Content Management: The Collaborative E-Business

If you ask Web site operators what they spend most of their time doing, most will tell you managing content, a task that is not their responsibility.

What CIO or COO would have the courage to tell his company's stockholders that they're paying someone $80,000 a year to post press releases? But what are the alternatives? Pay out the same money to train less-qualified staff how to operate the Web site? Risk non-qualified employees posting content that perhaps shouldn't be live on the Web site?

Another option is growing as a viable alternative: contact a content management vendor for a packaged solution of tools for everyone involved in the content generation process so they can contribute to the Web site piecemeal, within their respective roles in the company.

This special report details what to expect from the content management vendor. If you have an e-business structure that demands constant production and administration of content, content management is a Web-site function that cannot be ignored. More importantly, it needs to be included from the beginning to help establish duties throughout the Web process. Lack of a content management solution can leave a Web site unorganized, unattended, and unproductive, which can lead to a loss of revenue opportunities.

What is Content Management?

In the recently published book Collaborative Web Development: Strategies and Best Practices for Web Teams by Jessica Burdman, the author contends, "A corporate unit that is dedicated to testing, editing, and approving content is becoming more important. As the Web becomes more and more of a tool for core business process and communication and less a novelty, then the companies will begin to justify this unit." We are just about there.

Content management can mean different things to different people. The whole process of attaining content, working with it, and publishing it is the expanded definition. More narrowly defined, content management is really the middle of the process.

Using the press release example again, a public relations specialist may see it fit to publish a recently composed release to the Web site right away. But there are several issues to be considered first. How well was the document spell-checked? How accurate is the news in the document? Is this the right time for that document to be published? Was the corporate logo included at the top right of the page? Is the company's copyright information correctly presented at the bottom?

These are just some of the issues that need to be addressed if lower-level producers are going to be allowed to become part of the collaborative Web chain. To allay these fears, content management solutions enter the picture between the process of submitting the content into an approval process and having it posted to the Web.

Collaborative Chain

In the example above, the PR specialist should really be at the beginning of a workflow chain. Most workflow processes begin with the producer submitting content for posting. What happens next can vary, but it usually includes a line of people with different job responsibilities. This is the workflow.

For the press release chain, when the document is submitted to the system it first goes to the copy editor, who reads over each release and checks for spelling and grammatical errors. Once finished, the release gets sent on to a corporate advisor, who checks the copyright information and checks that the information contained is allowed to be made public. Once approved, it is then sent to the public Web site. For the workflow to run smoothly, the process should be set up ahead of time and carved in stone.

A content management system also needs to support multiple types of publishing tools. If the PR rep uses Microsoft Word to type the press release, everyone else who views the document needs a tool that can access the document, as well. To accommodate this, most solutions include a check in/check out application that accesses the files in the database.

"One of the most important things is you have to allow your customers to use the best of breed tools that are out there," says Rikki Kirzner, director of application design and construction tools at International Data Corp. (IDC, www.idc.com). "It's as much of a religious factor with people creating content, so the content management solution has to be able to accept content from any source and merge it from every source it was generated from." Another important factor to remember is all content should be easily configurable for the Web. Some vendors provide Web-only tools, some offer Windows-only tools, while others have both.

Tight security also needs to be integrated into the system. You want to make sure that those accessing certain documents have the permission to do so, and those approving documents for posting have the authority. While some solutions come with their own security, most will lay on top of the existing security and access parameters, whether it is LDAP or Windows NT domains.

Establishing workflow is the most important step. It needs to be set up ahead of time and employees need to know how to use it.

"[Employees] have to be able to know who created the content, when it was deployed, and from where it was deployed, and to be able to get rid of it from every location it was replicated to once it expires," Kirzner explains. "More importantly, and something really crucial, is to be able to have a sophisticated means of rolling back to a previous state." That way if someone down the workflow chain doesn't like the changes made to a page, a simple roll back will fix it.

Vendors in the Field

Ever encounter the phrase, "The total e-business solution"? Most vendors with this type of tag line will have some kind of content management solution. What's important to look for, says Kirzner, are vendors that use best-of-breed solutions. In other words, they may only have a piece of the content management pie, but they are able to integrate with other vendors for the remaining pieces.

If you chose a vendor with packaged solutions that integrate with others, you will be able to take out any single piece that isn't working and replace it with one that does. This will prevent the trashing or reworking of an entire system.

"The problem is the rapidity with which the market is changing makes it almost impossible for any one vendor to keep up with all pieces," Kirzner observes. "The survival rate of most [content management] tool vendors is really going to hinge upon how well they partner and integrate with other solutions."

Beyond Content Management

The presentation layer, such as the live posting on a Web site, isn't considered content management, but it should be. Templates are usually used for delivery so several people can work on parts of the same Web page. While someone may be serving up the content, a developer could be making sure the applications running on a page are operational.

Most vendors will also have a personalization piece. Web sites are giving their visitors a way to personalize the experience so when you go to a particular site, there's the local news, sports and stock quotes you're interested in. All of this is content that's all being served up regardless of the presentation. While this part isn't considered content management, it is important to be aware of how the pages are being presented on the front end so operations on the back end are optimized.

Andrew Warzecha, analyst and senior program director at Meta Group (www.metagroup.com), advised on this story.