UBM Electronics CIO discusses his custom CMS, Canon integration

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Almost two years ago, the division of United Business Media that is now known as UBM Electronics created a digital media development team led by Brent Pearson, CIO, who brought experience in software engineering, Web development and management. Pearson led an overhaul of the media group's websites—which were combined under the EETimes brand—and is now integrating the electronics brands UBM purchased last fall from Canon Communications.

Digital Directions: You totally overhauled the website, which relaunched last July. You programmed the CMS from scratch, which is unusual nowadays. Why?

Pearson: It was a true ROI analysis. We laid out our requirements and looked seriously at a dozen or more Web content management platforms. Everything we looked at in the lower price range, under $50,000 for a software package, would have required at least as much customization, in our view, as building from scratch. If we went over $100,000, we could get a closer match to what we needed, but, at that price, it was cheaper to build something that's custom and closely aligned to our business.

We work in the Microsoft .Net programming language and used the .Net toolset. We have a core team of about a dozen developers. We brought in consultants who were dedicated to the project and working in-house. We also had an offshore development team and a separate offshore quality assurance team.

DD: What was your mission with the CMS?

Pearson: The initial business requirement was to migrate off the old legacy platform, which was at the end of its life and very unstable. From a technical standpoint, it was an enormous challenge to find all the content, classify it and figure out what belonged where. We went back to the early 1990s, so it was like doing an archeological dig.

DD: What about the editorial side?

Pearson: There's been a cultural change in publishing where the editors aren't just writing stories; they're cultivating community and trying to engage in conversation. The business requirement for the new website was to give the audience an equal voice. That drove a lot of the feature enhancements, such as the way we are doing commenting and blogs. We haven't done anything groundbreaking yet in social media, but we have a lot of potential. When we launched in July, we probably had 70% of the features we wanted. We keep adding to it.

DD: What have done with your lead-generation platform?

Pearson: The reporting tool hasn't changed. We just had to integrate it with the new website. The data we're collecting now is better, and we also have an additional tool—the global database. We had 13 different databases we brought together into one master audience database. We partnered with the vendor that does our print fulfillment and email campaigns as well as analytics. That huge endeavor was going on in parallel with our website redesign; we had just under 1 million records.

The global database is important, because it gives us a holistic view of our outbound communications. We don't want to be sending the same person an email from one database, then another, and driving them away. The other benefit is to pull all our analytics together so that we can better understand and target our audience.

DD: Last fall, UBM acquired Canon Communications and the former Canon electronics brands now fall into your group. How far have you gotten in that integration?

Pearson: We're in the middle of the website migration right now, and it's another massive project. Fortunately, we can bring them over to our new stable CMS platform. Their database wasn't in bad shape, so we've already completed the database piece.

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