Forrester's Wave on WCM software spotlights APIs, partner ecosystem

This year's Forrester Wave for Web content management systems is out. The report spotlights the importance of open APIs and the partner ecosystem.

Web content management systems aren't all created equal. Forrester Research's 2014 Wave report on WCM software makes that abundantly clear.

WCM systems are sets of tools designed to help companies manage digital content on their websites. These publishing environments help companies create, edit, publish and update content in digital formats. Some WCM software also enables companies to repurpose that content for other arms of the business, such as marketing and sales. WCM software helps companies publish and manage their content efficiently and helps them to create novel uses for their content.

Forrester's Wave report outlines leaders, challengers and so on in the WCM software market. According to Forrester's most recent Wave report, Sitecore shares the Leaders spot with only Adobe Software. Forrester lists "strong performers" as Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM, OpenText, Oracle, SDL and Acquia (commercializing Open Source Drupal); Ektron and EPIServer (now merged as a single company) are listed as "Contenders."

A morphing marketplace

All in all, the report raises questions, such as what impact these ratings should have on customers' buying decisions and digital business strategies.

The architecture of WCM software needs to be flexible and open enough to accommodate new ways of using digital content.

Forrester draws a bright line around the Wave -- limiting its coverage to vendors with more than $50 million in revenue or strong momentum, of interest to its subscribers, and "experience as the primary solution for Web content management in large organizations." Notably absent are less product-centric and more environment-oriented players, such as WordPress, Google, and Joomla. In terms of sheer volumes of sites and their visitors, Forrester is missing many viewers.

In fact, the WCM marketplace has tracked the evolution of the Web as it morphs from managing page-oriented sites into molding multichannel digital experiences. As Forrester observes:

[WCM] began life as a simple, dynamic webpage hosting product, but it has grown over almost two decades to become a multifaceted toolkit for building, managing, delivering and optimizing digital experiences, the bedrock of your business technology agenda.

Over the years, WCM systems have added capabilities for managing editorial workflows; accessing image collections; and distributing content to multiple end points, including ERP and marketing automation systems. Many systems emphasize personalization and their abilities to track how content is used. Most recently, WCM systems are featuring publish-once multichannel distribution, using responsive design templates and other technologies for mobile devices and PCs.

The bedrock agenda and beyond

This historical context matters. At one time, IT staffers had to make changes to companies’ websites because they had the coding knowledge to do so. First-generation WCM systems transferred these tasks to nontechnical authors and editors.

The bedrock business technology agenda remains the same -- getting IT out of the loop of doing the routine stuff and enabling nontechnical workers to maintain things on their own. But the routine stuff is changing. Content management has become more complex, and more critical to the business success of competing (and winning) in the digital age.

Today, that means that the architecture of WCM software needs to be flexible and open enough to accommodate new ways of using digital content that's not only repurposed in a variety of ways on company websites but also used in marketing campaigns, for e-commerce, and to support more modern digital customer experiences. So, beyond digital publishing, production and content distribution, WCM now entails Web application development, where applications perform business functions.

And as any enterprise architect will tell you, application development is a different kettle of fish from digital publishing. Savvy firms will invest substantial efforts in the underlying digital environments powering their websites, and they need to understand how data architecture, information architecture and user experience all come together.

Underneath the covers for next-generation WCM, new toolkits are necessary for shaping and managing digital experiences. These toolkits include capabilities for defining taxonomies, specifying metadata, and modeling customer scenarios -- the softer sides for technical systems definitions and designs.

Forrester reports that there is "a tremendous variety of scenarios, many requiring extensive customization and integration. This requirement makes [application programming interfaces] APIs, software development, a component marketplace and developer networks critical capabilities in the WCM market." While Acquia (for Drupal) and Sitecore "have the strongest API and component ecosystem strategies" from a technical perspective, this is only half the story.

Increased roles for partner ecosystem

Successful integration blends technology and business insights, like potters spinning vases from blocks of clay. The 10 vendors and their products in this year's Wave are the clay of varying consistency and extensibility. All need molding by integration partners that have the tools and know-how for shaping results.

Some of these partners are independent firms, while others are the consulting groups associated with parent companies. (HP, IBM and Oracle are known for their deep consulting bench.) Some digital agencies have particular professional competencies in vertical industries or solution sets. This is a complicated landscape. As a place to start, the Digital Clarity Group maintains a comprehensive guide to service providers for Web content and customer experience management. The right WCM solution will depend on the business context and the technology ecosystem.

Aging to perfection

In sum, I would argue that the product comparisons represented in this year's Forrester Wave are really beside the point; like fine wines, the WCM marketplace is aging to perfection. Yes, product comparisons give technology professionals (and industry analysts like me) lots of things to talk about.

What counts, however, is the content strategy and the technology ecosystem -- and then understanding how particular WCM products, toolkits, and Web services fit into the environment. While content is the currency for competing in the digital age, business and technology decision makers need to pay attention to their firms' financial statements to ensure that their digitally powered businesses succeed. Digital business strategies must drive the buying decisions for technology toolkits and WCM system selections.

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