Beware the WEM trap

  • 17-Aug-2010

You may have heard about a new TLA called "WEM." W and M stand for Web and Management respectively while E refers to Engagement or Experience, depending on who's talking.  Many WCM folks love the new acronym and declare WEM as the next WCM (WCM++ ?).

Vendors are especially excited, such that Product X is no longer a WCM offering but a "WEM Suite" now. But you should be forewarned that in their quest for improving presentation management, vendors are soft-pedaling many core CMS concepts which haven't really seen a lot of innovation in recent times, and this, too, could impact your website visitor experience.

The services that make up the "E" part have been around for a long time, including: analytics, multi-variate testing, landing page management, CRM integration, personalization, template management, social functionality, and so on.  So, we are witnessing a natural progression and not something drastically new. The big difference now is that -- while these features tended to come separately in the past -- the trend now is to more tightly integrate them with traditional WCM services.  In many cases, these additional features are natively provided by WCM vendors themselves as part of a larger package.

You don't have to look far to find examples. Clickability, one of the hosted WCM vendors that we cover in our WCM evaluation research, recently announced a new module called Website Marketing Accelerator (WMA).  It's targeted at B2B marketers, enabling them to focus more on visitor segmentation and targeting. Other vendors such as IBM, Day, Fatwire, Open Text-Vignette, Autonomy-Interwoven, SDL, Sitecore, Alterian, EPiServer, et. al., have also been promoting their so-called WEM capabilities rather than core content management functionality. Some of them have gone as far as changing their product names.

You can understand this new emphasis because in many scenarios, content managers want to manage the consumption and interaction experience -- and not just the production process. Also, experience management includes the sexy stuff: personalization, Rich Internet Applications (RIAs), Social applications, User Generated Content (UGC), and other Web 2.0 stuff, while core content management services entail less fancier features, such as authoring, workflow, library services, and publishing.

If you are new to Web Content Management, don't assume that vendors and consultants have figured the basic stuff out. In fact, as an industry we have not really solved some fundamental content production problems:

  • Online authoring for most people, most of the time, is still a buggy and sometimes painful process
  • It is still difficult for business users to create and participate in workflows
  • Publishing from one environment to another still remains one of the most trickiest aspect to master
  • Caching of web content remains a black art
  • Issues related to standards and formats still plague the industry; You don't know if you'd be able to watch your home videos in 5 years time or not or whether the fonts and styles as you know them today will exist or not
  • Many more challenges of content production, such as those related to multi-site management, content reuse, deployment, and so forth still remain tauntingly difficult

Don't get me wrong. It's important to manage visitor interaction, and often the best people to do this are content contributors and publishers. But you should know three things:

  1. In the early days of WCM, systems typically followed the current all-bundled-in-one-system approach, and the long-term results were not always positive: reduced capabilities at system edges and and architectural inflexibility led to various knots that were difficult to untie.
  2. Your WCM vendor may not be the right supplier for the varied services they are peddling today. Template management, native to your WCM tool? That's a good candidate. Blogs and wikis? Maybe. Testing and analytics? Probably not.
  3. Above all, good content lies at the heart of good services and a constructive customer experience.

Vendors differ markedly in how they approach the "E" part. The pros and cons of your various choices constitute a large topic in itself, something that we cover in detail in our online Fundamentals of Web Content Management Technology course as well as our WCM evaluation research. So, call it WCM or WEM. The acronyms don't matter too much. Just remember: there is no point in having a great website front-end with content that's stale or fails to engage users in its own right. Get the production part down, or your visitors won't stick.

Our customers say...

"The Web CMS Research is our reference work for web content management projects. It allows us to rapidly zero in on the right solution for each unique content management application. I can't imagine starting a new a project without it."

Alden Hart, CTO, Ten Mile Square Technologies

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