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

Technology Selection and Cultural Fit

technology selectionDid you know that technology selection is about much more than technology?

Yep…its true…..but most people don’t realize it.

Many in the IT world love to get asked to be a part of a technology selection project. These types of projects usually provide a learning opportunity for everyone on the team and an chance to really help drive the platforms used within the enterprise.

The basic question at hand for most technology selection projects really comes down to “‘what do we need and how much is it?”

With that question in mind, most IT professionals approach technology selection with the following three questions in mind:

These three questions definitely cover a great deal of requirements….but one major area is missing.  I’d add the following:

Does the technology fit the culture?

Pretty broad question but one that’s extremely important to answer.

Now…one could argue that cultural fit should fit into the non-functional requirements or selection criteria selection questions…and I’d agree. That said, very few people really consider organizational culture when choosing technology.

Cultural Fit – why worry?

Why should we worry about cultural fit when selecting technology?

Simple…organizational culture is a key driver of technology acceptance and adoption.

Company culture will dictate how much support for a new technology is required. It will make a difference whether your users will take it upon themselves to learn a new technology or expect to have their hands through detailed training classes.

Culture will also determine how technology is used. Will the technology you select and implement by used in some new, innovative way or will it barely be used for its intended purpose?

Cultural fit is just as important to an organization as functional requirements but its an often overlooked  step in technology selection.

A Case Study in Cultural Fit and Technology Selection

I was hired by a large organization a few years ago to implement and manage development and customization for Sitecore CMS.  The project was an interesting one…the organization hadn’t used a content management system prior to their selection of Sitecore and had been building all websites using HTML and flat-file databases through a two person web team.

The team responsible for the selection and implementation of Sitecore CMS had assumed that the platform could be rolled out and anyone / everyone in the organization would be allowed into the system to input and manage their own content.

Now…with the proper people and culture, this might not have been a bad idea.  But the culture of this organization at the time was top-down command and control where everyone had been conditioned to do as they were told.  At the time there was even a paper based communication approval process that required at least 5 signatures (sometimes more) before anything was allowed to be published to the web (this process has since changed for the better).

Can you imagine implementing a technology like Sitecore with built in workflow processes, approval processes and publishing capabilities and to not really use those processes because a paper-based approval system existed?  I will note that the Sitecore driven workflow processes were considered as a replacement for the paper-based system but never properly embraced or used.

With a culture built around waiting for your boss to tell you what to do, do you think the CMS platform was accepted and embraced by the users?

Another issue that was obvious from the beginning of this project was the complete lack of understanding of everything ‘web’ within this organization.  This was very much an organization with a “print” mentality and modern digital communications and marketing concepts weren’t well understood by most.

Needless to say, the plans to roll out Sitecore to the entire organization never really panned out. There were pockets of people and teams within the organization that were chomping at the bit to get into Sitecore but that was the exception rather than the rule.

Technology Selection – Lessons learned

What can we learn from this example?  The strategic objective behind selecting and implementing Sitecore was sound.  So were the functional requirements…the platform is an excellent platform and fit into the organization’s overall technology architecture and roadmap.

A failure occurred when the technology met the culture of the organization.   The culture was rooted in ‘do nothing wrong’ and ‘receive approval for everything’.  This culture let the inability for the people within the organization to understand, embrace and use a technology that allowed individual achievement, initiative and innovation.

If the real goal of this organization was to put the power of digital communications and marketing technology in the hands of individuals (with proper workflow processes of course), a first step should have been to take on some form of organizational readiness study prior to technology selection.  If this had been done, perhaps a different technology would have been selected or at least a different plan for rolling out the selected technology could have been created.  Perhaps some organizational & cultural changes could have been implemented to allow this technology to better serve the needs of the company & people.

Regardless of what could have been done differently, the basic lesson is this: failure to consider organizational culture prior to or during a technology selection project can be disastrous.  Next time you take on a selection project, add the ‘cultural fit’ question to your list of things to consider…you may just be surprised at how differently your selection criteria and project turn out with this in mind.

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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A techie in a marketers world

For those that haven’t heard the news, I accepted a full-time position with the Boy Scouts of America in February.  I work for the Brand Management Department as part of the Marketing Group.  My role is multi-functional – I do a little bit of everything; Project Management, Technology Management, Strategy, Processes (yeah! {sarcasm}) and in general poking my nose into things that I think I can help with.

I’d been working with the Boy Scouts since August 2007 assisting them with implementing Sitecore. Late 2008 we began discussions about me starting full-time and we finally made it official in February.

Working in this new role is interesting for me. I’m a technologist working in the marketing world…and I really like it. I’ve preached for years that IT needs to get closer to the business and now I have the opportunity to bridge the gap between our technology group and our marketing group.

I think its going to be a lot of fun.  The first month has been fairly busy and has kept me away from the blog more than I’d like but I’ve gotten settled in a bit now…should be back to posting more regularly.

I’ll keep everyone posted on the job.

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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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