Does WCM Really Need a Fix?

As part of preparation for a presentation he gave yesterday at Jboye ’09 – a few days ago Jon Marks set a challenge to his Twitter community; to give him examples of where Web Content Management fails. I admit I am not at the JBoye event, so I have missed seeing Jon in action – but as a blogger on this sort of thing, let alone as a WCM vendor it would be rude to ignore the wealth of great points this process threw up.

As Jon crowd sourced his presentation content, seemingly every element of a CMS procurement and project got a mention.

As Irina Guseva of CMSWire (who was at JBoye) points out in this post – the first point to consider is whether there is something that needs fixing?

Apparently at the conference – CMS Watch’s Jarrod Gingras was certain there’s nothing to fix and I have to agree. As a software genre it’s vibrant, there is a strong open source community and I reckon I could find a new vendor every week. I also discovered, meeting a new competitor at the last big Internet show I was at – there are VC’s out there still funding start ups (in Scandinavia!).

I have a small theory here (not about Scandinavia), but that in it’s most basic form a CMS is a database (or data store of some kind) with a user interface and a web application – it’s an accessible idea for developers (heck, I even built something in PHP for a personal website once) and this contributes to this diversity, despite the countless CMS options available – of folks continuing to build their own, in the shape of their own niche, geography or ‘unique’ requirements.

This leads me to the next observation made on Twitter, WCM or CMS is a broad church and many folks saw that terminology, the software classification as needing a fix – the fact that there was confusion initially on the hashtag, probably tells it’s own story as people moved from using #FixCMS to #FixWCM.

This discussion got more granular, the suggestion seemed to be that products and I guess their strengths and fit for niche should define them. Market niches have always been ‘crowd sourced’ as industry observers and analysts have defined them (not vendors) and the market adopts them, so it’ll be interesting if this idea gains any momentum.

There were very few suggestions of what we should call them, but it seems that this would provide more evidence that the industry being organised around tiers based around the size of the implementation (or budget) is flawed.

Talking of organizing the industry into tiers – analysts – they also got a few mentions.

What helps customers best; a simple magic quadrant or a weighty volume with detailed look at 41 vendors? Personally, I think this needs to be part of the mix, organisations should talk to the analysts about your own needs, analysts reports are written academically, independent of a real project.

As CMSWatch and Gartner got a nod in these discussions, I’ll mention Forrester, as I think their model serves customers well, they have a very transparent RFP like process, based around real life requirements (as they see them) and they score vendors against those and publish the scores – it irons out a bit of the analysts gut feel, emotion and how good a vendors marketing might be. It also gives someone trying to choose a vendor a matrix by which they can look at their own requirements and compare.

Hmm… matrix of requirements – could that form the new WCM niches?

Anyway, back to the subject at hand – requirements got more than a few mentions and the way organisations form them internally and present them during procurement.

RFP’s and sizing up a vendor for the job seemed to be the only thing that got a definitive agreement on – it’s about the organisations own requirements, not an IT wish list or a generic downloaded RFP  and these things should be presented as scenarios – with stakeholders and business owners.

I wholly agree with that, I would also suggest that if an organisations presents a well structured set of scenarios, requirements supported by business value, a clear objectives (and dare I say budget) – vendors will self determine if it’s for them or not. No vendor, agency or systems integrator wants to embark on the expensive process of bidding for business that they don’t fit, that they don’t feel they can win or enter into an unsatisfactory partnership.

Whilst much of the discussion was around the pre-sale, selection, procurement and the vendors offering. The implementation got a bit of focus, with some of the arguments getting some fresh debate – of whether a vendor should do the implementation, whether you should choose an implementation partner first, who should help an organisation choose a vendor and whether in fact the track record of the implementation folks was more important than the vendor.

I don’t think I agree with any of these exclusively, clearly the right combination of crew and technology is essential and partners provide a fabulously broad set of experience and skills that a web engagement project needs outside of the vendor software skills. Although I think vendors should maintain a professional services team, not to compete with implementation partners, but to provide subject matter expertise and a valuable direct connection between the product and it’s market.

There was also talk of pilots and proof of concepts, again from my point of view, an excellent opportunity for organisations to really get their requirements across and for the business partnership to be tested and forged.

So, what am I missing…? Oh yes… vendors.

It seems pricing complexity was the primary issue – I’d encourage folks to engage with their vendor on how they want to commercially partner with them – but it seems there are some complex models out there that are bending customers and their partners architectural choices to fit.

Thanks to Jon for being the catalyst of this discussion, I haven’t added links to everyone’s tweets as linking to all would render this post unreadable and I found it difficult to pull out one tweet over another – I would however urge you to check out the #fixwcm and #fixwcm hashtags on Twitter and the following posts:

A long post, with lots of  stuff that hopefully I can mine in future posts,  but what do you think, what did I miss? Does WCM need fixing?

Image of workshop reproduced under Create Commons License courtesy of M J M

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