The WCM Renaissance

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Since automated web content management (WCM) emerged during the crazy days of dot-com bubblemania, many people believed the whole idea of WCM was just a hype-induced fad that would never become more than just “document management for the web.” Instead, demand for WCM technology bounced back from the dot-bust, underwriting an estimated 2,000-plus (and growing) collection of WCM vendors around the world. As near as I can tell, nearly all those vendors are growing, which means people are buying technology. WCM is back.

Few predicted this renaissance. Earlier this decade, a fellow analyst declared privately to me that a certain smallish WCM software vendor would shortly become “roadkill.” And the truck bearing down on it? Take your pick: the dearth of new dot-com customers; Microsoft’s entry into the market after acquiring a CMS product; and the rise of “ECM” (enterprise content management) as a more impressive acronym. But the truck never struck. Microsoft ended up sunsetting its web CMS product before haltingly re-entering the space earlier this year. Traditional document management vendors adapted slowly to web publishing scenarios. That “roadkill” WCM vendor is now a growing, 150-person concern.

What has kept WCM such a vibrant space? Websites and intranets continue to grow, and enterprises need help managing all that content. To be sure, business leaders may have greater awareness today that technology fixes don’t automatically beget better content management, but demand for WCM tools has risen apace.

Dancing Around the Problems
This renaissance has accompanied a greater recognition that WCM is distinct from ECM.

Wait a second, isn’t it all just content management? That’s a common refrain from anyone justifiably annoyed by all these acronyms. And, of course, at one level the answer is “yes.” Managing content in any form means supporting information creators, facilitating business processes, securing information properly, and establishing authoritative repositories and labeling schemes. From there, however, different types of content management diverge.

At a fundamental level, ECM is mostly about document processing. WCM is mostly about web-page publishing. ECM tools primarily support operational standardization and enterprise control. WCM tools principally support informational standardization while empowering individual publishers. At the end of the day, web people and document managers usually care about very different things.

There are significant architectural differences as well. The WCM environment must actually account for two applications: a content production environment and one or more content delivery applications. The dance between these two different environments can become a complicated tango with varying degrees of intimacy. The industry hasn’t sorted out standard terminology and technologies here, and we remain very far from best practices at a time when many enterprises are looking into user-generated content as well (more about that below).

Traditional large ECM vendors—including EMC, IBM, and Open Text—showed up a bit late. I can understand why. They were very busy earning a ton of money selling huge document management installations to major enterprise customers. Still, they not only missed the first dance but also arrived later to a larger party. WCM has become not just a smaller-scale alternative, it is a strategy.

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