Eric D. Brown, D.Sc.

Data Science | Entrepreneurship | ..and sometimes Photography

Tag: Content management

CIO’s – If you can improve one trait in 2010, let it be this one

I’ve been sitting here thinking. Gene De Libero say’s I’m always thinking…not sure if that’s good or bad! 🙂

What have I been thinking about?  Lots of things…but as it relates to this post, I’ve been thinking about the one trait that CIO’s can improve upon for 2010. By improving this one simple trait, I believe the ability of the IT group to deliver real value to the organization will increase exponentially.

What’ trait am I talking about?  Listening

In the world of IT, we do a lot of talking.  We talk. And talk. And talk.

We do listen some.  We send business analysts and project managers out to talk to customers.  Did you catch that?  We send people to ‘talk’ to customers.  We don’t send people  to “listen” to customers.

The blame for this lies squarely on the shoulders of the CIO and the IT group as a whole. We’ve built our processes and our procedures to be focused on IT issues, not user issues.  We’ve built our requirements gathering methods around what customer’s want and need and then we mediate those wants/needs to ensure that they don’t break any of our guidelines/processes. We’ve built our IT organizations to tell the rest of the company how things will be done.  While focused on talking, we’ve failed to listen.

In many organizations, users are going around IT to get things done.  In many cases (at least in my experience), this is because IT doesn’t hear the real needs of the business users.

I’ve got an example from a previous consulting gig that I’d like to share…I hope it drives the point home:

The IT group heard that the Marketing team needed a Content Management System so a project was started to buy and implement one.  But did we really listen to the need of the marketing team? Did we hear that they want and need to be able to make content changes on a whim?  Did we hear that they need to be able to do A/B testing (or some other testing/optimization techniques) on a regular basis?

I can tell you that the IT group didn’t those things.  All we heard was Content Management System.  We were the System experts right? So…we bought a CMS, implemented it and allowed the Marketing group to have access to it.  And…doing what IT does best, we put a convoluted change process around the CMS.  Lo and behold, within 6 months the team that asked for the CMS stopped using it because they couldn’t do what they needed to do with it.

And we wondered what was wrong with those ‘marketing people’.

Nothing was wrong with them.  It was us! We didn’t listen.  We heard ‘content management system’ and ran out and implemented one. We “knew” what they needed.

BTW – that marketing team got so fed up with us that they went around the IT team. They found a hosted platform that would allow them to do everything they needed.  Now, that organization’s IT team has been changed for the worse…they went from a team of 20 to a team of 5. They do nothing but keep the lights on now because they weren’t able to provide real value to the organization,  and have become irrelevant to that company. The IT team failed to listen and it cost them dearly.

So…do you see why I think ‘listening’ is the one trait CIO’s should focus on in 2010?    The world of IT is changing dramatically. I don’t believe the IT group has the ability to ‘tell’ the organization how things will be done any longer.  Unless you listen to the real business needs, the IT group and CIO might just become irrelevant in the future.

Here’s my plea to all CIO’s and IT managers:

If you only improve one trait in 2010, let it be this one. Listen well. Fail to listen to your organization’s real needs and you might find you’ve become irrelevant and unnecessary.

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Sitecore Implementation Notes

Le kiosque de Sitecore
Image by Frédéric Harper via Flickr

I’m coming up on 2 years of working with Sitecore, a .NET Content Management System (see my post titled “Some Thoughts on Sitecore CMS” for previous thoughts on the subject).  These two years have been interesting, challenging and exciting and educational.

Since I’ve written about Sitecore in the past, I wanted to take some time to circle back around and share some additional thoughts on Sitecore CMS implemention.  While my experience has been with Sitecore, these are general types of CMS questions, thoughts and strategies and could be applied to any other platform.

Before I get into Sitecore, let’s look at CMS implementations in general.

CMS Implementation – 4 questions

For a few minutes, forget about the technology.  Don’t even think about tthat until you can answer these questions:

1.) Why do you want or need a CMS?

This seems like a simple question…but if your answer is to ‘manage web content’, you haven’t completely thought through the strengths of a CMS. Content Management Systems provide much more than just content management; they provide a means to push content ownership out to the subject matter experts.  This holds true for all CMS platforms, whether Sitecore, Ektron, Umbraco, Interwoven, Drupal, WordPress (yes..it is a great CMS) or one of the many others.

2.) How will you allow content owners to actually own the content?

When you get your CMS in place, how will your organization push out ownership of the content? What processes can you put in place to allow you to open your CMS to the all content owners. And…yes…i used the word ‘process’.  Don’t overdo it though!  🙂

3.) Who “owns” the CMS?

This is a loaded question.  While the CMS is a content platform, is it owned by the IT group?   Sure, the platform itself is an IT platform and needs IT services to keep it running, but should the IT group ‘own’ the platform?   {My answer: No – the business unit(s) should}

4.) Do you have a web & marketing strategy?  Who “owns” this strategy?

This is one of the questions that seem easy..but it isn’t.  Does your marketing department own the web?  IT?  PR?  Who sets your web strategy?  Do you have a strategy?  How does your CMS driven web fit into your marketing strategy?

Answer these questions before you move into your CMS implementation program and you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble.  I’m working on another article that addresses these questions (and others) that should be part of an organizaiton’s technology selection strategy plan…look for that article in the future.

Sitecore CMS Implementation Thoughts

Now, its time to look at the technology. For those that don’t know, Sitecore CMS is a .NET platform.  If your organization is a Microsoft shop, Sitecore is a great fit for you.  You do have other options (Sharepoint, OpenText, etc) but my experience has me recommending Sitecore over all others in the .NET world.

Pre-implementation

Prior to selecting Sitecore (or any CMS), you’ve got to take some time to think about your processes & workflows.  Determine who will have the ‘final word’ on how content is published and where it lives.  Set some web standards (if you don’t have them already) and determine your content architecture & strategy.  Will you be reorganizing your content?  How about a new design?  Easy decisions right? 🙂

You’ve answered the four questions above and figured out the high-level stuff…that was easy right?  Not really…its harder than it seems but determining this stuff up front will help tremendously once you start implementing Sitecore CMS as it will driving your implementation strategy and plan.

If you’ve got the budget, hire an outside consultant to help you with this step in the project.  If you bring in the right consultant, they could also act as the overall CMS Program Manager (more on this later).

Implementation

Now that you’ve worked through the pre-implementation phase, what now?  Time to get your Sitecore CMS platform implemented.

What’s the first step?  Grab your development staff  and get some Sitecore Training to get certified.  This certification is much more than just a piece of paper…it gets your team to a point where they can understand the Sitecore terminology and best practices. This often overlooked step in CMS implementations tends to come back around and haunt the organization at a later date.  Spend the money up front and you’ll save money in the long run.

Implementing the basic Sitecore CMS system is a fairly straightforward process.  The hardware requirements are well documented and installation is straightforward.  Sounds easy right?  So far, it is.

You’ve found the hardware, configured it and run the Sitecore CMS installation program. Now it’s time to look at splitting your CMS implementation efforts into three parts: Development, Content & Training

  1. Development – Developing for Sitecore CMS platform isn’t too different than any other .NET development effort. Using .NET best practices, development isn’t too difficult, but the architecture of the platform is extremely important.  Take some time to think about your content and IT infrastructure at this point.
  2. Content – You’ve got a Content Management System (or at least one that is being implemented). Time to start implementing your content architecture plans and filling your sitecore tree with content.  This initial Content work should be done by a single content team…do not leave this work to your content owners.  Take this opportunity to reorganize your content as necessary.
  3. Training – In addition to developing out your website, applications and content, you’ve got to start introducing Sitecore CMS to your organizations’ users.    This means lots of meetings, training and discussions of what the CMS is and how it can help them.  One of the often overlooked pieces of a CMS implementation is end-user training.  Not only do you need to train the organization in the use of the platform, but also in the organizations web & content strategy.

As you can see, implementing a CMS platform like Sitecore is quite a large undertaking even for a smaller organization, but with proper planning and knowledge of Sitecore CMS, you’ll do fine.

Managing the Implementation

CMS implementations are much more than a ‘project’…you’ve got a Program here.  From my experience, an implementation in a medium to large organization requires a Program Manager to lead the different projects with project managers heading up each of the main thrusts of the project (Hardware, Development, Content, Training).

There are many different pieces to an implementation. You’ve got to worry about IT Infrastructure,  Software development, web design, web content and other topics. Spend the money upfront to get a good Program Manager (use an external consultant if needed) and Project Managers (you could use internal PM’s for this). If you approach this right (and have the budget), you can bring in a consultant to help throughout the project (from technology selection through final implementation).

While a CMS implementation is a large undertaking, it’s fairly straightforward if you have some knowledge in web strategy, technology, content, marketing and Sitecore CMS.  While there are a lot of technical issues to work through, the most difficult part of a CMS implementation is really the content strategy, user education and user adoption aspects…this is where experience and thought leadership comes into play.

If you’re looking to implement a CMS (Sitecore or otherwise), forget about the technical aspects of the CMS when you start out…look at the business first to make sure it is capable of sustaining your web & content strategy.  Understand the business needs first then find your CMS and implement the proper workflow and content architecture to meet the current and future needs of the organization.  This is a common sense stuff, but often overlooked when it comes to CMS projects.

There are many people & organizations  that can help…I know many of them and would be happy to help you find the right person or organization to help with your Sitecore (or other platform) implementation. Give me a call or email and I’ll do what I can to help.

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Time for a Mid Year Review

2009 is half over and its been a pretty good year so far.

What’s transpired this year?

  • In February, I put my consulting practice on hold to join the Boy Scouts of America full time after working with them for 1.5 years as a consultant.  Previous to starting full-time, I’d been leading the Sitecore Content Management System implementation and since going full-time have been involved in some major technology and marketing initiatives.  It’s been fun and an education in how non-profits are run.
  • I’ve just finished year #2 in the Doctoral program.  Only X number of years left (i have no idea what X actually is…probably 3 to 4 more years).
  • I’ve held up my resolutions for the year fairly nicely. I used the ‘three words’ approach (I learned this from Chris Brogan).  My words were: Create, Think & Lead. I’ve written more important stuff (at least to me) on this blog than I used to and I kicked off another blog focused on my photography.
  • My wife’s photography business is starting to see a bit more life.  The economy has taken its toll but we are starting to see a bit more traffic and interest from potential clients.
  • I’ve disconnected from a lot of things that were taking up way too much of my time.  While this has been hard to do, it’s been necessary to allow me to focus on those things that will bring the most benefit & value to me in the future.

What does the rest of 2009 hold? I’m not sure…but I’m positive it will be a good 6 months.

  • I’m anxious to kick off a few projects that I’ve been thinking about and can’t wait to see the results.
  • I’ve got a couple interesting side projects that have been brewing for a while…they are looking like they might show some signs of life later this year.
  • I’ve submitted a few articles & papers to academic journals & trade publications…hopefully I’ll hear back on whether they are accepted for publishing.

How has the first half of 2009 been for you?

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Sitecore, Me and the Boy Scouts

Me on Sitecore (from a Sitecore Press Release):

“We needed to move into a CMS to gain content management capabilities as well as easily host and manage our numerous local council and national websites from a central location,” said Eric Brown, CMS Project Manager, Boy Scouts of America. “Sitecore was selected due to its ability to customize and extend. Its flexibility allows content managers to seamlessly maintain brand messaging and presentation of the content. The fact that it is a 100% .NET solution also fit into the Boy Scouts of America IT strategy.”

Sounds pretty good huh? 🙂

We are working on some really cool stuff for the Boy Scouts…a site redesign is in the works for Q1 2009…should get the website up to a ‘modern’ website fitting current standards.  Other projects coming up are also very cool but still too early to discuss.

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Common Sense and Technology Selection

When did common sense get removed from the corporate technology selection process?

For those that don’t know what it is, technology selection is the process by which an organization decides which technology platform (software, hardware, etc) will be used for a particular application and/or piece of the business. For example, selecting an organization’s Content Management platform (e.g., Sitecore, Interwoven, Vignette, etc).

Using a common sense approach toward selecting technology seems reasonable. To take this approach, a person doesn’t need to be an expert…just someone that can think through things and apply common sense to the selection process.

How would one approach selecting technology without using common sense? Glad you asked…and I guarantee you that you’ve seen this before. 🙂

  1. Hear about the ‘latest technology’ and/or hear a buzzword.
  2. Think “yes…we need that….that will make everything better!”
  3. Talk to a few vendors.
  4. See a demo.
  5. Buy the platform
  6. Throw it over the wall to the technology group to implement.
  7. Go look for your next buzzword.

This approach happens more often than you would think. There are so many things wrong with this approach. Common sense has been thrown out the window.

I’ve personally seen this approach taken in many organizations when the leadership team decides that ‘X Technology’ is going to be their savior (note to people…technology will rarely save you) and they ignore the “common sense voice” in their head. Very rarely do these types of approaches work.

To compare, let’s look at the approach that I follow when assisting organizations in selecting a new platform…it isn’t necessarily the ‘right’ way…but it has worked for me…and I think it’s an extremely simple and common sense approach:

  1. Take a look at the organization’s strategy for the future
  2. Look at the technology strategic plan (if one exists)
  3. Build a business case (if not already created)
  4. Ensure that the organization’s strategy is aligned with the technology strategy (many times it doesn’t)
  5. Work closely with the information technology/systems group to understand their current capabilities
  6. Find an answer to the question of “What are you trying to accomplish with this technology?”
  7. Perform some risk analysis (e.g., affect of the new technology on current processes, etc.)
  8. Take a vendor agnostic stance
  9. Look at all available options (including current systems) to find the ideal solution.
  10. Develop a comparison of solutions with strategic direction
  11. Choose a platform
  12. etc.

I could keep going…but you get the point. Common sense stuff, right? Basically, you look at where you are trying to go and choose the technology that will help you get there. How hard is that? Apparently….very difficult for most organizations.

How can we get common sense back into the technology selection process? If you have some ideas…I’d love to hear them.

Some thoughts on Sitecore CMS

small business technologyOne of the projects I’ve been working on over the last few months is the implementation and customization of a Content Management System (CMS). The CMS chosen by my client is Sitecore CMS, which is garnering some attention for its somewhat unique approach to the world of CMS and was recently named a “Cool Vendor” by Gartner.

For a review of Web Content Management Systems, see Ziff-Davis’ CMS Review on Amazon titled “Web Content Management Systems Product Comparison Guide” (affiliate link).

Sitecore’s product is pretty interesting. It’s a .NET based product that gives you the ability to (er…forces you to) create everything from the ground up for your website. Everything is customizable…layouts, templates, everything. The product is delivered as a .NET ‘solution’…in other words, you can open the ‘site’ in Visual Studio and customize to your hearts content.

Personally, I like this approach because it provides a great deal of flexibility and provides developers with a way to easily ‘hook’ into a Sitecore website and customize it…..but it isn’t the right solution for every problem. If you are looking for a CMS, or just interested in CMS platforms, you should look into Sitecore. If you are looking to buy, expect to pay more than some CMS platforms and less than others 🙂

Here’s a quick Hit List that you can use to determine if Sitecore is right for your organization:

Sitecore is a good option if:

  • You have a good sized website and/or many websites to host.
  • You are a Microsoft shop with SQL Server, Windows Servers, etc.
  • You have a development staff who are fluent with .NET (C#, ASP.NET) or are OK with paying an outside firm for this work & expertise.
  • You are willing to invest in a long-term approach to migrating all your websites and web apps into a .NET environment (this gives you your biggest ROI in my opinion).
  • You are OK with looking at a payback period of over 1 year. My personal opinion is Sitecore is at about 18 to 24 months or longer depending on what you spend to implement and what customization you have done.

Sitecore is probably not the best option if:

  • You can’t spend much money
  • Your payback period is less than a year
  • You have no development staff with .NET experience nor do you want to pay for outside development
  • You aren’t a Microsoft shop
  • You have a few sites and don’t need .NET integration

For the developers out there…if you’re interested in jumping on a bandwagon and learning a new product, there is a tremendous need for sitecore developers in the marketplace. I’m contacted ~3 to 4 times a week for resources. You can download an ‘express‘ version from Sitecore for free (not to be used as a commercial site) and join their Developer network to jump in and start learning.

Sitecore is a good product and provides a very good ‘skeleton’ for a CMS but might not be the best selection for anyone looking for a quick turn CMS and/or quick payback.

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