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Content Delivery Options in CMS

Recently, I was part of a Web Portal selection process, various vendors proposed their product and came up with demos, and tried their best to answer most of the questions which we asked them in our RFP.

One of the questions was about ‘Integration with our existing CMS’. This was the area where I was interested, so I was attentive and analyzed every word they spoke about integration. Unfortunately, none of the MQ ‘leaders’ were convincing enough on the CMS integration side, moreover, they were trying to propose their WCM product,  in line with their Portal Stack.

I was quite surprised while they were pushing their WCM product, without even knowing why and for how long we(customer) were using other vendor’s WCM product. They were having no idea about the volume of content we had and how simple or complex our implementation was.  It’s quite common for vendors to propose related products alongside their core product. But, when it comes to Integration of their product with other vendor-product, you will often hear them saying – ‘we have a partnership’,  ‘we can write a custom connector’, ‘we can use web services’ etc…. But how truthful are they while making these claims is an intriguing question? I think it is better to research integration options beforehand or ask your vendor for a specific case study along with customer testimonials.

Coming back to the topic of this post –

We all are aware that the vital principle of the content management system is to separate content from presentation. This is true, as we don’t create different versions of the same content differently for different delivery platforms. One content can be targeted to many channels such as – desktop browser, portal interfaces, mobile devices, etc…and when we say different delivery channels, we have different options to deliver the content to these channels,  I will cover some of them here –

  1. Presentation Templates: This is pretty common, most of the implementation takes this approach, be it intranet microsite or internet website, developers can use product-specific APIs to fetch the content and present the same to the site visitors.
  2. Presentation Portlets: Some of the content technology vendor ships CMS portlets for their portal products. Ex. OT-Vignette, IBM (Authoring/Rendering Portlets), and others. On the other hand, few core CMS vendor ships content portlets for different Portal Products. These portlets can be deployed on the supported portal platform and are responsible to fetch the content from CMS and display it on a portal page. You can configure CMS portlets in a portal page which can display your content from one or more CMS sites/nodes/workspace. Most of these portlets provide an interface to create, manage and display the content.  Management Functions are quite limited and if in case they do not cater to your requirements, you may want to extend these portlets and write additional custom code based on your requirements.
  3. Presentation Templates(For portal interface):  This is straight forward. You can use this approach when there is no clean integration available between your CMS and the Portal Platform. Write a simple presentation template as mentioned in #1 for fetching the content, apply the right CSS(as per your portal look and feel), and make sure that the HTML you use is aligned with the portlet/channel/i-view, etc. Once the template is complete, publish the page as HTML(static publish). Configure your portlet to fetch this HTML file. This is a quite simple/fast/non-expensive way to get your CMS content on a portal page. A disadvantage of this approach is that it’s a one-way communication channel. You can only ‘read’ your static content. Dynamic content delivery, in-context editing, and User Generated content will not be applicable in this approach.
  4. REST: This could be one of your options to access content if your CMS provides REST APIs for accessing the CMS data. All you need is to use REST URLs and access a resource in the system and get the output in either XML or as a JSON object. Once you have the required information/content, you can apply the presentation to render it. It’s not only the read but a  supported REST service that provides developers with Create, Edit, Update, Delete (CRUD) functions for operating on the specified content/content-object.
  5. RSS: There are a couple of scenarios and options to fetch and render content using RSS.  Take an example of a news feed from CMS – You can write a content template to search your News content based on publish date/time, retrieve the data, and generate the RSS XML. You can now either display it for a web page or you can consume it in an RSS Portlet/Reader. Another way is to export your content as XML from within the CMS and write a utility to generate the RSS XML and to display/consume it.
  6. Content Delivery on Mobile: If you are using a WEM stack with a Mobile delivery platform integrated with your content management system, it becomes fairly easy to target content to a particular mobile device. You can leverage the device database to know the device’s OS, type(touch/key-based), screen(size and resolution), and apply the right presentation (Layout and CSS) Template, before rendering it to the Mobile device. If you are not using any sophisticated mobile delivery platform, you can use application filters to Modify(Only HTML & CSS) your actual CMS specific Presentation templates based on the type of device group (as you don’t have a huge device database in this case)and then target the content + presentation to the Device Groups.

Apart from the delivery options I mentioned above, there could be other ways to deliver content from your content management system. It all boils down to your requirements, the participation level of end-users at the presentation end, and most importantly, the delivery interface.

Thanks for dropping by and do share your experience and your approach to content delivery from CMS.

Digital Experience Platform and the foundation called WCM

The buzz is just getting louder, it was Liferay who introduced the acronym DXP a couple of years back and was then followed by other WCM and Enterprise portal vendors (Adobe, Day, Sitecore, and Vignette).

To me, this concept is here to stay. It’s too early to evaluate the pros, cons, and business implications of this concept. We still have to witness a large size implementation of these “DXP” yielding some true business results. Well, This is my take on DXP, I am sure most of the readers would relate, especially the ones coming from the CMS background. So…let me try to answers some questions which come to my mind –

Q-1) What is DXP?

Answer:  Digital Experience Platform, is an emerging category of enterprise software where the base Content Management Product is an integrated set of technologies to create, manage, analyze, deliver relevant content to the targeted audience on a variety of end-user devices. This is also a marketing term coined by WCM/Portal vendors to position themselves above pure WCM vendors. A term that is now helping them to sell more licenses. A Nice-looking User Interface, an SSO software to back it up with integrations of the below software from the same vendor-

  1. Web Content Management
  2. Analytics
  3. Local/Social Collaboration/Community
  4. Targeting/Segmentation
  5. Omnichannel Delivery Platform
  6. Connectors for other WCM/ECM/DAM products

..and the list goes on.

Q-2) Is DXP a product, suite, or framework?

Answer:  For product marketing & sales group it’s a ‘suite’, for a buyer it’s a ‘product’,  for a technical developer it’s a ‘framework’,  for a business user/content contributor it’s a User Interface with drag-drop of layouts & content and for an end-user/content consumer it’s a ‘this is what I need’ delighter.

 Q-3) Do you need DXP or WCM?

Answer:  You need a WCM for creation, modification, targeting, publishing, versioning, and managing the lifecycle of content. You might need a Mobile delivery platform if you are targeting your content to a range of Mobile Platforms. If it’s just a couple of handsets you don’t even need the Mobile Delivery platform (more on a separate post). Analytics is a way to go if you want to know your online users, website visitors but it’s no point buying an analytics product from the WCM vendor. Separate specialized analytics software will give you more flexibility, control, and a higher degree of reuse. Revisit your business and technical requirements,  talk technically to the product vendor to check “how” DXP can help you cater to those requirements. So far, I have not seen anyone specifically writing requirements or budgeting for DXP.

However, if the DXP vendor is giving the customer the flexibility to choose from a range of products (those part of the DXP suite/framework) and charging only for the selected products then I think it’d be a good way to move forward.

Q-4) Is DXP a revolution, evolution, or transformation?

Answer: It’s not a revolution, but yes, there is a significant change in the way consumers are using the web. Users do not want one-sided communication but also want to contribute, provide feedback, personalize their content from across multiple channels, not just ‘web’.  DXP is an effort to provide a rich experience to both the content contributors as well as content consumers. Having said that, it does not mean WCM has evolved or transformed to DXP. The core WCM remains the same, and ironically, product vendors are not putting much effort to enhance the content management capabilities of WCM.

Final Thoughts:

Product vendors always look for some buzzwords to be in the news, to market their product, and to impress buyers. ‘God lies in the details ’ – don’t get fascinated, involve your IT staff, let your technical team sit with a vendor, let the vendor explain to you the basics and underlying components (REST, SSO, JSF, Taglibs, Delivery model, Web-services, etc). Get feedback from your technical team and see if similar can be achieved with your existing software infrastructure without much effort and cost.  If you still want to use DXP, check with the vendor if you can choose and use your apps on a’ la carte basis.

Web Content Collaboration: Extending WCM Realms?

FatWire recently announced the release of two new products -Gadget Server and Community Server. These social computing products are tied directly to FatWire’s Content Server (CS), a Web Experience Management (WEM) platform.

Real Story Group Analyst Apoorv wrote a nice post with some great takeaways.

Yes, there are not enough gadgets for content contributors and the community server does not offer anything more than just blog functionality, but I think the idea behind is to “populate” or “pull” content from the end-users. A young platform laid out for a two-way content collaboration i.e. exchange of content from both corporate content contributors and site visitors.

Having said that, this is my take on the recent release –

1. WCM Implementation in Conjunction with Portal:

Customers with existing Implementation of FatWire Spark-PCM on Sun/Weblogic portals have the luxury of using various portlets that are tightly integrated with CS. Administrators could easily configure portlets based on the editor’s needs. So, in this scenario, just a few WCM specific gadgets will not make much of a difference for editors, but developers can easily place these gadgets on any web page as a part of the FatWire page layout process.

Personalization is a capability that every portal offers, based on requirements, personalization at multi-levels can be configured using the portal itself. Additional Investment on gadget server will not be many benefits unless you have a requirement to let template developers utilize the capabilities to add gadgets on web pages during the page layout processor for the end-users to personalize their dashboards with these light-weighted apps. The usage of gadgets becomes positive within the WEM framework where  Site Admin wants to create a page with a certain layout and include these gadgets within the slots. It’s a quick and easy way of developing new content-centric pages. Another advantage is gadgets created within FatWire’s Gadget Server can be exported for use on third party websites such as igoogle.

2. Pure WCM implementation for external WebSites:

It depends on what type of website one has. For a website selling products online, it will be a nice idea to implement functionalities offered by Community server as it will get you customer’s feedback and reviews related to product sold. This can potentially be a platform for you to support customers online, share best practices or share product manuals. As good it may seem from the user end, it is equally difficult from the website management perspective. Most of the user-generated content will be stored in the Production environment while Staging will just be used by internal content editors. Different information will be stored in various silos and IT will have to work around syncing of content between environments.

3.  Pure WCM implementation for internal Sites/Microsites:

I see a huge potential in this area. We have a large number of ‘social networking’ platforms and tools in the market and over the internet. What lags in the WCM space are the tools and functionalities by which internal users within an enterprise can be networked together and form a ‘content collaboration’ space.

With community and gadget server integrated within the WEM framework, the realm of WCM is extended, so does the flexibility of retrieving and contributing information from the internal users. If wisely implemented and keeping security and authorization into consideration, information and knowledge can be reused, relevant content can be collaborated from across the boundaries and from within a business unit of your enterprise. Now, it’s on the individual organization’s WCM strategy how they drive productivity around the information. All an all a right Content Strategy that identifies the demarcations and overlap of document, social and content collaboration.

Most of the organizations believe in the ‘push’ of the content. The push of content happens at various levels, it can be targeted to either one business unit of the organization, or a partner on the extranet, or the site visitors on the internet.

There are valid use cases and business requirements for the same, but that’s not the point where the story ends. Enterprises today are not just targeting content (newsletters, campaigns, product info, recommendations, etc) to the end-user but the emphasis is being given to ‘pull’ of information from the end-user. There is a need for a business channel that is interactive. This 2-way methodology of content contribution and collaboration helps organizations to–

1-  Create a Knowledge repository from the users of a particular business unit working towards a similar goal.

2-  Get actual feedback from the site visitors

3-  Interactive Support

and most importantly –

4-  Reach out for useful insights

Rich back-end content management systems with complex features are around for a while. A non-technical business user finds it difficult to learn, contribute and manage the content.

WCM products lag User Experience, which is quite seriously taken up by collaboration products. Amalgamations of these two categories of products are on the roll and the adoption will be fairly wide shortly.

Who should #fixwcm?

It started with an intention to solve the world’s WCM problems at Aarhus09.

Analysts felt that there is something broken in WCM that needs to be fixed. To figure out what exactly is broken they all jumped on Twitter under #fixwcm hashtag and started tweeting it with a whole lot of questions, comments, concerns, advice, and inputs.

What motivated me to write this post was the fact that most of the tweets were just raising the issues and none of the Analysts tried to address the way they would want to fix a particular issue. Then the tweets took a bizarre turn and the blame game started. Fingers were raised against Customer’s Business Team, Customer’s IT staff, Vendors, SI’s, Architecture, a mix of all these and whatnot.

Sitting at my office, I was wondering if anything was perfect. Well, there is always room for improvement, keeping this in mind I start by saying that WCM is not weak and down and does not need an instant hotfix to have it up and running. However, we need to identify the problems and fix them.

I could not restrict myself to 140 characters, so here is my take-

WCM Market/Vendors: It is a mature market with a high level of healthy competition with quality offerings. Vendors have gone beyond providing workflow, publishing, multilingual, multi-site capabilities. Competition among vendors is high and those who provide innovative solutions out of the box, easy to implement utilities at a lower cost, usually take the pie. They keep their product abreast with Web2.0, integrations with LDAP, Content delivery on the portal environment, or adhering to open standards and the list goes on.

#fix: Every platform/product has limitations, therefore, Customers need to identify which vendor suits best for their requirements. Customers should take help from analysts firms or consultants and include their IT staff to identify if the offerings from the vendors are technically correct.

Roadmap and Objective: OK, so you want to implement a WCM for your enterprise. Good…btw what are you going to do with it? What are the purpose and the business objective? Will it be a profit center or a cost center? Who is the target audience? Is it for internal employees, customers, partners, microsite, or a website? Where do you see the WCM implementation after 3 years?

Primarily, figure out your business objectives. It is important to align business objectives with the WCM solution. You should have a clear roadmap and your profit objectives must be aligned to your WCM investments. Profit not just in terms of $$$ but maybe in terms of relationship with your customers, partners, suppliers, etc etc. You should also keep a track of the returns on your investments. You might need to revisit your objectives and the implementation if you are not getting the expected returns.

#fix: Change your ideology. Use WCM as a tool that will give you some profit. Do not invest just for the sake of implementing a technology or a product. Have a business justification for the investments you are going to make. Associate each of your high-level needs with some measurable CTS (critical to success) parameters and keep measuring/refining until you get the expected results.

 

 

System Integrators (SIs): These folks contribute a lot to a WCM project’s success and failure. Know your SI, make sure they have enough expertise and experience in the solution design, implementation, and delivery. Ask for proof of concept, not in the content authoring, workflow, publishing, archiving part but specific to your implementation standpoint. Check what they have to do for the integration points. SI’s on the other hand must refrain from being biased towards a particular vendor and influence the customer

#fix: Customer should communicate their business and technical requirements to the SI’s to get what they need. Do not hide anything to save cost, this might lead to an adverse effect in near future. Do not go ahead with any WCM vendor/SI if you have only 20% of the requirement. SI’s at the same time should tie the solution around customer’s present and future requirements around WCM products. System Integrator should educate the customer if a single product or a mix of few can fulfill the requirement. SI’s should also educate/advise the customer on how to leverage the best of WCM by integrating it with the Customer’s existing infrastructure (If, in case).

End Users: You have to know your audience- People accessing CMS directly or indirectly, from the internet or intranet, be it partner, customer, supplier, website visitor, personalized content visitor, etc. You need to know who is invited to your party. Are you giving them the attention they require? Are you serving the right content at the right time when they need it? Are they party-goers/ regular visitors?

Investments in Web Analytics might be a bad idea for few companies during a recession, but I think they act as a guide to know your WCM implementation better. Try to factor in Analytics while budgeting for WCM, this is going to help you to find the source of your profit.

#fix: No fix required, add sugar to make your coffee sweet. Try playing “Roller Coaster Tycoon 2” (Part of my #sixsigma project these days) and analyze your customer’s view/take on your park and try to co-relate with your WCM objective.

Yes, the stats of WCM project failures are bad. We can’t blame a single entity in the WCM ecosystem. If vendors are involving themselves in CMIS or JCRs, why can’t analysts develop WCM  benchmarks, models, evaluation criteria and then trace it to see who needs a #fix 🙂

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