Technology selection: Choosing a content management system
High-end packages have a lot in common -- steep price tags and the ability to create, change and post content on a Web site -- but there are differences to consider
by Johanna Ambrosio, contributor
If your Web site is touched by more than one person who adds or changes the content on the site, you might want to consider buying a content management package to help you produce the site more effectively. Content management tames the process of creating, organizing and displaying the information on your site, for the employees who produce the information or site and for your customers or anyone else who uses the site.
"There is a big need out there," says Shawn Willett, an analyst with Current Analysis in Sterling, Va. Many large companies have information on their Web sites that "they don't even consider to be content," but it is, he says. The need for content management has been "greatly underestimated" by many sites, Willett adds.
Loads of software packages on the market call themselves content managers. But for purposes of this discussion, we're looking at fairly large and expensive packages that are geared for enterprise-level content needs. Leaders in this sector include Vignette Corp., BroadVision Inc., Allaire Corp. and Interwoven Inc. Figure on spending at least $150,000 for the basic package, and then another $50,000 or so on consulting and customization services, according to Rob Perry, a senior analyst at the Yankee Group in Boston.
Just about all the enterprise-level content management packages cover similar ground, but there are differences. The features they have in common include the ability to create, change and, usually, post the content on the Web site. Some allow content to be posted or removed at automatic intervals -- to prevent the information from going stale, for example. There's a built-in workflow system to let the content go where it needs to go for approval before it's posted for the world to see.
Then, once the content is up on your site, the software places the content into a repository so it can be searched for and found. Some packages break the content down using XML, so that customers will be able to more easily find the various pieces of information on a Web page.
Content management is akin to the process used for software development at most companies, only it's for Web information instead. Good packages allow you to control the content's check-in/check-out, security and other aspects so that the content creators can control their own information without having to go through the Webmaster for every single thing. Say, for example, the marketing group wants to put a brochure on the Web site -- a content management system will let them do that.
Despite the similarities, when you peek under the covers there are some differences among the packages. Some, like Vignette's Content Management Server or BroadVision's One-To-One Publishing software, are meant to manage a mess of content that's already on the site or soon to be there. Other packages, like Allaire's ColdFusion or Interwoven's TeamSite, are intended to help you develop new applications that are content-oriented.
Also, there are separate packages that are geared to putting up online product catalogs as opposed to general masses of text or other information. If you are going the product catalog route, then you'll also have to decide whether that system will need to integrate with your order-management or other software, to allow customers to buy the products in the catalog right from the site.
Before choosing a specific content management system, look ahead a bit and determine whether your needs will change in the near term. If today's product catalog will be supplemented with lots of product information or other content within a short amount of time, you might need to go in a different direction.
Geoffrey Bock, a senior consultant with the Patricia Seybold Group in Boston, says the next Big Thing will be digital asset management, which is content management for video and audio and photographs -- anything other than straight text. "With the growth of broadband, you're looking at hundreds of millions of people getting access to digital assets in the next three to five years," he says. "You won't have to go to Tower Records to pick up your CDs." So, if you're Tower, a digital asset management system will help you store and track the digital music that consumers buy from the site.
About the author: Johanna Ambrosio is a freelance writer in Marlborough, Mass. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are some questions to help you determine the scope and type of content management system to choose:
-Who is creating the information that appears on the site, and do those employees work centrally or in a remote location?
-What types of information are on the site -- text primarily, or is yours a place where music or video abounds? Instead of a full-fledged content manager, do you instead need a package to automate the creation of a product catalog?
-How often is the information on the site updated?
-What other software must the content-management package work with? What types of hooks will be needed into other pieces of your IT architecture? For example, will the product catalog piece need to connect to an order management piece to allow customers to order what they see online?
-Do you need something that will publish in print as well as online -- for a product brochure or catalog, for example?
-Do you need caching or personalization or syndication-tracking or billing features? Some content managers have these pieces built in; others do not.
Come to Searchebusiness for more information on content management tools.
This was first published in March 2001