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Getting the green light for Web content management software projects

Growing support for marketing and customer engagement efforts appears to be driving investments in new or upgraded Web content management systems.

The ongoing transformation of Web content management (WCM) software from a set of narrowly focused publishing and content management tools to broader platforms for supporting corporate marketing and customer engagement efforts appears to be driving investments in new or upgraded WCM systems at many organizations.

In a recent survey of 260 content and collaboration professionals conducted by Forrester Research Inc., 78% of the respondents said their organizations planned to invest in Web content management initiatives this year, up slightly from 75% reported on a similar survey in 2010. Forrester said respondents cited a variety of customer engagement upgrades as the key business drivers for the planned investments, including user-experience improvements across multiple content-delivery channels, website redesigns and better customer self-service capabilities.

Increasing sales conversion rates and supporting new e-business initiatives also made the list of the top factors driving new spending on Web content management systems among survey respondents, according to Forrester.

“The primary reason for investing [in new WCM capabilities] for externally facing websites is to drive the customer experience,” Forrester analyst Stephen Powers said. “Companies want to leverage the content in the WCM system beyond the traditional Web experience to increase sales and provide brand consistency.”

At the heart of the push for improved functionality is a desire on the part of a growing number of companies to leverage their Web content management software implementations for marketing purposes. Of the 218 respondents to the Forrester survey who have customer-facing websites, 51% said that their WCM systems are being used to support marketing efforts – up from just 30% on a similar survey a year ago.

Content management analysts said they're seeing similar efforts to upgrade Web content management systems that support intranet sites used within companies – for example, to enable new personalization and self-service features on the sites. “The fact that a lot of websites and intranets are based on technology that has not been optimized for usability and the user experience is driving an awful lot of projects right now,” said Gartner Inc. analyst Toby Bell.

Can your Web content management software answer the mobile call?
Supporting websites on iPhones, iPads, Androids and other mobile devices is another impetus for funding new Web content management projects. Mobile support requires companies to retune their websites to display content, including multimedia data and online forms, in a way that’s optimized for the small screens of handheld devices – and a WCM system upgrade or replacement might be needed to make that possible. “If my platform can’t deliver me to my audience, then my platform is a liability,” Bell said.

He added that Gartner also sees content targeting as a big WCM spending driver. By 2012, the consulting firm expects as much as 75% of all website content to be delivered based on what a company knows about individual visitors. To make that possible, companies will look to their Web content management software to compile contextual data about website visitors, such as preferences and location – functionality that most WCM platforms currently lack, Bell said.

Given that the new breed of enterprise Web content management is about marketing and customer engagement – not just about publishing and managing a bunch of files – you might think it would be easier to do a solid return on investment (ROI) calculation as part of the process of building the business case for new WCM investments. But demonstrating a potential ROI remains difficult, said Tony Byrne, president of Real Story Group, an Olney, Md.-based consulting firm that focuses on content management.

Byrne advises companies to simply count spending on website and Web content management improvements as part of the cost of doing business nowadays – just like upgrading a telephone system. “You communicate with a lot more people on the Web than by phone," he said. "To the extent that communications and an engagement channel are important, you need to do it right.”

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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