Project Manager at Invisible Site
02 November 2001 15:38pm
When people tell me they want to find a way to manage and organize the mess that their Websites have become, it never ceases to amaze me how many people simply start by buying the coolest technology they can find and throwing it wildly at the problem. Most times, people tend to put the technology cart before the horse. In the case of content management systems (CMS), sometimes the horse and cart simply take off without the driver.
Are there any content management (CMS) gurus living in this forum? I would like to hear your lessons learnt and war stories in planning a large-scale web content management system:
1. Do you think strategy is important to CMS projects; If so, why? Why should you think about strategy before thinking about buying the tools first?
2. How do you tie CMS strategy into the overall E-business strategy?
3. Defining the CMS requirements:
a. Business requirements
- What requirements do you define and how do you define them?
- What role does content play in the overall business strategy? - Why do you need a CMS?
- What content is created in your organization, who creates it and how it is created as part of your overall business processes?
- How do you or should you capture your business processes?
- Who do you talk to?
- Do you start thinking about workflow at this stage?
b. CMS requirements
What requirements do you define and how do you define them?
- Platform, technology capabilities, in-house expertise, willingness to outsource, budget, etc...
- How do you capture your technology requirements?
- Who do you talk to?
- How does the requirements affect the choice of technology, products?
CEO at Econsultancy
05 November 2001 15:29pm
This is a BIG subject and to fully answer your questions would take a book or two. There’s a fair bit on this site about Content Management including a few good white papers (try doing a search on ‘CMS’ or ‘Content Management’ + there’s a bit about it in Sam’s white paper ‘Content that Works’ – see section 5.2.2 - which you can download at http://www.e-consultancy.com/book/content_that_works/) but I would also highly recommend the pre-book site at http://www.metatorial.com – see the book outline, presentations, publishing model etc. All very useful and addresses much of what you ask. I’ve got the book on pre-order and it should be arriving soon…
Below are some initial thoughts on your points:
>>Most times, people tend to put the technology cart before the horse.
Well, we should all have worked out by now that this is wrong. Not just for CMS, but eCRM, e-commerce, in fact anything. Technology is a key enabler and it is very important to get right but ultimately it’s about business. This, I would hope, is obvious.
>>1. Do you think strategy is important to CMS projects; If so, why? Why should you think about strategy before thinking about buying the tools first?
Partly, you have to have your strategy right because you cannot afford not to take CMS seriously. It costs a lot of money and will take up a significant amount of resources (at least initially). But, increasingly, sites will have no option but to do it properly – it will increasingly become an essential part of the e-business infrastructure, in many cases the *most* important part.
I could quote analysts’ growth projections for the CMS market over the coming years or stats on the growth of the number of pages on the web or point out the need for CMS to meet ever-growing customer expectations and maintain competitor advantage etc. But instead two quotes from a couple of CMS case studies which I think clearly articulate the challenge, the need and the scale of CMS projects:
Tesco: “In summary, all objects are content – and all the content has different people working on different aspects of it. How do you manage all these different change management and audit issues?”
Reuters: “The current contributors come from 16 different groups across Reuters and inevitably have different working practices. It was necessary to carry out multiple iterations of the process definitions to ensure that all the content authors could contribute effectively and in line with their own specific requirements for delivery to the customer.”
It’s not just the scale and importance of CMS that makes it a strategic issue though. CMS projects necessarily affect and involve the whole organisation. They’re really about people and processes not technology, they’re about the way people work, the way work is handled through the organisation. And the results directly impact the customers’ perception of the organisation. A matter for strategic consideration I’d say…
But perhaps the strongest, and least immediately obvious, reason that CMS necessitates real strategic thinking is the thought that has to go into defining the CMS information architecture. This structure of information axes, categorisation, indexing and metadata (leaving workflow aside for the moment) is at the heart of any CMS. It is the engine which drives not just the collation, management and publishing of content to a site but also provides the framework for personalisation, analytics and reporting, which I would expect to see become of increasing importance over the years in the war for competitive (customer) advantage. As such it is extremely important to get right. Yet it is very tough to define within the organisation. Why? Because it is essentially a distillation of everything that the company is, understands about itself and wants to be. The architecture may be defined by customer segments, by content types, by business units, by country, by product lines. Who is to decide? Who can decide what is, effectively, the blueprint for the company now and in the future?
So forget the tools for the moment. That’s the easy part. Your approach to CMS must be fully integrated with overall corporate strategy.
>>2. How do you tie CMS strategy into the overall E-business strategy?
Make sure you’ve got the right people involved. Make sure there is a high level project sponsor (board level). Make sure there is multi-functional project representation. Educate, educate, educate about why this is so important, why it is strategic (see previous answer for some ideas).
>>3. Defining the Business/CMS requirements
Usually there is enough pain there that the need and requirements are self-evident. However, as CMS tends to be expensive you do need to work out how big the need is versus the cost and extent of the solution – cost/benefit or ROI analysis, not forgetting the longer term strategic issues as well.
Your questions cover and awful lot of ground, but here are a few thoughts on some of the points you raise:
*When do you really need a CMS?*
The most likely reasons are when:
- you have lots of distributed content contributors and you’re finding it very difficult to effectively manage how they contribute content and quality control of that content
- you have lots of content contributors who do not have HTML type skills and need an easy interface to submit content
- your somewhat informal processes for getting content onto and off the site are falling apart to the clear detriment of quality and at increasing costs to put right
- where automation of content publishing to the site would save you a lot of time and money and improve the site users’ experience and perception of the site
- you have regulatory obligations to be able to store past versions of your site and recreate versions of the site from any point in the past
- you would benefit from having greater control over the design of the site
- you would like to deliver advanced levels of content personalisation or advanced and accurate reporting and analytics about which users like what sorts of content
- you have a need to publish different forms of the same content to multiple channels dynamically from a single source
It is worth noting a few of the thing that a CMS *cannot* do for you:
- it does not automatically organize your content for you. You need to decide on the ‘filing system’, it is just the filing cabinet to make finding and organising things easier in the future….
- it does not create content, it only manages it
- it does not know what is good content
- it does not process transactions
- on the whole it is not that great at providing analytical information: it provides the necessary structure for a separate tool to do this job
- it does not do design for you
- it does not know how to fix bad business processes
- it does not automatically know the meaning of your content
i.e. it is a very useful tool but not that intelligent on its own – that has to come from you…
*What process do you go through in implementing a CMS*
Can’t do a fancy chart here, so roughly…
1. The strategy – Why? What value? If?
2. Business Requirements gathering + Readiness audit + Education
3. Audit of current stats of affairs (skills, resources, technology, process mapping etc.)
4. *Design Information Architecture + Workflow processes
5. Tool selection (using standard selection process)
6. Define and spec collect, manage and publish elements of CMS (inc. templates etc.)
7. System build
8. Content migration/authoring/input
9. Systems integration + testing + documentation/training
10. Go live + measure/optimise
*NB this is probably the phase which requires the most brainpower and is the most important. It is both conceptual and practical and requires a real blend of skills to get right: commercial, technical, marketing, editorial etc. It is important neither to reinvent the wheel just because it is the web but at the same time don’t web-enable a bad process. As one client said “There’s no point putting lipstick on a bulldog”.
*Business / User requirements*
Sorts of questions you’ll be asking to get the required information (not exhaustive by any means):
- Who will be the actual users of the system and what is their level of technical expertise?
- Roughly how many users will there be?
- Where does the content come from?
- Who authorises the content to go live?
- What publishing procedures and guidelines do you currently have?
- Will there be a need for personalisation and commerce in the future or a need to integrate with existing application servers or external systems?
- Will the system need to integrate with other networks e.g. the intranet?
- Are there any special security requirements?
- What management information do you expect out of the system e.g. usage tracking and reporting
- What performance measurement tools and reporting do you expect?
- What current or future multi-lingual capabilities are required?
- Do you have any particular legal obligations to archive content or have it auditable in any way?
- What different types of content (e.g. video, audio, streaming, PDFs etc.) will you need to manage?
- What technical standards do you adhere to?
*Selecting a Content Management Tool*
The same as for selecting any tool. A typical process might involve: defining your requirements, canvassing and understanding the market and the players, drawing up a shortlist and sending out an invitation to tender, meeting and following up, further shortlisting (perhaps to two), commercial negotiations and due diligence, contracts and SLAs etc.
Choosing a CMS is made much harder by the fact the market is still young and is not that clearly defined with a lot of overlap: document management, knowledge management, e-commerce, personalization and other infrastructure vendors all jostling around similar spaces. Furthermore, expect a lot of consolidation among the current players. So choosing a CMS which really is based on open standards and architecture is all the more important.
Really understanding your requirements will help clear the fog and make a decision easier. Do you really need to manage the content collection, authoring and publishing process (in which case someone like Interwoven might be appropriate?), do you really need to have transactional capabilities and out of the box B2B marketplace applications as well (more like a Broadvision?) or are you really interested in real time personalization features (Vignette?).
The kinds of things that you are likely to be quizzing any vendor on (and could form part of an evaluation matrix for shortlisitng) are likely to include:
- Levels of support
- Templating / structuring content
- Integration hooks with other (legacy and application server) systems
- Workflow facilities
- Component Management: Versioning / Rollback, Searching and Indexing, Linking (are there link checkers for broken links) and Validation, Configuration management etc.
- Publishing process & Templating capabilities
- Multi-channel and multi-format delivery capabilities (mobile, iTV, web, kiosk, streaming etc.)
- Level of integration with standard authoring tools (e.g. Dreamweaver, Word etc.)
- Reporting and Tracking features
- XML / Technology standards
- Collaborative working
- Syndication capabilities
- Scalability/upgrade path and multi-server deployment
Hope that helps on the theoretical front. On the practical front, has anyone had any recent experience of working with Vignette? If so I’d be interested in hearing a reply to Jonathan’s post at http://www.e-consultancy.com/forum/default.asp?v=1021&p=1
self at self
20 November 2001 14:17pm
To take on just one of Ashley's comments - from the Tesco report - not all objects are content.
There needs to be a sense of what requires the workflow management that a CMS can offer, and what just needs fast database retreival.
Product info and order status needs fast database retrieval, as do customer details. This requires a system that works with a CMS (to deliver the final pages) but shouldn't *be* a CMS.
Content assets - and by assets I mean content objects that have had value added to them via DRM or whatever, require a CMS for their creation and management.
Scheduling a system to pull an article from a page when it's out of date is a very different process from pulling a product from the database when it's out of stock, and despite the best misguided attempts of Broadvision, Autonomy et. al. there's still no 'portal in a box' that will ever excel at both tasks. And there's unlikley ever to be one either.
20 November 2001 14:30pm
sorry - some other thoughts:
Which provider/technology do you use.
Well, ask yourself the question - what are you going to use it for?
If you're Reuters, The Guardian or even the Exeter Express and Echo, then the primary users of the technology are going to be journalists. If this is the case, then GET THEM INVOLVED! The majority of CMS systems that are built to work within content companies fail because no-one's actually taken the time to look at the workflow of the journalists day. Simple things matter, and make the system work or fail. A small feature on a system like the ability of the journalist to choose whether or not s/he gets prompted via email or a system alert when there's a task waiting for their attention can actually yield massive productivity gains. Different people work different ways. One journalist might be very good at organising their time and can filter workflow alerts and manage them effectively. Another might be a lazy arse and will need the boot up the jacksy that a system alert offers.
And if you are a content company, what's the caching systems like? What flexibility do you have in managing page templates? How fast does it deliver?
If, however, you're a multi-service portal, an e-commerce company or you're just building an intranet/extranet or corporate site, then the page editing and creation tools will not be so important to you. Effectively, what you're looking at is acquiring a nifty merchandising tool, and therefore the way in which the CMS can link into your CRM system is far more important, as you'll want to target marketing messages, files from the knowledgebase or product info to the customer or user based upon their needs, which massively changes the nature of the system you buy.
To sum up Ashley's comments in a nutshell - it's horses for courses, so make sure you're backing the right horse. All of Ashley's other comments about getting the strategy right and getting senior management buy-in are true, but they're true about *every* technology project.
But ultimately, a CMS (no matter how good) is not going to save, rescue or improve your business if you don't know what the hell your core business is, or why you're using a CMS in the first place.
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