refers to these firms as our Channel Partners. That is not a view common to most commercial web CMS companies, unlike Sitecore.

Respectfully,

Paul Markun

Dave Chakrabarti 04-30-2009 8:04 PM

I just subscribed, and unfortunately, this was the first post I read. I must say, I'm disappointed at the lack of editorial oversight displayed here. Would you have let a high school Mac fanatic write a "Windows vs. Mac OSX: How to Choose Your OS" article?

Paul, your article is offensive to many CMS professionals because it mindlessly regurgitates common open source myths that proprietary software vendors have perpetuated for years (and which the open source community has debunked for about as long).

"The difference between a commercial product and open source is that Commercial products require configuration in order to be set up, while open source typically involve far more custom coding."

-Not true. Bryght has offered incredibly low-priced, hosted CMS solutions based on the Drupal CMS platform for years. These are literally turnkey systems to start up, with no configuration required. Drupal, Wordpress, and Joomla all provide an out-of-the-box experience. Of course, enterprise clients will frequently need customization, but many developers outside your proprietary world will tell you that this is far easier working within the context of a healthy open source ecology than it would be otherwise.

"For example, commercial-grade support can include service availability for  7 days per week, 24 hours per day, 1 hour response time, with engineering teams that follow the sun."

How is this a rebuttal? If you "...lack details from Mr. Huston  to support his remarks here" ...then you haven't done your homework. Red Hat, Rackspace, Canonical, and several other companies offer SLAs and enterprise level support for open source projects. Acquia is one company doing the same for enterprise projects using the Drupal CMS. There are others. As the author, you should know more about this space than your readers before putting your foot in your mouth, right?

"It is spelled out on Sitecore’s website, for example. There is no mention of this level commitment or resource availability on Typo3’s website, for example."

...So you looked at one software *platform's* website, instead of the consulting companies that implement it at the enterprise level, for an SLA or paid enterprise support options? Either you lack enough experience with the open source ecology to frame this article in a fair and balanced way, or you're taking cheap potshots at your critics.

"Open source may not deliver the performance, security, reliability and functionality needed to sustain a high-quality, compelling customer experience."

While I appreciate that you've hedged your bets with that "may", your depiction of open source is still very misleading. I'm not sure how you explain Sony BMG, Fast Company, NASA, IBM, Chicago Public Radio, Popular Science, etc. Those are examples just from the Drupal world; I'm sure every healthy open source CMS community has a similar, and rapidly growing, list of examples.

In closing, I'll say that I *do* agree that there are issues with open source in the enterprise, just as there are issues with proprietary software in the enterprise. Similarly, there are issues with open source in the SMB, nonprofit, government, and academic sectors, all of which you seem to have overlooked. But you do your readers a disservice when, instead of researching, understanding, and comparing these differences in ecology, you take the easy way out and parrot long-held proprietary marketing pitches in the guise of facts.

This article will most definitely cost this magazine subscriptions; any idea how many open source CMS implementers are out there?

Kyle Bailey 06-10-2009 3:32 PM

I for one agree with the article and its perspective. I am definitely biased as E-Cubed plays in the commercial CMS world much more than that of OpenSource. The OpenSource examples stated above for companies such as Sony, NASA etc are all great examples of OpenSoruce development done and supported by large organizations with extremely large IT teams.

In my experience the vast majority of E-Cubed's clients or prospects do not have those kinds of resources to dedicate to and support an OpenSource approach. They want and need a solid developer that can deliver a cost effective and growth based platform for eBusiness that represents the least amount of risk possible. The solution cannot burden existing teams of IT staff who are already tapped.

The majority of OpenSource projects that I have been exposed to in our local economy are smaller scale solutions that are typically not 'Mission Critical' although they may be important from a marketing standpoint.  Most of these are sub 1,000 page sites and almost all are open and many are interested in looking at or exploring commercial CMS tools as they do not feel that they are 100% satisfied by their existing solution although they may be completely happy with their design/development partner.

Developers need to examine a clients' needs and determine what CMS represents a best fit for a client and make a recommendation based on that approach and not simply try and squeeze a square peg into a round hole. Almost all developers that I have met and spoken to have no experience working with commercial applications and cannot truly call themselves agnostic. If all you have is a hammer then the world looks like it is all nails from your perspective.

Commercial CMS solutions including Sitecore, Ektron, Kentico of which E-Cubed is an authorized partner in Vancouver and Calgary provide a very stable platform for companies that do not want to be dependent on highly custom code and the various risks associated with OpenSource technologies.

The commercial CMS solutions that we provide do not require large teams of dedicated IT staff to continually monitor the CMS solution and any potential security threats and bug fixes to core or plug-in inclusions.

E-Cubed makes less money by using and recommending commercial CMS implementations so you would think that it would be a bad decision not to choose OpenSource. We believe that our role as consultants is to provide our clients with the best long-term and most cost effective CMS publishing foundation to build on. OpenSource simply cannot provide that for the majority of our client base based on the level of continued support that is necessary to sustain the system and the custom code that must be utilized to deliver on their ever expanding needs.

From E-Cubed's experience the support available for OpenSource CMS systems is lousy. Answers from the 'community' come in all shapes and sizes most of which are answered by people who are not in any way qualified to provide answers at all. Many offers of help are accompanied by sales pitches for other services or plug-ins and while I like the concept of the community model I find it breaks down rapidly in the area for support.

The references to Bryght in an above post are great however Bryght's business model was not sustainable and they are now out of business. The fine people at Raincity who operated Bryght are great developers who know Drupal inside and out and their large scale Drupal offerings are top notch. They are a good example of a developer who provides true support as part of their offering.

What happens however if they as developers are no longer able to provide that ongoing support to clients who are running fully custom solutions based around both OpenSource and proprietary code/applications?

While no developer or commercial CMS application is immune from economic turmoil a commercial CMS offering has some distinct advantages since they have both an active developer network, dedicated support and service staff and a viable offering that could get absorbed by a financially stable partner if anything drastic came to pass.

That cannot be relied upon in the Drupal, Joomla world that most OpenSource developers use.

If the developer fails the client is immediately put in a highly risky situation with no one to call for support, service or direction and no phone number to get dedicated access to tried and true resources that can put them back on track to a successful project.  

Developers need to be truthful of the risks and rewards for both approaches and openly state their biases and arguments fairly.

Clients also need to understand the pros and cons of both approaches and issue RFPs that are actually focused on achieving specific business results with measurable goals. They need staff who understand the CMS landscape and can compare objectively one system against another as well as the competing designers/developers.

Unfortunately many clients do not have that ability and believe too much of the marketing hype and propaganda from both camps. They base business decisions on fluffy proposals that seriously lack real substance because they find the price palatable and assume that the developer must have their best interest at heart.

Many developers in both camps make an attempt to pull the wool over these unsuspecting clients' eyes and deliver less than they should/can because of client trust. These decisions will ultimately be regretted in the sometimes not too distant future.

In closing I feel that both systems have their place in the World and both can and should coexist peacefully.

Just my $.02

Kyle

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