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With analysts estimating that there are dozens or potentially hundreds of Web content management (WCM) products to choose from, one of the biggest deployment challenges is simply sorting through the morass of product offerings to zero in on the platform that best meets an organization's business needs.
The expansive array of choices ups the ante when honing an effective selection process, but the good news is there are some tried-and-true parameters that can help narrow the field for WCM system deployment.
One way is to decide on either an on-premises product or Software as a Service (SaaS) technology. That choice will help target a specific set of vendors. Some companies can then thin out the list based on specific language requirements or a need for robust globalization capabilities. Others will gravitate to WCM options that are tuned in to their particular industry segment and vendors that have substantial experience with a like set of customers.
"[The WCM market] is a bit broader than the more established enterprise applications market because there are so many vendors, and when you mix in open source WCM, it kind of explodes," said Darin Stewart, a research director at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn.
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Stewart said that when clients say they are ready to either purchase a content management system (CMS) or replace one, the first question he asks is, What are you trying to accomplish? "That usually stops people cold," he noted. "The biggest hurdle in selecting a platform is defining what the requirements are."
Understanding website complexity
Defining those requirements for a Web content management strategy begins with asking the right questions. Those involved in the selection process need to determine exactly what type of website suits the business need. Will it be a basic informational presence or a more sophisticated interactive site with social and multimedia capabilities? Will it deliver a multichannel customer experience? How often will the site be changed, and who will make the changes? These and other questions must be answered up front, according to Stewart and other analysts.
"Understand the complexity of the website you are trying to drive," said Tony Byrne, president of Real Story Group, an Olney, Md.-based analyst firm specializing in content management technologies. "There's a whole set of things that drive complexity." Basic research should help narrow the field to a list of six to eight WCM options relatively quickly, he said.
Real Story Group divides the WCM market into five tiers to help its clients target the right vendors and technologies. Basic and middle-range products are best for companies looking to do a simple website or blog without requiring any customization of the chosen Web content management system, the firm advises. It says middle-range platforms (as opposed to middle-range applications) are well suited to companies with the resources to customize a CMS, while the upper-range and enterprise platforms are generally a match for larger organizations with multiple brands and websites and sophisticated multichannel marketing needs.
Consider a range, but don't overshoot
Byrne said it's wise to explore options one or two tiers above and below what you determine fits your needs. "It's always surprising what makes a good match for people. It's not as scientific as we'd like to believe," he said.
Having a solid request-for-proposal (RFP) process is another critical element while shopping for a WCM system. Instead of sending a generic checklist of requirements to vendors, Byrne said Real Story Group advises clients to develop business-related test cases so they can better evaluate systems in head-to-head comparisons.
One of the more common mistakes companies make is listing unnecessary requirements, Byrne and others said. That opens the door to being caught up with the latest and greatest functionality even if it doesn't correspond to a real business need.
"They hear that they need a social strategy or need to support video and have more personalization and content targeting. That's all well and good, but you have to ask what you're hoping those features will lead to," said Stephen Powers, a principal analyst with Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. "It's like gorging yourself on a buffet – buying a lot of features and then not using them."
Yet companies also need to be careful that they don't shortchange their WCM needs and choose a technology that quickly runs out of steam. "Oftentimes, companies think too small and do something inexpensively for a year," said Powers, explaining that it can be both expensive and resource-intensive to rip something out and start fresh with a new WCM system. "You've got to spec out your requirements for the short term, but consider your long-term strategy as well," he recommended.
About the author:
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.