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.

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 🙂

RFPs, Implementation Scope and Costs

It’s been quite some time that I am into responding RPFs and RFIs in Portal and Content Management space and sometimes jump onto implementation for the solution that we have provided 🙂 .
This post highlights issues that project delivery faces when a customer hides the information of its existing software infrastructure during pre –engagement stage.

Most of the customers do not supply enough information while releasing RFP. (for a mid-large size project it might just be a 2-3 pages of “relevant” information).
Along with RFP comes predefined “timelines” and “scope” and as usual, time-bound response is expected from vendors. In any circumstance you are paid to respond and get business for your company. You are not left with a choice, but to provide a solution based on one or two liner requirements with no information or volume of development, enhancement or migration of software/applications. Apart from solution, you have to mend your effort and cost estimations and make then inline with what was proposed to you.

Also, you must have experienced a time gap between the day you get the project and the day your SOW is signed off. What happens in this time gap? Answer is simple. You end up including another set of high level tasks that were neither part of RFP nor you have heard in your pre-engagement calls(lucky if you get this more), which slightly(as of now) adds to what you have proposed.

Few weeks later you will come to know more about customer’s existing s/w infrastructure and you are told that apart from portal development there is/are CMS/DMS/Back Office application that needs to be migrated or enhanced to latest version. Not bad so far. You start analyzing, assume few things, give better estimates and go ahead. Bad happens, if the existing CMS /DMS/Back Office application doesn’t fit in to the portal product that you proposed (Remember: it’s not your fault). Service providers end up doing all tricks to make the integrations work and customer ends up paying huge $$$ to product support and consultancy. These commercials would have been easily eliminated if right information would have given at right time.

“Right information at right time” is what makes a better response, which not only provides a better solution (considering all underlying application, their integration, SSO etc) but also reduces cost (Trust me, Indian service based s/w companies charge far less than any Product base company for their support and consultancy excluding license and training costs))

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