Tech tool #1: Web content management

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Earlier this year, McData Corp., Broomfield, Colo., was deep in the throes of figuring out what to do with the ballooning amount of content it was generating. It was no small matter.

The storage area networking provider, which has eight public and semi-public Web sites, as well as several internal ones, had accumulated 2.5 million files of content—very few of which were accessible to the company at large. The files were being managed manually by a small internal team, but there was no central repository.

"A lot of [those files] end up on the Web," said Mark Swanholm, manager-Web services for McData. "But a lot of it doesn’t end up on the Web. And none of it starts in a Web format. And we had to decide: What are we going to do with those files? How can we take that content and make it useful?"

Making matters even more critical, McData (which was spun off from parent company EMC Corp. in August 2000) was growing rapidly—generating content more quickly. "The problem was getting exponential," Swanholm said.

In June, McData began using content management tools from Documentum Inc., Pleasanton, Calif. With Documentum’s 4i e-business platform and Web Content Management Edition, McData is now not only organizing its content, but has begun disseminating it through three newly created portals—one for its resellers or channel partners, one for its employees and one for its customers. The channel partners portal was key, Swanholm said. In the past year, McData has gone from having three original equipment manufacturer partners and a handful of channel partners to four OEM partners and more than 90 channel partners.

McData is not alone in dealing with this chaos.

Many companies are just beginning to realize that they too must consider how to manage their own legions of existing content files, as well as the growing number of new ones they are creating daily.

There are many choices, of course. Companies such as McData, which need a platform to manage both their Web-based and traditional document content, are entering the broader field of enterprise content management, said Mark Gilbert, research director for the content management practice at Gartner Inc., Stamford, Conn.

However, much of the focus of content management today is strictly on Web-based content management (WCM). The technology has been around for about four years—evolving as Web sites became important tools for distributing content, he said.

"In the early days," Gilbert said, "nobody knew what was going to happen [to their digital content]. Then all of a sudden, people realized they had so many files, they couldn’t keep track of them. ... They needed some way to deal with all that chaos."

Gilbert said WCM tools have two main goals: to make it easy for business people to contribute content and to make Web sites work more effectively.

WCM tools serve as a kind of gateway between a company’s digital assets and its Intranet or the Internet at large. They generally can be integrated with an existing Web site and may offer a wide range of basic capabilities—from content creation and aggregation, to workflow and distribution, to e-commerce. Their platforms may also include elements such as personalization, online catalog management and syndication tools.

Most large providers may offer some form of all of these—and more—in their core WCM platforms. And each has its own specialty.

Interwoven Inc., Sunnyvale, Calif., for example, offers a technology called "branching" which could aid marketers in setting up special marketing campaigns within the WCM system by allowing them to create a new content "branch," or repository, for all content related to that campaign. "In this new age of b-to-b and the Internet, you need to be able to handle not just documents, but also Web content, multimedia content, catalogs and product information," said Clinton Stark, director-content solutions for Interwoven.

A typical WCM installation takes three to six months, said Gilbert, although some companies are starting to offer more out-of-the-box solutions that take less time to set up. Most companies can get by with spending $200,000 to $300,000 on software licensed from a leading WCM provider, Gartner’s Gilbert said. A year ago that figure may have been about $500,000, but lower-cost entries—such as Microsoft’s Content Management Server, which debuted this year with an estimated starting cost of about $43,000—as well as several platforms in the $150,000 to $200,000 price range have brought down prices, he said.

Beyond licensing costs, a company will have to shell out money for installation, which could cost as much as licensing, and have an application service provider or internal server.

WCM elements that exist now and may catch on in the future include multichannel output and globalization of content; however, because of the sluggish economy, most companies are simply concentrating on the basics, Gilbert said. He suggests that a company do a needs assessment to figure out where to begin—but to indeed begin.

"This is really important technology," he said. "It is a core infrastructure to make a Web site work well. You can throw money at the servers and everything like that, but unless you understand how to put interesting and timely content up on your site, all the fastest server infrastructure doesn’t help you."

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