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Integration new need for an enterprise Web content management system?

There is a growing desire to integrate Web content management software platforms with other applications, but the task might be difficult.

It’s rare in today’s connected enterprise for any IT system to be completely standalone, but many Web content management (WCM) systems have been something of an exception. Now, with a growing number of companies looking to use their WCM tools to directly support marketing, sales and customer engagement processes, there’s increasing talk about the need to integrate them with key business systems.

Just because there’s a perceived need, however, doesn’t mean that efforts to create a fully integrated enterprise Web content management system are under way in any significant fashion. Much of the challenge stems from the fact that WCM systems initially weren’t built to integrate with core enterprise applications: Most Web content management software platforms lack preconfigured integration capabilities and have a less than robust set of application programming interfaces, according to industry analysts and consultants.

In a recent survey of content and collaboration professionals conducted by Forrester Research Inc., 17% of the 218 respondents with customer-facing websites cited enterprise application integration as an area where their WCM software needs improvement. In addition, analysts said that many organizations rely on homegrown systems or heavily customized versions of packaged Web content management tools, which can make the task of integrating them with other applications even more difficult.

Nevertheless, there is a desire to for such integration. According to the Forrester survey, the top candidates to be integrated with WCM systems include Web analytics tools (cited by 29% of the respondents with customer-facing sites), customer relationship management (CRM) applications (26%) and digital asset management systems (14%).

The main purpose of enterprise Web content management integration is to weave WCM tools into a broader technology stack that can deliver on the twin goals of improving the user experience for website visitors and driving more sales for an organization. And meeting those goals might not be feasible without an integration strategy in place.

No easy answers on integration for enterprise Web content management
“Integration is the elephant in the room," said Scott Liewehr, lead Web content management analyst at Gilbane Group, a Cambridge, Mass.-based consultancy that focuses on content management. "All the talk about engagement management requires an awful lot of integration, because it’s not something the WCM system can satisfy alone. And integration isn’t easy."

Liewehr added that for the most part, integration of WCM systems with other applications is "kind of hypothetical right now, because no one has done it in any significant way.”

For organizations that are looking to move beyond the hypothetical, defining the key integration points depends on whether a Web content management system is used to help manage a public website or a corporate intranet. For the latter, ERP and human resources systems are likely to be the primary applications that companies would want to integrate with WCM tools, analysts said. For external sites, they added, the most common integration targets would be the ones pointed to in the Forrester survey: Web analytics tools and, most important, CRM software.

Despite the potential synergies between WCM and those applications, there are sizeable integration challenges with technologies such as CRM systems, cautioned Tony Byrne, president of Real Story Group, a content management consulting firm based in Olney, Md.

“In a CRM system, you have clear, solid data about an individual, but once you’re into the Web environment, it’s more mushy,” Byrne said. Moreover, Web content management and CRM applications use different data models and terminology, and websites generate an enormous amount of information that isn't at all useful for CRM purposes. “It’s like a fire hose,” he said, adding that WCM integration “is pretty hard stuff, and people are still struggling with it.”

Tying the knot: Web content management and digital asset management
For now, Alex Lorberg, chief technology officer at Daily Racing Form, is focusing his integration efforts on linking the New York-based media organization's Web content management system with digital asset management software, primarily to streamline publishing workflows for images and videos.

Down the road, Lorberg said, his group will build out a metadata-handling strategy to enhance the integration between the two systems. He added that DRF, which covers horse racing news, also plans to look at integrating its WCM system with a database of horse racing statistics maintained by Equibase Co. LLC.

Technologies such as service-oriented architecture and cloud computing could help address some of the more vexing integration challenges facing WCM users, analysts said. They recommended, though, that companies consider whether their enterprise Web content management strategies have a real need for integration before starting any projects.

“Enterprises need to be thinking about how mature they really need to be,” said Gartner Inc. analyst Toby Bell. “There are a lot of shiny things in the Web world that may or may not serve their needs as an investment.”

Beth Stackpole
is a freelance writer who has been covering the intersection of technology and business for 25-plus years for a variety of trade and business publications and websites.

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