By Nancy McCluskey-Moore of NCompass Labs, Inc.
Web sites are an integral part of an organization's operations. No longer relegated to the role of electronic billboards, sites are used to actively promote companies and products, deliver services and information, manage transactions, and facilitate communications. Changes must occur quickly - daily, hourly, or even minute-by-minute. This need for rapid change, the "ripple effect" changes can have throughout a site, and the sheer size of today's dynamic business sites make it impossible for all revisions to flow through one or two people. Complexity and speed have created the demand for automated ways to effectively manage Web content.
But as with most technologies, not all Web content management solutions are created equal. The design philosophy behind the solution, as well as the architecture employed, can directly impact the suitability of the product for your organization's sites. Selecting a Web content management solution that doesn't properly address your requirements can make it difficult to enhance the site's functionality, size, or scope. Overall, your organization's productivity and growth will be constrained when content changes can not keep pace with the business environment and everyone, from content providers and designers to IT professionals - must work harder to compensate for the site's technological shortcomings.
In contrast, the right Web content management solution can enable your organization to save time and money, improve communications, strengthen business relationships, and increase revenues. The right solution also can provide the scalability, flexibility, and enterprise system interoperability necessary to meet future site requirements; an important consideration when the future can arrive in a matter of months. It's an important decision, worthy of further investigation.
What Should You Look For?
What Should You Look For?
Choosing the right Web content management solution requires a good understanding of the capabilities needed to meet your organization's current and future operational needs. Knowing how and when the site should deliver content, and to whom - can guide the creation of clear front-end site requirements. But that's only half of the equation. The "back side" of the site also has to be considered. Site deployment, management, maintenance, and infrastructure requirements also must be met.
Additional site and infrastructure criteria may be identified through interviews with your organization's business managers, site designers, content authors, or the Webmaster.
After gathering "wish lists" from the technical and non-technical personnel involved in the deployment and maintenance of your organization's site(s), you'll need to sort the information into major categories. This process will help you identify general requirements and the features of Web content management solutions that support them. The solution chosen should of course satisfy, as a minimum, the highest priority requirements within these categories. These are some typical site requirement categories:
Fresh, up-to-date, accurate, and personalized content can be delivered easily to various target audiences.
To accomplish this, it must be easy for content providers to regularly make changes, whether a change involves adding new content or updating existing material. It also should be possible to ensure that materials are displayed only when they are current, and removed when they become out-of-date.
Establishing the accuracy of all posted content requires that it be approved at multiple levels within the organization. However, for timely content delivery, the approval process should be easy to implement.
Finally, personalizing content to match the needs, interests, and language of the individual browsing the site can significantly increase site usability and the number of repeat visits.
To address these requirements, look for a Web content management solution that offers:
Content authors should be able to quickly create materials using standard desktop applications, as well as image, video, and other types of media files. After materials have been developed, content providers should be able post them to the Web using pre-built design templates that provide the proper formatting and corporate branding elements. Creating new content, or revising existing materials, should not require the involvement of scarce technical resources. Non-technical content authors should be empowered to keep content up-to-date and be able to directly post content to either a staging environment or a live Web site.
Browser-based authoring permits contributors to work from any location. This also simplifies support logistics since a Web authoring client eliminates the need to install and maintain software in remote locations. Global marketing requires a multi-lingual site. That requires support for all major languages. Time zone synchronization ensures that content is presented at the right time, regardless of the author's location
Calendaring should allow content providers to determine when content is presented on the site and when it is removed. Automating this process ensures that date-sensitive information is available only while relevant. And no one in the organization has to remember when to post or eliminate site content.
Routing of materials for approval should follow a predictable process. Non-automated processes are subject to human error, resulting in the omission of essential reviewers. Often when such a mistake is discovered, several employees must take time to remove and replace the erroneously posted material. More importantly, the posting of inaccurate Web content can impact the organization's credibility or even its income.
Personalization of Web content requires that content and presentation are not intertwined. That way the same information can be served up in various formats, depending upon the site user. s needs and interests. This capability, coupled with a page serving model that builds pages on-the-fly as they are requested, provides the foundation for delivering personalized content tailored to the user' s interests and/or browsing device.
Time and effort can be saved if authors can refer back to a previous version of a Web page. Cutting and pasting copy from an earlier version can speed the creative process . or quickly correct an error. it's also helpful for the Webmaster to be able to determine who has made which changes on the site. It might be necessary to perform a full site audit for legal reasons. A Web content management system with archiving capabilities can facilitate timely satisfaction of such requirements.
An easily navigated site, with information consistently organized in a logical fashion, is what most organizations want to provide. But delivering consistent organization with proper adherence to corporate branding and design standards can be difficult when several authors are contributing content. If more than one designer or Webmaster posts content, standards can easily become compromised and consistency diminished. Look for a Web content management solution that makes it easy to always organize and present content in accordance with the organization's guidelines.
Support for a diverse set of browsing devices should also be a consideration. Over the next couple of years, PC-based Web browsers will be replaced or augmented by a host of alternatives. Tomorrow's Web browsers will include such devices as stereo systems, home appliances, cellular and dial-up phones, PDAs, and kiosks. An organization's Web sites will have to be flexible enough to accommodate all of these devices. Delivering this capability will require a content repository that separates Web site content from its format, allowing content to be served up in a variety of ways, depending upon the type of device that is requesting it.
To satisfy these requirements, you will want a Web content management solution that offers:
Consistency of look and feel - as well as the logical organization of the site's content - is greatly simplified when templates are used. This approach allows content providers to create materials in common desktop applications and then copy and paste the material into a design template. Automatically the system will handle posting in accordance with pre-defined site rules. A Web content management solution that requires content providers to remember rules, follow non-automated procedures, or voluntarily comply with design standards will likely produce unsatisfactory results.
Designers should design and authors should develop content. Having well-prescribed roles simplifies site management. When a site design team controls decisions about page layout, colors, fonts, navigation, and graphical elements, branding consistency is assured. Adherence to other corporate standards also is increased. This is especially important when content providers are located in remote offices.
Content is easily served up in formats appropriate to various browsing devises when it is stored separately from its format. When this is the case, pages can be compiled on the fly when they are requested. As the number of devices proliferates in the years ahead, you will want to make certain that the Web content management solution you select offers the flexibility required. Separating content and presentation ensures that your site will look right, regardless of the device a used to access it.
Like your list of site requirements, the IT infrastructure requirements you have identified should be sorted and prioritized. Naturally you will want to ensure that the Web content management solution you choose fully addresses the most important - if not all - items on your list. Typically organizations have site set-up and maintenance requirements that include:
You want to avoid having the Webmaster spending his/her time implementing content changes. This approach cannot scale to accommodate increases in site size or complexity. In order to allow your content publishing environment to scale with your business, it is important to realize that your content updates do not have to be treated like development projects. Content updating processes can be automated on top of a Web content management application framework.
To satisfy this requirement, you will want a Web content management solution that offers:
Most organizations want the advantages of a Web content management solution, without increasing the costs associated with site deployment and maintenance. The easiest ways to control costs are to avoid solutions that require a large in-house development team or third-party consultants to deploy and support the site. Savings are also realized when organizations can leverage their existing skills sets and technologies.
To control costs, you will want a Web content management solution that offers:
Yesterday. s back-end systems are becoming today. s Web-based systems. This evolution makes it essential for all Web-based systems to share information and interact effectively.
To achieve interoperability, a Web content management solution should:
When change is the only constant, it is important to plan accordingly. Solutions that cannot accommodate new site features and functionality will quickly have to be replaced. Support for such things as multiple browser devices, a greater degree of personalization, or yet-to-be developed Web technologies are all important considerations.
To plan for the future, select a Web content management solution that:
When an organization's management team is reviewing budgetary proposals, the price tag associated with a new computing solution often elicits one question: "Can. t we avoid this expense?" The answer is obvious - you can continue to operate your Web sites without the benefit of a content management solution. But the real question should be "What is the cost of not making this purchase?"
Here are some factors to consider:
High labor costs and the shortage of qualified personnel
Finding and keeping qualified employees can be a challenge. All the more reason to make the most of each individual. s skill set. A Web content management solution that empowers content providers to post directly to a live site increases their productivity. By the same token, IT personnel who are not ensnared in the posting process are free to apply their skills and knowledge to more challenging tasks. Providing state-of-the-art tools helps promote positive attitudes while improving productivity, which can go a long way in retaining skilled personnel.
How long it currently takes to implement site changes
Does it take hours or even days to post new content on your Web sites? that's often far too long to leave outdated or incorrect information on a site. After all, the beauty of the Internet is providing target audiences with 24 x 7 access to all the latest and greatest information. When a site becomes stale, users become disenchanted and less likely to return. Recapturing a user. s interest is far more difficult than maintaining it with fresh, personalized content.
Potential problems caused by erroneous or out-of-date postings
When new information doesn't get posted quickly . what does it cost your organization? If you. re a publicly traded company, incorrect financial postings can have serious consequences. Providing only accurate, timely product information can prevent misunderstandings that lead to customer dissatisfaction. Giving distributors and suppliers incorrect, out-of-date, or partial information can have a negative affect on your bottom line. The right Web content management solution, one that is easy to use and maintain, will help ensure that your organization provides site visitors with reliable content.
Revenue losses attributable to an inability to respond
A Web site that cannot scale to meet a business. s emerging needs is just as serious as an inability to hire more people, move to a larger facility, or acquire additional suppliers. Revenue can be lost and the future of the organization diminished. Why take such chances, especially when Web sites are becoming central to doing business?
Hiring an experienced Webmaster allows an organization to use that individual. s skills beyond day-to-day site maintenance. A knowledgeable individual can help review site architecture, assess future site requirements, and implement upgrades. These are valuable activities for growing organizations that want to remain competitive in today. s rapidly changing economic environment. But when the Webmaster must operate as a "Web page processor," the time and skills of this valuable resource cannot be fully utilized.
The right Web content management solution can allow your organization to:
Before you make a decision, check out the full range of Web content management options.
Develop your requirements checklist and then begin reviewing product specifications, reading product reviews and viewing in-depth product demonstrations. Then talk with a vendor. s current customers, particularly those who have implemented using in-house resources similar to your own. Make sure these references are also tackling business issues that parallel your own - whether it's publishing a weekly e-zine or supporting non-technical content providers around the globe.
You. ll want the reference site representative to explain how long it took to deploy the solution and what resources were required. If consultants were needed, determine the time and costs associated with their assistance. You also will want to know what resources are needed for maintenance. The ease of scaling or upgrading a deployed site and whether this has been affected by proprietary issues also merits investigation.
While the research will require some effort, choosing the Web content management solution that fits your organization's requirements will save pay dividends over the long-term. it's a decision that warrants a closer look.
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