Issuing a content advisory

As the corporate Web site has transformed into the virtual meeting ground where many a customer meets a supplier for the very first time, Web information on public-facing sites has never been more crucial to making a good impression.

But for many organizations across the country, keeping information fresh and current has been allowed to “slip” while more crucial IT functions like security and network connectivity continue to take up the majority of the network administrator’s time.

So what is the secret to success? How do organizations keep the IT focus on critical tasks behind the scenes while maintaining a pristine, polished image on display? While many solutions have tried to solve the enigma, industry experts agree that enterprise content management is imperative to a company’s prosperity.

Out with the old

Despite the turbulent economic times, electronic data is growing at an overwhelming pace, and corporations are beginning to take a good hard look at how to deal with this surge in information, according to a 2002 study by San Jose-based research firm Gartner Inc. The outfit found that content management – sometimes referred to as the trough of disillusionment, for its complex reputation – ranked second in its annual CIO survey last year, second only to security. And for good reason: content costs money to create, maintain and search; content can drive revenue by enabling the enterprise to sell it or use content to attract customers; and it enables the so-called real-time enterprise bringing the right information to the right people at the right time, Gartner said.

However, without proper management of your content, getting information to those who need it is not easy, said Connie Moore, a vice-president with Washington, D.C.-based Giga Information Group. She explained that with the dawn of the Internet boom, many businesses rushed to create a presence on the Web, and in doing so, developed in-house content management systems that just don’t make the grade with today’s information overload.

“What this has led to is a bottleneck in the IT organization where the Webmaster is involved in getting stuff published,” Moore told Network World Canada. “However, handling content is not an IT function. It is a business issue. What content management systems allow you to do is let the business people be responsible for their content creation, the review and approval and the content publishing. It gets IT out of that process, meaning companies can save substantial amounts of labour.”

Seeking the help of a content management vendor can also produce a more rigorous process in ensuring accuracy of content and allow for the consolidation of servers and Web sites, she added.

“You can have actual cost savings in terms of hardware and software,” Moore said. “Organizations should always look at commercial off-the-shelf products instead of continuing to enhance their own custom systems.”

Scanning the market

When Hi-Alta Capital transformed itself into Western Financial Group last June, the investment banking organization knew it needed more than a new name to spruce up its Web presence. But, without the IT staff and no desire to gain a Webmaster, the company began discussions with iUpload, a Burlington, Ont.-based content management provider, to see how it could take its Web sites from its multiple branch offices and consolidate them into one corporate site.

In tune with keeping IT out of the fold, iUpload has developed its solution as a Web-based offering. The company delivers content management as a Web service, allowing non-technical people to author, publish and edit content directly to a Web site and requires no software or infrastructure changes. According to CEO Robin Hopper, content management can be a very intimidating venture.

“We are hearing a lot of horror stories like abandoned projects, slow projects or companies that have gone into this black hole of making a decision on content management,” Hopper said. “Some of it is understandable. You are taking a lot of unstructured information and applying some structure to it. Most of the approaches out there are software-based and require rebuilding your Web site to the environment of the content management package with a fair bit of infrastructure customization.”

There are also huge costs associated with traditional methods, he continued, stating that while companies including Microsoft Corp., Documentum Inc. and Interwoven Inc. are market leaders, the approximate price for licensing fees starts at US$50,000 per CPU. Also to be considered are the “hidden” costs associated with content management solutions like consulting and customization. Comparatively, iUpload’s subscription-based service charges based on the number of content authors and ranges from approximately $15,000 to $20,000 annually.

In September of last year, Western Financial Group settled on iUpload, and IT Manager Donna Abramson said she is impressed with the efficiency that content management has brought to the business.

“The timeliness of information getting to the Web is far better than before,” Abramson explained. “We are a publicly traded company and there are reports and news releases that are issued on a fairly regular basis. In the past, we were restricted to getting those releases to the third party that managed that for us and we had to work within their schedule to have information posted. Now if a press release goes out, it is very seamless. It all comes down to control and we have much more control over what we put out there now.”

Weighing the risks

Although content management systems can bring forth the control over information and contribute to business revenues, poor content management or none at all can also prove disastrous for an organization.

iUpload conducted a study surveying 49 companies to learn more about content management practices. The company found that by not being able to manage content efficiently cost 34 per cent of the companies surveyed between $1,000 and $5,000 per day. Seventy-two per cent cited customer dissatisfaction as the leading cause for lost revenue.

According to Andrew Pery, chief marketing officer and senior vice-president of marketing for Hummingbird in Ottawa, companies should be looking for solutions that address key market drivers: efficiency and consolidation. Results of a study conducted by Queens’ University found that the cost associated with not having efficient systems in place for managing content is approximately $50 billion overall.

“Part of the reason for that is because…the existing systems in place are not integrated,” Pery said. “They tend to be very departmental in nature. What is starting to happen is that the many different offerings on the market addressing content and document management are converging into what is called an enterprise information management platform.”

Within this platform, companies can consolidate collaborative and workflow applications with content and document management capabilities to manage the lifecycle associated with their content. Hummingbird’s DM offering provides a single interface where customers can profile documents in a scalable repository. It also creates secure collaborative workstations where customers can collaborate around sensitive documents, Pery explained.

Giga’s Moore recommends finding a vendor that can provide a holistic approach to content management, one that supports various content technologies. While best-of-breed solutions can offer more fine-tuned functionality, “generally speaking, you are better off to have an architecture for managing your content types and approach it form an overall perspective rather than bringing in point products,” she said.