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.
- DEAD MAN, DEAD MAN

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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