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Lots of talk, little movement toward cloud Web content management

While some companies are getting their feet wet with cloud-based WCM, the ramp-up is slow because of lingering concerns about security, ease of configuration and integration.

Despite all the hoopla surrounding Software as a Service (SaaS), organizations are taking the slow path to migrating to cloud Web content management (WCM) systems, according to analysts, who say there’s more talk about the move than action.

“In general, there’s no big shift toward the cloud when it comes to WCM,” said Irina Guseva, an analyst with Real Story Group in Olney, Md. “I wouldn’t say companies are transitioning away from traditional on-premises software to the cloud even though the cloud has major impact, especially as it relates to open source software. It’s more of a complementary option for organizations, but the liftoff hasn’t happened.”

Like any SaaS software, cloud-based WCM promises advantages inherent in the delivery model, including quick time to deployment, reduced investment in hardware and infrastructure to run the system and the option for scaling to accommodate the ebbs and flows of business. While the ability to be up and running quickly is one of the more heralded aspects of cloud-based WCM, some experts say the ease-of-management promise has far greater appeal, as companies look for more efficient ways to administer and update burgeoning content stores to support a multichannel, global delivery strategy encompassing mobile, apps and the Web.

Being able to easily deploy and maintain a WCM without regular intervention from IT is a big lure for the cloud-based model, according to Manali Patel, a Web systems consultant at Dieppe, New Brunswick-based Autumn Web Solutions. Patel, whose company caters to Fortune 500 companies, is working with a financial services firm on deploying WCM and opted for a cloud-based product as an interim step as the team researched enterprise technologies. However, after the initial launch, the team decided to stick with the cloud-based platform as the long-term system in part because of the ease of installation (it took three to four months as opposed to the 18-month cycle of traditional on-premises WCM systems). It also helped to be up and running quickly without a major investment in infrastructure, hardware or even IT personnel, Patel said.

Because content is so dynamic and because many of the multichannel campaigns run during off-business hours, Patel said the ability for business users to maintain control over content without reliance on IT is critical. “It came down to empowering business users so they didn’t have to call me or an IT person to make changes,” Patel explained. “They don’t have to spend time doing the content management aspect; rather, they can spend time developing good content.”

Barriers to adoption
Nevertheless, the majority of WCM users are not yet knocking down doors for cloud-based solutions. Security remains an on-going concern -- an issue Patel admits was a hurdle at first for the financial services company -- but there are other, more significant barriers to adoption.

For one thing, cloud-based tools are typically much more limited in terms of customization than on-premises platforms, which can be a problem for companies given that WCM varies so dramatically depending on the company and the role of the website, according to Kathleen Reidy, a senior analyst at The 451 Group in New York. “Even though Web content management is all fairly similar, websites end up looking quite different,” she explained, and SaaS offerings have less robust features for customizations.

Another area where SaaS can fall short is in its ability to integrate with other systems. While such systems may have a leg up with packaged integrations to other cloud-based platforms, they don’t necessarily have any stronger connections to legacy applications compared with integration capabilities of on-premises WCM offerings, especially for those applications that are central to a broader customer experience or customer engagement strategy.

“In 2012, Web content management is going to be defined by its interaction with other systems -- before it was all about being a marketer’s tool,” said Scott Liewehr, lead analyst in the WCM practice at Outsell’s Gilbane Services in Cambridge, Mass. “That means interoperability is a necessary component of contemporary WCM, but I’m not sold on the cloud as the best way to do it. When you think about other back-office systems [required for this mix], so many are not cloud-based.”

While cloud-based WCM may be slow out of the gates, analysts do believe the market is moving in that direction and eventually, cloud-based WCM will emerge perhaps not as a replacement, but as a healthy complement to on-premises systems. Said Liewehr: “The cloud is unquestionably the future, not just for WCM, but for everything.”

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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