September 2009
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Web in a Box, or Mix and Match?

Never bein’ able to separate the good from the bad,
Ooh, I can’t stand it, I can’t stand it,
It’s makin’ me feel so sad.

ACME Corporation have decided to launch a web presence to support their thriving cartoon supply business . They hire you as the brand new big technical cheese to realise their vision. And this vision, as usual, includes everything: Content Management, of course; Search so that you can find the products; a Community to provoke discussion about new product design; Digital Asset Management to store the images and blueprints of the products; Analytics to track down who is interesting in committing nefarious deeds; CRM to improve the way they deal with their prospects; and mapping software to track Road Runners. And something to glue these all together. So, Mr Big Cheese, what are you going to do: buy a single one-stop-shop product that does everything, or assemble together a set of best-of-breed products?

The ACME Corporation Web Site

The ACME Corporation Web Site

What do the RFPs say customers want?

The majority of the CMS Vendor Selection RFPs that I see demand feature ticking around search, analytics, SoCo, DAM and all the rest. They ask for it all. These RFPs are geared towards procuring a single product that does everything. Most also all assume that the Content Management System will also be the delivery layer and ask for many delivery layer features. A pure-play decoupled CMS wouldn’t stand a chance. If the scoring was done purely on the features lists, a portal would often beat a CMS. The vendor presentations tend to focus more on the features of the canned demonstration site they all have than on the CMS back end.

What does the research say customers want?

The research doesn’t agree completely with this. The recent eConsultancy CMS Survey showed that more customers want best-of-breed suppliers over a one-stop shop, especially for companies with more than 100 employees.

When selecting a CMS vendor, which do you prefer? (from Squiz/eConsultancy report)
When selecting a CMS vendor, which do you prefer? (from Squiz/eConsultancy report)

What is the strategy of the vendors?

Well, they all seem to heading towards the one-stop-shop solution. Sure, they’ll release new features to their core product. But more and more, they seem to be differentiating by moving into other areas. CMS vendors, in particular, are packaging in social/collaboration software, search software, shopping baskets and payment modules, basic DAM and the kitchen sink. Everyone is producing their own Analytics and MVT software. For example, SiteCore recently announced their Online Marketing Suite and EPiServer called with their Marketing Arena . Seeing as most of these features really sit at the delivery layer, not the content management layer, the number of pure decoupled CMS vendors is on the decline. There is a huge amount of M&A activity at the high end of the market as everyone tries to cover all the bases.

So, the strategy of the vendors seems to be on diversification. Gut feeling would imply that finding a niche, or focussing on improving the core CMS would be front of mind. Not so, they’re all playing “RFP feature ticking”. They all bang on about being “open” and supporting open standards, while at the same time singing about their proprietary, tight integration between their newly aquired products. For example, a typical conversation:

Me: So, Mr Vendor X, why do you think we’d use your new Analytics|Search|Community product over the one we currently use?
Vendor: Because our one has a ‘much deeper integration with our product’ and ‘understands our product’  better.

There are problems with this as I see it, some of which include:

  • everyone is building monoliths
  • as parts of the system become obsolete, and it becomes harder to take advantage of unexpected future goodies
  • you really are at the mercy of a single vendor

What does the future hold?

I would have expected the fact that standards are improving to mean that we’d have more focussed best-of-breed vendors that allow you to plug their product in to any CMS – the nice Lego-block style architecture diagram. However, currently it looks like we’re heading the other way, which really depresses me. We might even be buying the Google CMS Appliance before long.

If it continues at this rate, our friends at CMS Watch might need to consolidate all their lovely reports into the “Web In A Box” report quite soon …

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21 comments to Web in a Box, or Mix and Match?

  • If you ask people, they’ll always say they want the best of breed, but when it comes down to buying, they’ll want a single relationship with a single supplier. That supplier can go and partner with other vendors, or sub-contract service offerings, but the client wants one contract and one person to go to when things go wrong.

    That fits in with your vision for selecting an agency rather than a vendor doesn’t it? Isn’t a full service agency “web in a box” and more (i.e. offline campaigns too)? Yes, the client is at the mercy of a single vendor, but it’s easier to manage one relationship than many.

    I agree with your point about obsolescence, but I think this is likely to affect businesses whether their technology comes from one supplier or from many. The Lego brick option would be the best, provided everyone could say that they wouldn’t change the Lego bricks for the next few years… How likely is that?

  • Very interesting stats.

    48% is a high figure for companies under 100 employees looking for a “one stop shop” solution. It’s an interesting figure as this sized company often often don’t have the dedicated resources to roll out larger “one stop shop” projects fully. From what I’ve seen, these solutions often don’t get implemented fully and end up only being used to solve specific issues rather than “everything”.

  • I read somewhere that in recession companies gravitate towards all-in-ones and during boom times they prefer best-of-breeds. In other words, they go for the good stuff when they can afford it, and settle for a package deal when they must make compromises. Interestingly, when times recover, they usually make a purchase again, this time buying a couple of best-of-breed to do what the all-in-one could not.

    I also subscribe to your lego block vision. This is how we build web apps today, if you think about it … the facebook or the twitter model.

    There was another study somewhere (MIT?) claiming that all innovation cycles start with best-of-breeds and end with all-in-one suites. Think VisiCalc vs. Office. Given the rate of innovation on the web, i would look twice under the cover of any ECM all-in-one claiming to do the web stuff.

    • Yeah, very wise words on the recession view. Not so sure about the innovation cycle piece being appropriate for us, though. Surely we’ll get to a point with some standards in the not-too-distant-future where a product can implement ISearchProvider, IAnalyticsIntegrationHooks or IStoreYourSocialGraphAndContributions. This might be CMIS / OAuth / OpenSocial or some standard not-yet-invented. But when we get there, all-in-one Web In A Box products will surely struggle?

      Can I ask what FatWire’s long term plans are? Will the idea be that FatWire always provides everything (search, analytics, social, etc), can provide it as an optional extra when customer doesn’t have another supplier for that, or will focus on the content management side of things mainly?

  • From what I have seen it depends on the familiarity and budget of the customer. Those customers that are familiar with application development and have a high budget will look at the expensive ‘all in ones’. I suspect they understand the concept that ‘you get what you pay for’ and the fact that integration/maintenance is expensive. Usually because the duct tape keeps coming loose.

    Those who are less familiar and are on a tighter budget will opt for multiple ‘less featured (aka cheap)’ products in the hope that integrating them will yield the equivalent of an expensive ‘all in one’. They often lose site of the fact that this duct tape approach has no durability. The maintenance/sacrifices of the integration will often negate and product purchase savings.

    Could be coincidence too. Just happens to be what I’ve seen.

    • I like our different perspective of the price models. In my head, the “one stop shop” is the cheap version, and the expensive option is the best of breed. For one-stop-shop, think of most of the mid/upper tier products on the CMS Watch WCM report doing everything. For best-of-breed, I’m thinking a WCMS + (Google|Omniture|WebTrends|etc) + (FAST|Endeca|Autonomy|Lucene|etc) + (Telligent|Pluck|etc) + (SiteMorse|SiteConfidence|Vamosa|etc) + ….

  • I see where you are coming from. I think we were just looking at it at different levels ;)

    I can see businesses investing in the types of add-ons (ex: GSA) you mentioned along with their WCMS for a best of breed approach. I meant that some businesses do not purchase a full WCMS as it may be too expensive. Instead they purchase a generic CMS, a DM solution, a portal, along with some other ingredients and then try to integrate them so it looks/functions as a single WCMS. In the end a single, nice WCMS would have done the job much better.

    • During the phase phase your organism cleanses itself
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  • Another way to look at this, the way our great federal government works, the federal procurement system lends itself to the one suite vendors. An attempt to get the best of bread products can take a government agency to massive disarray and long list of contracts for vendors, SI, infrastructure and PMO players, with each contract is open for a protect or non performing vendors.

    Even when they awarded the contract to super sized SI, technology changes and contract amending is an endless task.

    • Lucky you. I don’t get much exposure to the US Federal Government procurement system, but it sure sounds fun. Is everyone as aware of the system as you are, so it’s pretty much a given that one-suite vendor is going to win? Or do the best-of-breed guys still try?

  • I’m still coming back to your Magic Quadrant article in my mind. I think you have a very interesting point about reports on the CMS arena. They all seem to lack information about the breadth of functionalities (are we talking about a full blown forum or a comment system like the one I’m using right now), the ease of implementation, how many bespoke adaptations are required etc. with an ‘out of the box’ version etc. A more operational view on what is required to get the site up and running. As we experienced together some products can be up and running in a 1 or 2 months whereas others really need closer to a full year’s development if not more, and all that regardless of whether you have a long list of functionalities. Maybe the down to earth educate and ‘tell the client the truth about it all’ approach is what clients may be lucky enough to get with an outspoken Head of Development from a leading digital agency rather than a nice looking report ;)

    PS: 1 more vote for the Bob Dylan quotes

  • Jon,

    This may be an odd request. I am fabricator trying to start a little website to get some of my automotive themed gag gifts on the market. I am trying to kill my “wantrepeneur” as they say and actually move forward instead of just dreaming about it. I would love to use the image above acme_full as
    the landing page of my website. (there is nothing there yet)
    Would you consider letting me use this image, or let me know who I should talk to.


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