Eric D. Brown, D.Sc.

Data Science | Entrepreneurship | ..and sometimes Photography

Tag: Content Management System (page 1 of 2)

Done Never Is

Never By Olivier H on flickrLast week, David Aponovich from ISITE Design wrote a nice piece titled Avoiding the CMS Death Spiral on ISITE’s CMS Myth blog.

If you don’t know who ISITE Design is, you should…especially if you are in the digital marketing space. Those guys are top notch. I tried to hire them many times when I was working at the Boy Scouts but could never get the projects funded (might just be why I’m not there anymore).

Note: I tend to use “CMS” to mean “Web CMS” or “WCMS” – in this article these terms/acronyms are interchangeable to match what David originally used it in his post.

In Avoiding the CMS Death Spiral, David writes a nice piece that anyone looking at choosing a Content Management System should read.  In the article, David offers up a few pieces of advice, with one being:

Realize too that if you invest in a CMS, you’re now in the software business – whether you like it or not. A CMS project is never “done”. Staff accordingly for post-launch maintenance and support, or be prepared to pay an agency to maintain the platform for you (to one degree or another).

A CMS project takes on a life of its own, much like any other software project. That said, most organizations undertaking a Content Management System project fail to understand that real underlying issues that they will face during and after the project. Most people think a CMS project is as simple as selecting, paying for and implementing a CMS….but it isn’t.

A CMS project is everlasting.  There will always be ‘something else’ to do.  There will always be a new feature or some functionality that will be needed for some new web feature or function.

Done never shows up on a CMS project.  Done never is.

Of course…there are times of ‘done’ according to a project plan.  The goal of a project can be reached.  There is a point when a CMS is ‘implemented’. But…there will always be changes  and there will always be new items to add.

That’s what organizations need to understand. Many think a Content Management System is something you buy and install and use.  But, I’ve never found that to be the case.  There’s always something more to be done.

So…if you are currently looking at implementing a Web Content Management System, think long and hard about how you are staffed today and how you will be staffed in the future.  Don’t make the mistake a former client made in thinking that after the purchase and implementation of a CMS, he could reduce headcount. In fact – he needed to increase headcount or at least move headcount around to ensure proper staffing.  That particular project was never staffed properly for the long term from the IT group’s side.

I’ll leave you with part of my comment on David’s post. I wrote  (I noticed a typo in my original comment – I’ve left it here for completeness – but should be buy):

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen with CMS projects is the failure to staff. Most clients but [sic] a CMS platform, pay a vendor to implement it and then expect ‘done’ to arrive one day.

That day never shows up because there are always constant changes coming. Always new features and functionality for CMS driven websites. Done never arrives so clients always feel like they are spending way too much to ‘implement’ their CMS…when in reality they are just seeing the reality of the software business. Done never is.

Image Credit: Never By Olivier H on flickr

Sitecore or Sharepoint – which is the better CMS platform?

Apples & Oranges - They Don't Compare By TheBusyBrain on flickrI’ve been talking to quite a few folks recently about Sharepoint 2010 to get feedback and insight into the product’s current acceptance and usage rate.

One key area that interests me is around content management and content management systems. I’ve worked with a lot of them in the past and my two favorites right now are WordPress and Sitecore.  WordPress is a no-brainer for individuals, small businesses and is a very good platform for medium / large businesses with a bent toward open source software / LAMP.

For those organizations that have a .NET focus, Sitecore has done well for itself over the last few years and is great for those businesses some money to spend for Sitecore licenses and development efforts.

Lately, I’ve been hearing from friends and colleagues that Sharepoint 2010 is being hailed as the next great content management system (and/or collaboration platform and/or search platform and/or …). Of course, those touting that are Microsoft and their sales / partnership channel for the most part.  I say that partly in jest, but also because I haven’t found many developers, content specialist or marketing person to echo that statement…none have been impressed with Sharepoint as a pure Content Management System (CMS). Does this mean Sharepoint as a CMS is bad? No…just means that its features haven’t been enjoyed by end-users.

For those of you out there with any history in IT, you’ll know that Sharepoint has been around for quite some time and there have been many iterations and foci of this platform. Its a document management system, a work-flow system, intranet system, security management system and has been used for much more.  The new 2010 version is being touted as “collaboration software for the enterprise” by Microsoft….which isn’t a bad marketing approach.

Sharepoint is a great platform for collaboration and community. I’ve seen some wonderful systems built for those functions….but is it a great content management system? Can it really compete with pure CMS platforms like Sitecore?

Sharepoint 2010’s new content management features are impressive, but anyone with experience can see these new features for what they are – a classic Sharepoint reorganization and reuse of functionality plus some new features to bring out this ‘new’ CMS  functionality.  I don’t mean this in a bad way…this is one of the strengths of Sharepoint…it can do most anything.

Sitecore, on the other hand, is built to be a CMS from the ground up. There’s no pretense that Sitecore is anything more than a CMS.  That’s why I like it so much. Is the product perfect? Nope…but no product is.

So…which is better as a CMS….Sitecore or Sharepoint?

For a pure content management system, I’d pick Sitecore hands down. The system is built to be a Content Management System and has a focus on communications & marketing.  Sitecore is focused on delivering content to external audiences and improving insight into website visitors and user experience via new products like the Sitecore Online Marketing Suite.

Of course, Sharepoint can be used as a CMS and is now being touted as one, but I currently find it hard to recommend Sharepoint solely on its CMS capabilities alone.  Of course, very few IT shops are going to look at Sharepoint for a CMS only…most are already using Sharepoint for other functionality like internal collaboration, document management, security, etc and their focus may soon move to using Sharepoint for external focused content delivery.

I’ve implemented Sitecore and Sharepoint and used both products.  I like some things about Sharepoint and some things about Sitecore.

So…how do you choose between the two?  I’ll never tell a client or company that one technology or platform is better than another…but I do like to point out differences.  Here’s a quick list of things that I would think about when choosing between the two products:

  • For an external content focus, choose Sitecore.
  • For a marketing driven platform, choose Sitecore.
  • For a platform to customize the web user experience based on non-authenticated users, choose Sitecore (and the Sitecore OMS)
  • For an internal content focus with enterprise level security requirements,  choose Sharepoint
  • For a collaboration platform, choose Sharepoint
  • For an IT driven platform, choose Sharepoint

Some IT shops will argue Sharepoint should be chosen over Sitecore for some of the above reasons (namely security for content delivery, etc) – but those arguments can be countered easily with Sitecore’s extensibility and features.  I can plug modules in that allow me to use the same security systems that Sharepoint uses.  Of course, there are modules that can be plugged into Sharepoint to get different/more functionality as well

At the end of the day, comparing Sitecore and Sharepoint as CMS platforms is like comparing apples and oranges – they are different products targeted at different uses.  Sharepoint can (and is) used as a CMS – but Sitecore has a more robust CMS feature set for marketers.

If you are looking for a .NET based CMS, either product will work – but right now, I would lean toward  Sitecore when looking for a pure CMS that provides fast development times, stable platform and ease of use for non-technical content creators.

Of course, each organization is different…don’t take my word for it…check out both products and run them through your technology selection process to determine which is best for you.

Image Credit: Apples & Oranges – They Don’t Compare By TheBusyBrain on flickr

WordPress as Web Framework

WordPress logoAs you know, I love WordPress.

I use WordPress for everything these days. This blog runs on WordPress. My photography blog runs on WP.  My wife’s photography websites (a moment to keep photography and Boudoir Moments) run on WordPress.  Like I said…everytime I build a website today, I start with WordPress if I can.

So…when I was asked to help build a new website for Silicon Valley Expert Witness Group, an intellectual property consulting and expert witness services firm, I jumped at the change to use WP.

Jump over to www.svewg.com and take a look at the site. Does it look like a blog?  Nope.   It looks like a website. It’s a website.  We used the new Custom Post types found in WordPress 3.0 for the expert bios and added some interesting functionality to the site.

Does WordPress make sense for all organizations?  No…but its worth a look to see if it can work for you.    The open source approach (and community) that WordPress has allows you to build whatever you want to build.

WordPress has moved from a ‘blogging engine’ to a ‘website framework’….take a look at it for your next web project.

I. Love. WordPress.

Wordpress LogoSorry for the silly title…but I do I love WordPress.

Well…I should clarify…I love the self-hosted version of found at WordPress.org).   The WordPress.com version is quite good but you lose the ability to do some customization over there (unless you’re on the VIP platform…and you’re still limited in what you can do there).

Why do I love WordPress?

It’s so much more than a blogging platform.  It’s really a framework.  It’s a framework for building websites.

Take a look at my site.  It’s built on WP using the Genesis Theme Framework (affiliate link) which I’ve customized to meet my needs. I added a customized version of the WP Featured Articles Slider to the front page to highlight previous articles.

Could I have done this with other platforms?  Sure.  Would it have been free? Perhaps.  Would it have been easy (given you know a little web design/development)?  Maybe.

But…every other platform I’ve used in the past would have required much more development to get the basic structure built.  I could have used Drupal or Joomla but neither of them are as easy and straightforward as WordPress is for me.

The real strength comes from the Theme developers like StudioPress (the folks behind Genesis), Thesis or Headway. With these frameworks, you can really extend the power of WordPress as a platform.

Personally, I’m a fan of Genesis due to the ability to build child themes for customization. These child themes allow the core Genesis framework to be upgraded without affecting the custom design / functionality.    I love the genesis framework so much I decided to customize one of the child themes to rebuild my Photography Minute photo blog.

WordPress…for more than just blogs

But…WordPress can be used for more than just an individual’s blog / website.

For example…take a look at the Boy Scouts of America’s Boys’ Life website.  It’s built on WordPress and hosted with the VIP program.  I’m happy to say that I was a part of the team that built the site last year….it was quite a learning experience for me and an eye opener to the power of the WordPress platform.

On first glance, that doesn’t look like much like a blog does it?  Doesn’t to me.   Lots of really cool stuff happening over there with a mixture of PHP, Flash, jQuery and Javascript…really cool stuff for us tech geeks 🙂

In addition to my own blogs and the work on the Boys’ Life website, I’ve been working on building a new website for Silicon Valley Expert Witness Group using WP as a Content Management Systems (CMS) for the underlying technology to run the website.  That site (planned go- live in early Sept 2010) is using a ton of custom development and Custom Post Types to handle the hundreds of Expert Witnesses and litigation consultants listed on the website as well marketing and corporate information.

I’ve got another stealth project going right now that uses WordPress, a Custom Theme and the PHPurchase shopping cart plugin to manage sales and subscriptions. Still putting the finishing touches on that project…maybe I’ll talk about it more in the future. 🙂

I’m finding WordPress to be an extremely flexible and wonderful framework to build websites with.  Not only do you get WP and themes, but a ton of developers and help from other WP developers and users. The power of Open Source in action.

PS – If you’re looking for a WordPress Developer or Designer, let me know … I’ll be happy to recommend a designer to you and might be able to take on the development efforts myself … if I can’t help, I know a few folks who can.

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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