I enjoyed an excellent day in Oxford last week speaking (and listening to the other speakers) at a CMS Expert Group round table event. Many topics of interest emerged, but the one that underlay several discussions -- and is also close to my heart -- was, "When is a Web Content Management project not a Web Content Management project?"
It may seem an odd question, but increasingly I see our subscribers asking questions about web self-service projects, albeit framing nearly identical requirements in very different terms. Take for example the following example, which is an aggregate of requirements from a handful of our advisory customers:
- Almost all our business is now online to some degree, and though we employ many people to take calls and process transactions, the reality is that most of our customers come to our website as a first point of interaction with us. It all may look slick to the customer (we hope), but frankly behind the scenes it's not so neat and efficient. There are many manual and inefficient processes in place, and moreover what once looked good on the web is now starting to look dated, as customers have ever higher expectations of web experiences. They are also beginning to demand near instant response times. Hence we are starting a project to overhaul our current web presence and make our current operations much more efficient as a result.
Such requirements seem specific enough, but depending on who is leading the project and their understanding of the IT technology world in general it could finally emerge in a tender/RFP (Request for Proposal) in any one of many different forms, with different products and suppliers in the mix. Depending on your orientation, you might define the effort as:
An ECM Project, with a vendor providing a complete platform of workflow, integration, web and application development functions, with the likes of EMC-Documentum, OpenText ECM Suite, Oracle WebCenter Content, or Alfresco under consideration*
A WCM Project, with specialist tools to build and manage complex/multiple website environments, targeting vendors like Coremedia, Sitecore, Episerver, or perhaps a dozen more*
A Portal Project, with the focus on building a dashboard application to expose back-end business services in a friendly way, via platforms from vendors like IBM WebSphere, JBOSS, or Liferay et. al.*
In fact, the same project could also get framed in terms of Ecommerce, CRM (Customer Relationship Management) or even BPM (Business Process Management) technologies.
And there's the rub: not one of these approaches would necessarily be wrong, since there is, as the awful phrase goes, more than one way to skin a cat. You could very legitimately examine a wide range of different valid shortlists, each as capable of meeting your needs as the other.
Yet there remains a need to compare apples with apples, and hence as advisors and industry analysts we sub-divide technology sectors into comparable segments (we call them "streams") and label them. This makes great sense when addressing a very specific need, such that solutions can be compared and tested side by side.
But increasingly buyers' needs are overlapping. Particularly in the world of large WCM projects, your choices aren't as clear cut as they once were. The key word here is more:
- More complex integrations with back-end business applications
- More sophisticated analysis of website and customer data
- More frequent triggering of complex internal business processes
Sure we still see plenty of simple brochureware, marketing-style sites out there, and they will continue to grow. But in tough economic times, organizations need to do more with less -- and empower their customers to do more themselves -- requiring more automated and integrated web-based interactions than ever before. When subscribers access our research they increasingly pull product evaluations from across different research streams. And when we engage with them on analyst support calls, it's common for us to first spend time refining project definitions to ensure that a suitably broad range of options get considered.
It all makes for interesting and often difficult times, where buyers must be ever better informed.
*Of course there are many many more technology options to consider in each of these groups, literally hundreds, and it should go without saying that you should ignore "market leader status" and pull together comprehensive shortlists for your own project, based on thorough, independent research of products that actually meet your specific needs.