The WCM Renaissance

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Departments Take the Lead
Put another way: the marcom manager is coming back, and she is pissed.

She becomes monumentally frustrated when IT bottlenecks slow her from making significant changes to her company’s sites in web time. This includes changing templates, adjusting publishing rules, and adding new site sections and microsites. She’s dispensed with the fantasy that the whole company will publish to the web or intranet, but the CMS still needs to be easy to use and, more importantly, fast for contributors and consumers alike.

WCM software developers have responded by putting more system-management controls in the hands of power users. This has been an awkward transition for vendors who struggle to make traditional developer functions accessible to businesspeople. It has also been challenging for customers, who struggle to reconcile making rapid changes with the critical requirement for proper configuration management and testing. Nevertheless, WCM vendors are increasingly incorporating site management features to traditional content-management tools.

Increasingly, even mid-sized enterprises need to manage multiple web properties, carefully balancing freedom and control among distributed business units and local offices. For senior web managers at global organizations, ECM often means enterprise web content management across multiple time zones and languages.

It Takes Two (or More)
The advent of Web 2.0—however hyped—has clearly elevated among senior managers a more sophisticated awareness of the web as an interactive channel. At a minimum, Web 2.0 has exposed and probably widened the traditional gulf between consumer and enterprise experiences with web technologies. A sense that “there is more going on out there” has inspired many enterprises to reconsider how they communicate online.

Web 2.0 is also exposing cracks in WCM space. Much the same way that WCM specialists accuse ECM vendors of “not getting it,” many WCM tools that only recently added blog and wiki functionality suffer from complicated interfaces, unfriendly URLs, and other un-Web 2.0 shortcomings.

In particular, the prevalence of sexy Ajax interfaces on the public web makes traditional WCM contributor interfaces seem very outdated. Vendors point out that re-engineering their product UIs is not a trivial matter.

Growing interest in user-generated content (UGC) has also created architectural challenges for integrated WCM packages the same way that the rise
of the web caught many document management vendors flat-footed. In enterprise settings, most web-content management services and repositories live in a protected zone behind the firewall, and don’t naturally lend themselves to authors coming in from the public web.

To be sure, most enterprise customers don’t know yet what it means to “manage” user-generated content, and important questions are stalling some initiatives. Should we put UGC through an approval workflow? Do we need to archive it? Do we expose our internal classification scheme so we can cross-reference internal and user content? And so on.

The renaissance of WCM has proven once and for all that managing content in an interactive, online environment requires particular care and specialized tools. I think, though, that the days of the freewheeling web team are slowly passing. Longtime CMS sage Bob Boiko talks about the “closing of the web frontier,” as explorers are gradually replaced by more methodical settlers.

Indeed, the maturation of content management as a discipline has important implications for web teams. Savvy web managers are beginning to look upstream at offline content creation and trying to support essential tagging and chunking earlier in the editorial process. Not surprisingly, in most enterprises this raises deep questions about the stewardship of information bound for multiple channels, as well as new employee obligations for creating and managing documents headed for diverse contexts.

The advent of ECM has also heightened the need for attending to proper content retention. “Web time” is fast, but must all web content be perishable? Webserver storage is cheap, but must you keep all those old, outdated pages? The enterprise has much at stake here, and old-time information managers have a lot to teach webmasters about deciding what to archive and what to delete.

Meanwhile, vendors are making some halting moves to converge the domains of ECM and WCM. Think of it as a kind of reformation after the renaissance. Ultimately, though, it will be customers who teach the marketplace how the tools and approaches need to evolve.

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