Managing Content

As companyInternet, extranet, and intranet Web sites become increasingly complex andcritical, content management has become a topic of great interest in the ITcommunity. GartnerGroup, for example, predicts leading organizations will havea content management strategy in place by 2003.

Tounderstand the role of content management, we have to understand what kind ofcontent we are deploying, who the target audience for the content is, and howwe are going to build an infrastructure that will scale as more content ismanaged.

Web-basedcontent covers the entire gamut of structured and unstructured information.Structured information is data that is obtained from relational ornonrelational databases. Examples of structured data include packagedapplications from SAP or PeopleSoft, for example, internally developed datawarehouses, and data from legacy or custom-developed applications. Unstructureddata is typically data from either files or Web links. Unstructured informationis also available in multimedia formats, such as graphics, pictures, sound, orvideo.

Next, youneed to think about the target audience. Your criteria for how the site willoperate, and how you’ll manage its content, will vary depending on whether yourtarget audience is customers who are purchasing products or internal users whoare more interested in obtaining current product or business information. Ifthe site is optimized for external customers, then you’ll probably want toconsider adding content that will enhance the stickiness of the site, such aspersonalized information of interest to the customer. If, on the other hand,you’re targeting members of the business organization, you’ll want to bringinternal content, such as business plans, product specifications, or pricesheets to the site.

The mostimportant component of the infrastructure that you’ll need to build is arepository. A repository is necessary for several reasons. One, is that youwill want to have a single place to hold content while it is being edited andreviewed. Another, is that you will want to have the ability to bundle thecontent into a single package prior to publishing it. You will probably alsoneed the ability to maintain various versions of the state of the site so youcan roll back the site to a prior version if there is a serious problem thatcan’t be fixed online.

Therepository can be a database or a file system, or a mix of the two. A databasemakes it easier to manage the entire set of data objects, but you run the riskof creating a database that balloons up to a huge size rather quickly. This isespecially true if you’re adding media-rich content, such as high-resolutiongraphics or video. Managing a multiterabyte DBMS can be a nontrivial task. Onthe other hand, managing a hierarchical file system with multiple levels ofcontent, and mapping that to your logical site, can also be a complexchallenge.

This is thepoint where you start to think about the capabilities of the various tools thatare on the market. What are some of the features you’ll want to see included?

First,there should be strong integration capabilities to tie into the various datasources you’re going to bring to the site. These may include e-commerceapplications or databases, external syndicated data sources, and internal filesystems.

Thesoftware should have content creation capabilities that let various categoriesof authors and editors create and review the content. The tool should includesupport for a review and approval process. Check-in/check-out and fileversioning are very useful for managing complex components and ensuring theunderlying integrity of the system.

Asmentioned before, you may want to implement the ability to roll-out/roll-backthe site, as business needs dictate.

Finally,you may want to consider integration with nontraditional touch points. Forexample, if you’re dealing with an e-commerce application, you may need tointegrate it with other customer contact points, such as a corporate callcenter, kiosks, or retail outlets. From the user-interface perspective, itwould also be prudent to consider support for wireless/PDA access to yoursystem, which would let users quickly execute the 3G approach: get in, get it,get out. --Robert Craig is vice presidentof marketing at Viador Inc. (Burlington, Mass.), and a former director at theHurwitz Group Inc. Contact him at robert.craig@viador.com.