If you call on a business associate and his office is poorly maintained, has a dried-out plant in the corner, and last year's calendar on the wall, how does that affect your impression of the company? We maintain our offices and facilities to provide a pleasant work environment as well as leave a positive impression with potential customers. Maintaining a virtual office is often somewhat more problematic. Implementing a WCM (Web content management) strategy that distributes responsibility across the enterprise can improve the quality and consistency of a Web site while cutting overall labor costs. "Companies need to streamline the process of getting Web content up-to-date and correct," says Detlef Kamps, president of WCM software vendor RedDot Solutions Corp. (New York). "Information on a Web site is critical if you want to engage with customers and develop consistent pricing and branding. Without WCM, organizations have two choices: using a static site run by a development house or consultant, or having an in-house Webmaster inundated by requests from the various departments. Either way, approval processes slow everything down."
Effective WCM tools allow users to accept responsibility for Web content. "It's not unusual to see companies in which an HR (human resources) manager who wants to post a job has to go through marketing to the Webmaster," says Mike Meadows, product manager for software vendor GlobalSCAPE (San Antonio, TX). Instead, WCM can allow administrators to set up authorizations and user rights to post content to relevant portions of an Internet or intranet site. For example, the HR department can be given the tools to make changes to job postings or update forms, but "locked out" of the product marketing pages.
WCM For Users, Not IT
In order for nontechnical staff to implement Web site changes, vendors have responded with simple tools that maintain the look and feel of applications users are accustomed to, such as Microsoft Word. This familiarity helps users feel comfortable with WCM and reduces the support burden on IT. "People are resistant to change," observes Jeff Neumann, director of product marketing for WCM vendor Ektron, Inc. "WCM tools should be as familiar as the environment employees are working in currently. Many software vendors are creating what they think users should have, but users will push against it if they aren't comfortable or it takes too long to master."
"User acceptance decides if an implementation is successful or not," agrees Kamps. "If you can teach employees how to use a WCM tool in half an hour or less, it is a good investment. A user shouldn't have to think about what to do next; the system should tell them."
In fact, WCM shouldn't just feel like familiar applications; it should also allow companies to incorporate existing documents in those formats. Allowing a user to transform a Word document into Web content not only increases usability and reduces training, it also preserves existing intellectual assets. Many WCM products even let companies maintain and manage existing Web pages rather than requiring a complete and immediate overhaul.
Control Distributed Environments With Workflow
Distributing responsibility for Web content doesn't mean giving up consistency and control of the corporate Web site. Templates can be created that maintain the style and image of overall Web presence. Tools are also available to maintain consistent information, regardless of how a user accesses the site. "Content such as price or company name can be propagated throughout the Web site," notes Neumann.
Workflow prevents users from making changes without approval. For instance, the manager of the HR department may ask an assistant to generate content to be placed on the Web site, but wish to review it first. The assistant could produce the proposed new or modified page on a staging server, and automated workflows could be implemented to route it to individuals who need to review or approve the process. Such a system should also direct workloads and support editing. "Automated WCM workflow creates greater accountability," asserts Sandra Poole-Christal, president and CEO of GlobalSCAPE. "At a glance, management can take a look at a history of what individuals have done or haven't done."
"There are legal reasons for adopting WCM and associated workflow," says Kamps. "In the pharmaceutical industry, FDA [Food and Drug Administration] regulations say anything that's published has to be traced. WCM lets companies take a snapshot of Web content and archive it, so it can be retrieved for auditing purposes." Maintaining such an audit trail could also be important for litigation support.
Creating the appropriate workflow should involve more than the IT department. "Define and involve the decision team early," advises Poole-Christal. "It's best to circulate the documentation or buyer's guide to get everyone thinking about who will be involved and define the requirements. It's easy for management to simply put IT in charge, but when the whole team is involved early, the result is a better process."
Open Standards Promote Future Integrations
WCM should be implemented with an eye toward potential future integration. These could include more complex Web applications such as shopping carts or back office applications that house customer account data. Using open standards such as XML (extensible markup language) is one way to foster this interoperability.
According to Neumann, the ability to integrate new and existing technology is one reason companies should avoid homegrown WCM applications. "For example, RSS [rich site summary] syndicators are one of the hottest XML technologies coming out," he says. "It would take much longer to incorporate that technology with a homegrown application." RSS syndication can be used to pull distributed information such as news feeds or event listings into a Web site using an XML format.
When implementing any WCM solution, it's important to remember that even positive changes still represent a cultural change. "It's nice to be able to phase in a WCM integration," says Kamps. "Big bang implementations often don't work well. Give your organization time to adapt and then implement the next level."