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Web content management's new role: Fueling digitally driven businesses

Web content management is not just about publishing Web pages any more, according to one industry expert. It has become a way to use content to power useful business applications for the enterprise.

At a recent lunch meeting, a tech-savvy entrepreneur who is building a leadership training business asked a familiar question: “What should I do about managing my Web content?”

His question brought to mind another recent conversation I had about Web content management (WCM) with an enterprise architect responsible for the customer-facing business systems at a venerable financial services firm. He wanted to know how the company should use content to improve customer experiences on its website.

His firm recently purchased a brand-name WCM platform, but the implementation was opening up a host of knotty issues about the best ways to serve the company’s youngest customers, who are “digital natives.” He also needed to create a roadmap for using Web content to increase revenues, reduce costs and mitigate risks across the firm’s multiple delivery channels.

Both colleagues are seasoned technologists who have developed their share of brochureware sites. They’re no strangers to publishing Web content, but turning a Web presence into a customer-friendly multichannel environment that fuels a digitally driven business is another matter.

A plan for Web apps
It’s a must, though. You see, WCM is not just about publishing Web pages any more. Managing Web content is now a means to an end. To compete in the digital economy, we actually need to use content to power useful applications for the enterprise. These are Web apps with a business purpose: They are designed to produce insights for decision-making and to deliver results.

What should be on the roadmap for building useful Web apps?

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First, we need to get beyond the page-oriented Web by identifying the right level of granularity for information resources and then managing the underlying metadata using business-oriented terms. Web apps are increasingly moving from self-contained content silos to a more open and interconnected environment that leverages the links and semantic relationships among different content types.

Moreover, our requirements for managing Web content are changing. It’s important to view WCM not as a predefined (and bounded) system but rather as a set of middleware services that powers an organization’s content infrastructure.

Content mashups
All too frequently, Web application developers need to mash up content from disparate sources. Beyond simply fetching content from multiple repositories, they must weave together unstructured text, structured data, photos, scanned images, real-time video clips and many other elements into a seamless and compelling user experience. From an application development perspective, WCM systems should encompass the required content-related services within an overall enterprise application environment.

What does this mean in practical terms? As middleware, a content infrastructure provides the tools to do the following:

  • Define and maintain the various content types.
  • Structure and manage the metadata for categorizing content types by mapping terms to controlled vocabularies, taxonomies and linked data elements wherever possible.
  • Organize and render content on multiple devices (for example, PCs, smartphones, game consoles, e-readers and tablet PCs, all running popular operating systems) to produce intuitive experiences for end users, administrators and content creators.
  • Support social networks by linking people with their user profiles and the content they create.
  • Track and channel activity streams by linking to predefined business processes.

The end result is a flexible environment for building and deploying Web applications across an enterprise.

Taking stock of the enterprise app world
Who’s delivering a Web content infrastructure within an enterprise application environment? Major enterprise software vendors and open source projects are key players in that area.

Among enterprise software vendors, IBM is perhaps furthest along in leveraging content components and activity streams with its emphasis on social business and its recent product announcements at Lotusphere 2012. Microsoft, with its continuing investments in SharePoint 2010, and Oracle, with its acquisition of FatWire last year, support the basics within their application infrastructure middleware. It’s likely they will leverage their partner ecosystems to develop the needed components for their content infrastructures.

When it comes to open source, Drupal is the most visible open source project community focusing on the content infrastructure; it features a large and active community of contributors. The Drupal platform manages content components and metadata as core services, and it can assemble mobile, social and process management services through contributed modules.

Toward a shopping list
Finally, what should the tech-savvy entrepreneur and the enterprise architect do about creating a plan and deploying the right tools for building their Web apps?

I believe my colleagues -- and others -- should start by developing the use cases for how they expect to do business in the digital age. It’s important to be able to describe their customers’ experiences in some detail. Each needs to define the content types and metadata that customers expect to use.

Second, they should identify the business-oriented content services required to fuel their digitally driven businesses and give their customers what they need. It’s key to define the content types and metadata that customers expect to use. Only then will my colleagues be able to put together their Web content-centric shopping lists.

Geoffrey Bock is the principal of Bock & Co., a consultancy focusing on digital strategies for content and collaboration. He also is an author specializing in the business impacts of content technologies. He can be reached at

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