Your clients need a Content Management System
According to the ad, the day you realised there was no Santa Claus was an epiphany. It claims that realising you needed a certain type of hardware was another one. But I can go one better: the night your site advertised PCs at £10.00 (rather than £1000) and you couldn't correct it until the design agency came in the next morning. Now that's an epiphany.
All over the Web, marketing and sales managers are realising that manual systems for managing their online offering could leave them vulnerable. And this isn't just adland spin - last year one online retailer received 6,000 orders for the $544 monitor it accidentally advertised for $164.
If that doesn't keep you awake at night, consider the following situations, all drawn from actual events:
- It takes a month to sign off the site's Terms & Conditions because every time any one of your organisation's lawyers changes a full stop, all the other ones need to sign it off.
- You realise that your site's visual design isn't working, but it will take a month to wrap a new design around the same words.
- Your web design agency insists on all content being signed off two months before it goes live... and then transcribes it incorrectly.
- In a parting gesture, the Web publisher you fired replaced photos of board members with sheep.
- You can't update one section of the site because another section has a major overhaul underway. You can either publish the entire site, with both complete and incomplete updates, or hold until both are completed.
- You have to work through the night to publish the company's results at market opening time because you don't have a secure area to develop them in advance.
- You send email promotions about 'upgrading' to Windows2000 to registered Mac users.
- You're employing an army of skilled web publishers just to update the system requirements of your software.
Make no mistake - if you are running a substantive web site without a CMS, you will hit a wall where your eBusiness is no longer sustainable because you can't update your site reliably or quickly enough. From that point, you will need to tear down almost your entire web infrastructure to put a CMS in its place.
As more and more companies are hitting this wall, it's no surprise, then, that the CMS market is at the start of an escalator. In the six months ending June 30, 2000, one of the leading vendors, Broadvision, grew its revenues by 374% to $156.8m, while strong competitor Vignette grossed $55.2m, up over 600%. Faulkner Information Services conservatively estimates the entire market will develop to $65billion by 2003 - hardly surprising as implementing a comprehensive CMS may cost $2m - $5m; more if it needs to integrate with other systems.
What content do you have, and where is it going?
Think for a moment about all the content assets that you need to manage. On your site, you might have:
- Your products' specifications, prices and benefits.
- Product illustrations
- Production information
- Product categories
- Special promotions
- Terms and Conditions
- Site navigation links
- Support information
- Developer features
- Press releases
- Office addresses, maps and directions.
- Logos, photographs and diagrams
Even if you're not currently communicating multinationally, your site can (and will) be seen around the world. Intentionally or not, you are communicating - and potentially selling - to many cultures, and it's worth investigating. However, to communicate effectively, you need to be considering publishing in multiple languages. In Europe alone, this implies up to 15 different language versions of your site, each with their own cultural sensitivities over imagery, strength of sales pitch and so on. You may not be managing this effectively; some of your competitors will be.
These might be sourced from:
- Internal systems
- External suppliers
- Site users
You then need to integrate this content into a consistent site and funnel it towards:
- External customers, prospects, pressure groups, shareholders and other external audiences (Internet site)
- Employees, including R&D, Support and Admin staff (Intranet)
- Sales force, suppliers and partner companies (Extranet)
- Non-PC access devices (kiosks, PDAs etc)
- Internal and external systems
- Intelligent devices
with the appropriate story being told to each audience.
Add to the mix the spice of personalisation where each individual user may have a unique version of the content and you have a recipe for extremely complicated production processes.
No more accidents
With a CMS, it becomes very difficult for content assets to be on the site accidentally. Any updates must pass through commissioning, creation and one or more predefined signoff steps before the system will publish it. The resulting audit trail provides accountability for each action.
Many sites are operated by a team distributed between offices, companies or even countries and notifying a participant of an assigned task becomes more complicated than calling across the room. The CMS could notify a participant by email, by SMS (mobile phone text messaging), by fax or even by auto-generated letter. Because all the major tools have a web interface, participants can perform their task and view its results from anywhere with web access. And with a sensible CMS security model, you can be sure that only authorised people can perform authorised tasks.
Advance and refresh
You can specify dates and times for the content to go live and be archived or removed, along with the contents target audience segments. You can also impose review dates to ensure that information is not simply left on the site to rot until a new product replaces it. The responsible area will need to rubberstamp the content as still valid, commission a replacement or archive/delete it. If content is removed or archived, the CMS will ensure that the remaining content is still structurally consistent, without leaving orphaned links to the deleted asset.
Speed to market
When you have a CMS, you suddenly have a tremendous advantage in the time it takes to react to market intelligence. You can write, edit and publish updates in a matter of minutes without suffering from "WebMaster Bottleneck". If your product globally propagates a virus, updates at this pace could be essential.
Alternatively, you take the decision that the visual design isn't working on a Monday morning, and can have a new design implemented by Wednesday. Why? Because your CMS is maintaining the site's structure, content and visual presentation in separate layers (see Figure 1, below), and will pour your content and its structure into a few visual templates.
Similarly, you can restructure a site, merging and splitting areas, without substantial manual intervention, as this layer is also maintained separately.
Reduced maintenance costs
By automating the building of pages on your site, you will cut substantial sums from the site's maintenance costs. A reasonably content rich site could need 250 or more updates a day, each averaging around 2 man-hours to produce and test. As a Web Publisher with the competence to get the edits right and not break the site will cost from £150-£200 per day, you could be cutting £12,000 from your bottom line every working day.
At its simplest, this means that you know, and can control, what content is supposed to be live today, what is sitting ready to go live next week, and what is being prepared by your team for the week after, and keep them separate on an piece-by-piece basis.
It also means that you can have one version of a news story live now, one being written to update it in an hour's time, and one incorporating the press release which is embargoed until tonight.
Simplified CRM Implementation
In many traditional Direct Marketing scenarios, an audience may be segmented into a dozen segments. In the online environment, where all user interactions are mediated by IT systems, users may be segmented into unique individuals. Managing many thousands of individually customised sites is no simple job.
Campaign Management tools will manage the users' preferences and behaviours, while Content Management tools will manage content that they will access. At the point of delivery (the web site, or email campaign), the two groups meet and content will be selected for a user to reflect their preferences and behaviours. Best-of-Breed players in each segment will relatively easily integrate, enabling rapid construction of eCRM solutions.
Many sites are now pulling content from, and pushing content to, systems run by other organisations, best handled by a CMS. At its simplest, this will allow you to pull headlines and articles from a relevant news site, or gain an income stream by syndicating your own material to other site. Alternatively, it could be a way to share product specifications, prices, marketing information and availability with suppliers and vendors.
If you're selling to a large retailer, expect them to demand product features delivered directly to their CMS within the next year. Planning and building this facility before they do so will win you a major advantage.
Silicon.com reported last year that a number of b2b procurement marketplaces are struggling with the many catalogue formats they are managing, and are unable to satisfy either suppliers or buyers. A CMS will automatically handle the interfaces and pull content from multiple vendors without missing a beat.
Control of non-web content, channel integration and business re-engineering
Companies traditionally put web-production into a silo. Often, the first that a web team would hear about a new product would be when the first public ads were released. To be really effective, the web channel needs to be integrated into the core business as other communication channels are, which has implications regarding workflow and signoff of communication.
In the journey towards an effective CMS strategy, conflicts between departmental silos will be unearthed. Introducing a CMS can be the lever to ensure that R&D talk to marketing, rather than throwing products over the wall and expecting them to be sold without customer insight. If implemented completely, product information can flow between marketing, R&D and suppliers in a smooth flow, reducing departmental conflict.
Furthermore, it can be the lever which ensures that the eCRM nirvana of cross-channel, single customer view comes about, as the customer will be able to view the same content as the call centre and the sales force and the marketing department.
Reduced risk of litigation and adverse customer reaction
Publishing the wrong price or availability information on your site can bring strongly negative PR and class-action lawsuits, and hit your margins. Similarly, some industries - finance and pharmaceuticals for example - are highly regulated, where communicating the wrong interest rate or disclaimers can have serious legal consequences. By systemising the publishing of your content through automated workflows, you can ensure that all content is checked and signed off before it is publicly exposed.
Alternatively, you may wish to develop a user community by enabling users to contribute to your site. As Lawrence Godfrey's successful action against Demon shows, you may be held liable for defamatory content merely by providing a forum for the third parties who produce it. Ensuring that all content supplied by a user group perhaps numbering in the thousands is approved and launched in appropriate timescales and is available for removal will require all the automation help that you can get.
What's the downside?
Introducing a Content Management System is no small matter for an eBusiness, it is a strategic tool. In developing your system, you will expose process and infrastructure issues that may have been papered over for some time, and be forced to resolve them. However, as the scope and scale of content delivered to customer touchpoints increases, it becomes a basic equirement of being in eBusiness. Without it, your ambitions for growth are unsustainable.
6 core CMS requirements
Almost every CMS will require the following:
- Automated, audited workflow/signoff process
- Roles-based security management
- Scheduled launch and archiving
- Integration with back office systems such as campaign management tools
You don't need a CMS (yet) if...
At least 4 of the following are true:
- You have a small organisation where web publishing is in-house, and can communicate exceptionally well with content creation
- Your site is small and doesn't update frequently in content or structure
- Your online operation doesn't perform any personalisation
- You don't integrate content between the web site and retail outlets, call centres, email newsletters or other channels
- You don't need to manage specifications from R&D to customer support
- You are not offering customers a community where they can contribute to a site
- One individual has intimate knowledge of the entire site (and others have intimate knowledge over their own sections)
You should revisit this regularly at least quarterly and whenever you add additional functionality or content areas.
[You Need a Content Management System (for developers)]
This article was written for Infomatics, a VNU publication for IT sales and marketing people.