Will WEM Replace WCM?

Sep 05, 2011

September 2011 Issue


You may have heard about WEM. W and M stand for "web" and "management," respectively, while E refers to "engagement" or "experience," depending on who's talking. Many WCM (web content management) folks love the new acronym and declare WEM to be the next WCM.

Vendors are especially excited that Product X is no longer a WCM offering but a WEM suite now. But you should be forewarned that in the quest for improving presentation management, vendors are soft-pedaling many core CMS concepts that haven't really seen a lot of innovation in recent times. 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, multivariate 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.

You don't have to look far to find examples. Clickability has a new module called Website Marketing Acceleration (WMA). It's targeted at B2B marketers, enabling them to focus more on visitor segmentation and targeting. Other vendors such as IBM, Adobe, FatWire (soon to be Oracle), Open Text, 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 these companies have gone so far as to change the 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 plainer features, such as authoring, workflow, library services, and publishing.

If you are new to WCM, 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. For example, online authoring of web content for most people, most of the time, is still a buggy and sometimes painful process. Likewise, it remains difficult for business users to create and participate in workflows-something that should really have been resolved by now. Even at a technical level some basic stuff remains challenging, if not downright complex and obscure. Publishing from one environment to another still remains one of the trickiest aspects to master, and caching content is just a black art. Indeed, there are many challenges, including those relating to content production and multisite management, content reuse, deployment, and so forth.

Don't get me wrong: It's important to manage visitor interaction. In fact, it is essential. Often the best people to do this are content contributors and publishers, but you should know that 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 architectural inflexibility led to various knots that proved difficult to untie. Today we often see more of a best-of-breed approach, and this is not a bad thing. Consider that your WCM vendor may not be the right supplier for the varied services it is peddling today. Is template management (for example) native to your WCM tool? Blogs and wikis? Maybe. Testing and analytics? Probably not. The lesson here is not to just assume; check, test, and research before committing yourself to any one product.

Above all, good content lies at the heart of good services and a constructive customer experience regardless of the technology used. Vendors differ markedly in how they approach the E part of WEM. The pros and cons of your various choices constitute a large topic in itself. So, call it WCM or call it WEM-the choice is yours. The acronyms don't matter too much at the end of the day. 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 will never stick. The experience is always going to come down to you, not the technology.

This column was written in conjunction with Apoorv Durga, also of Real Story Group.