Content management tools automate Web page production

A year after launching a business-to-business e-commerce site for the component manufacturing division of Sharp Microelectronics, product marketing managers were flooding the IT staff with requests to add information to the site.

Selling components online is a programming-intensive, error-prone process, says Don LaVallee, director of strategic business operations for Sharp in Camas, Wash. "Accurate information is extremely critical with our products because engineers won't buy the product if they don't find the detailed specifications they need."

With plans to increase the number of active pages from 400 to 2,000, and no new staff in sight, LaVallee started looking for content management software. He wanted tools to manage Web pages, to provide links into Sharp's databases, and to replace paper requests for changes to a Web page with an automated workflow system.

Today, Sharp's Web specialists spend time designing complex applications, while the product managers use the Eprise Participant Server software to add content and put pages in production. When a product manager makes a change, a version of the page goes through an automated workflow that notifies management, sales and support staff, and even customers. Eprise didn't offer everything LaVallee wanted, but it was simple and easy to install, and didn't require extensive in-house programming.

Vendors have been quick to respond to IT's growing need to get a handle on Web content. Pure-play Web content management vendors such as Interwoven and Vignette have been joined by e-commerce vendors BroadVision and Open Market, plus document management vendors Documentum and FileNet.

Products range from quick and dirty tools with limited functionality to full-blown frameworks with proprietary code and long lead times. There's no one product that does everything out of the box.

"It gets down to business drivers and what is actually in the enterprise and what you need," says CAP Ventures analyst Leonor Ciarlone. A company may want to buy everything from one vendor, or they may have already bought personalization software and an application server and just need to bolt in the content management piece, she says.

Paul Maidment, deputy managing editor for Financial Times, ft.com, a global financial news Web site, is using Open Market's Content Centre and Content Server as a central hub for managing and publishing content online.

OpenMarket's software was selected for its ad management, community and publication tools. However, it doesn't have industrial-strength editing tools, Maidment says. "One thing was very striking when we were looking around at what was available: There was no product that had everything that we wanted for ft.com," Maidment says.

Maidment says that OpenMarket's software scales well through the use of a relational database to store content. But Maidment says he's had to do more custom coding than he anticipated.

Maidment adds that he considered Vignette, but ruled against it because the company's product is based on a proprietary code called Tcl. "We just couldn't get the Tcl programmers so we thought it would be a problem going forward, and practically all of them work for Vignette. Making a change to your site is an expensive, big deal when trying to find someone with the code experience, especially with a site that changes fairly often. It would have been a huge obstacle," Maidment says.

Scalability was a top priority for travel site application service provider FireVine, says Clay Elting, executive vice president and CTO. FireVine selected Vignette's software to manage content on thousands of client sites. Aside from high volume, the content-management system needed to tie in with customer relationship management software, Elting says.

Similarly, First Union bank was looking for software that could handle more than 20 individual types of workflows that result in the management of more than 8,000 documents. That level of complexity drove First Union to select Documentum, says Tom Kitrick, vice president and manager of the Knowledge Management group at the bank.

The bank is happy with its choice, but Kitrick points out that implementation isn't easy. "For the integration of the publishing presentation tools, there's tremendous systems integration work that went into it. We don't want to give you the impression that this is, 'Crack open the box, load it on a server and Documentum's ready to go in a week.' Documentum is a platform, a development environment," Kitrick says.

Jim McIntosh, marketing Web manager for Evans and Sutherland, a computer graphics company, had a similar experience with NCompass Resolution. "Had we started from scratch, plopped in a template, and worked with NCompass Resolution to build a new Web site, we could have it done in a week, swear to God," McIntosh says.

Pulling all the content over from an existing Web site and trying to build applications with it is tedious, McIntosh says. He says an end user has to figure out how to store pre-existing content. "Understanding how to structure that is kind of confusing, and it adds a lot of work as far as setting up the workflow," he says. Additionally, Resolution doesn't directly integrate with legacy systems. However, it allows you to reuse code to run the application the same way, McIntosh says.

Edison Electric, a trade association site representing publicly traded, investor-owned utilities in the U.S., is also using Eprise Participant Server to relieve a content bottleneck, says CIO Jon Arnold.

Arnold was leery about going with a proprietary framework and being dependent on specialized programmers, so he went with Eprise. IT participated in the Eprise Jump Start program, got acclimated to the software and moved a pilot area of the site into operation.

The process forced the Web team to think differently about workflow, to understand how the content management software impacts the end user. Deploying the content management software also required a change in handling user access, a move from proprietary security measures to an LDAP directory system for secure access to Eprise.

Users advise not to rush the implementation. Take time and build up your in-house expertise. The more you play with it, the better you get at squeezing functionality out of a content management system.

This story, "Content management tools automate Web page production" was originally published by Network World.

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