Managing content without chaos
- By Maggie Biggs
- Feb 09, 2003
As Web sites at agencies and departments have grown larger, with content contributed by staffers spread across the organization, managing the flow of information and ensuring prompt updates can be a major challenge. Organizing that content often requires the integration of data from many sources — potentially in many different formats — and departments require carefully designed security plans to ensure that content stays in the right hands.
Content management solutions offer various tools to make it easy for authors to submit contributions, for developers to customize applications and integrate with existing productivity tools, and for administrators to manage workflows and maintain the repository of information throughout its life cycle.
Most content management solutions on the market are fairly mature. To select the most appropriate solution, you need to craft a detailed requirements document that outlines exactly what content types you need to manage, your needs for integrating enterprise data, your agency's security requirements and your plans to manage content from creation to deletion.
The first thing you'll want to consider when choosing a solution is whether a Web content management or an enterprise content management solution is more appropriate to your organization.
Web content management can best be thought of as a subset of enterprise content management. Web content management is most appropriate when the site or sites you need to manage contain content that might come from business documents or from Web-based formats, such as HTML or Extensible Markup Language. Usually, some form of basic workflow automation is provided and role-based security support is included in such products.
Enterprise content management solutions, on the other hand, typically deliver all of the elements of a Web content management solution but go further by offering advanced workflow capabilities, support for more content types and integration with a greater number of middle-tier and back-end business processes and applications, including enterprise systems.
In addition, enterprise content management solutions may offer support for data formats that are fixed or collaborative in nature, such as built-in discussion groups that can easily be integrated into your site and managed by the solution. Moreover, tools that provide automated management of the content life cycle are usually included, as is support for network technologies such as fail-over and load balancing.
For this review of content management solutions, we put both a Web content management solution and an enterprise content management solution through their paces. We chose Microsoft Corp.'s Content Management Server 2002 to represent the Web content management field and Documentum Inc.'s Documentum 5 in the enterprise content management category.
Web Content Management
Microsoft's Content Management Server (CMS) 2002 proved well-equipped to tackle the challenges of managing the content of various Web sites. Whether we were acting as content author, developer or site administrator, the solution was easy to use.
We did note that CMS' $42,999 cost per CPU might be a tad steep for some agencies. But despite the high price tag, the Microsoft product is not the most expensive content management solution available.
CMS is best suited to agencies that have centered their infrastructures on Microsoft technologies. For such agencies, CMS is a tightly integrated solution.
Agencies whose sites use Microsoft Word will appreciate CMS integration with the word processing program. This integration allowed us to generate content in word processing documents and submit the content directly to the site using a feature known as Authoring Connector. Agencies will find that it won't take long to get content creators into productive mode.
Donning our site administrator hat, we examined the Site Manager — a Microsoft Windows-based application that enables administrators to work with various site attributes. Using Site Manager and its familiar Windows interface, we were able to define the layout of our test sites, the templates we wanted to use, and user rights and roles. Site Manager was easy to learn and navigate. Agency administrators will have no trouble with the Site Manager tools and metaphor.
We also found that we could manage multiple sites by creating several channels in the Site Manager. We were disappointed to find, however, that CMS doesn't offer a browser-based version of the Site Manager as competing solutions do. A browser-based interface would allow administrators to manage sites from any system that supports the Internet Explorer browser.
As with most Web content management solutions, CMS manages workflow through user rights and roles, specifying who has the options and responsibilities for managing or altering information. This support provides solid, basic workflow capabilities.
However, if your agency has complex workflow requirements that involve government specifications, you may need to opt for an enterprise content management solution, such as Documentum. Documentum enables agencies to tie content workflow more closely to business processes and build workflow around user rights and roles.
Another CMS tool, Site Author, is a browser-based (Internet Explorer only) application for content managers. In this interface, we could administer content authoring and review, approve and publish content. For example, we had no trouble reviewing content we had previously created and then submitting it to our test site. Site Author is easy to understand, and content managers will have no trouble getting familiar with it.
Like many Web content management solutions, CMS includes some built-in controls that make site creation a bit easier. However, agencies may wish to use a development kit to create their own custom controls. In addition, it may be worthwhile to not use the built-in controls because a malicious attacker may use them.
CMS also provides a good level of support for site deployment. If a traditional site life cycle is used that involves development, staging and production server stages, CMS is capable of managing content, user rights and deployment in any of those environments.
CMS does require that your agency be running either Windows 2000 Server or Advanced Server and Microsoft SQL Server 2000. So, you'll need to factor in the cost of licensing these components into the overall cost of the CMS solution.
In addition, if you want to use technologies such as ASP .NET, you'll need to install the .NET Framework and its service packs. For developer integration, you may also wish to include Visual Studio .NET.
As a Web content management solution, CMS is a good bet for agencies that have already invested in a Windows-based infrastructure. In such environments, CMS provides a good level of integration and the tools needed to gain the upper hand on content management.
Enterprise Content Management
In the enterprise content management category, Documentum is ideal for both Windows-centric agencies and agencies that have a broader set of technological investments. Documentum's self-named enterprise content management solution can run on Windows-based servers, but also on Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Solaris, AIX or HP-UX.
Agencies can use Microsoft SQL Server to power Documentum or other databases, such as Oracle Corp.'s Oracle9i, IBM Corp.'s DB2 and Sybase Inc.'s database offerings. Moreover, Documentum supports both the Netscape Communications Corp. and Internet Explorer browsers. This flexibility makes Documentum an easy fit in heterogeneous computing environments.
Like Microsoft's CMS, Documentum offers a rich set of Web content management tools and technologies that were easy to learn and use — whether acting in the role of content author, content manager, developer or site administrator. In particular, agencies will have little difficulty learning Documentum's Web Publisher.
Acting as an author, we were able to log in to Web Publisher's browser-based interface and immediately create content based on templates. The templates are assigned to users depending on their role in content creation. After creating content, we were able to preview it and submit it to the workflow process for review and subsequent publishing.
When we logged in to Web Publisher as a content manager, its interface contained a much greater amount of functionality for this role. We could view system alerts and reports, manage workflow and publishing, and examine and approve content that had already been submitted.
We pulled up the content that we had submitted as a content author. We then could add comments to the content and approve or reject its publication. We also found it easy to make content expire or set a time when it would expire.
Beyond Web Publisher, Documentum can accept content input from various sources. This is compelling because it means you don't have to change content creation tools to enable a managed content environment.
Like Microsoft's CMS, Documentum can accept content directly from programs, such as Microsoft Word. The integration between Microsoft Word and Documentum was seamless, and content authors will have to change little about their daily content creation tasks to interact with Documentum.
In addition to Microsoft Word, Documentum can integrate with numerous other content creation tools and technologies. For example, if your agency has standardized on Macromedia Inc.'s Dreamweaver or HomeSite, Adobe Systems Inc.'s Photoshop, Quark Inc.'s QuarkXPress, or one or more XML authoring tools, you can easily interact with Documentum.
While masking the underlying publishing formats from content authors to ease content creation, Documentum can be customized to publish in various formats, including XML, HTML, WAP and PDF. For example, agencies might use this support to create site content that can be viewed from a Web browser or a phone.
We found that Documentum's workflow capabilities went far beyond those of Microsoft CMS. We were able to define a detailed workflow that tied to business processes and the regulations needed to power content management in our test financial Web site.
Site managers who have a solid understanding of agency processes and the regulations that govern their content will be able to easily create custom workflows using Documentum's drag-and-drop graphical tools.
As you might expect in a Web content management or enterprise content management solution, Documentum provides solid support for version control of content. Beyond basic version control, Documentum also supports change management of site metadata and localized content, which is a benefit for agencies that need to maintain multiple sites that are accessed globally.
Documentum's search and reporting capabilities are solid. We were able to search content and site metadata in numerous ways. For example, we were able to search across several sites for a particular file name. In addition, we were able to search and generate output that showed all content that was due to expire at the end of the coming month.
Beyond Web content management, Documentum offers compelling integration with existing agency technology assets and support for various content types. For example, if your agency already uses a portal solution, you can make content available in the portal while managing it with Documentum.
Likewise, if you're already using enterprise middle-tier technologies, you can use those existing investments while managing the content that you make available to those interfaces.
Documentum also allows agencies to integrate a variety of rich media types, including audio, video and images. Records management also can be controlled using Documentum. For example, it is easy to turn an e-mail into a record or to file a document from a PC into Documentum's enterprise content management solution.
Agencies with large, complex or distributed content sets will find that Documentum provides good infrastructure support for maintaining content over time, scaling to millions of objects with full support for fail-over, load balancing and transaction monitoring.
In addition, Documentum is compliant with Section 508, which ensures accessibility for disabled people, and the Defense Department 5015.2 standard for records management. Agencies can also deploy additional content authentication services and integrate Documentum with existing directory services, such as Lightweight Directory Access Protocol and Microsoft's Active Directory.
Documentum's solution is not a one-size-fits-all approach to content management. Agencies considering enterprise content management should examine Documentum's technology stack, which contains a broad level of support for a plethora of technologies. By matching existing agency infrastructure and technologies with content requirements, it is possible to purchase Documentum components that closely meet the needs of nearly any agency.
Documentum is a world-class enterprise content management solution that we find quite compelling. It can fit into existing agency environments with ease and offers a bevy of powerful tools and integration capabilities that make managing enterprise content easier.
Biggs is a software engineer and freelance writer based in Northern California. She has more than 15 years of business and information technology experience.