Breaking out

Content management systems — once perceived as expensive, complicated pieces of heavy machinery — have reached a certain maturity, and are becoming accepted as powerful engines for Internet business.
Written by Brian Ploskina, Contributor

Content management systems — once perceived as expensive, complicated pieces of heavy machinery — have reached a certain maturity, and are becoming accepted as powerful engines for Internet business.

The major forces in the market — big content management system vendors such as BroadVision, Documentum, Interwoven and Vignette — believe it's a golden time to be in the business. "Over the last three years, we've seen a whole industry pop up around content management," says Naomi Miller, director of product marketing of Documentum, an 11-year-old company with roots in document management. "There are nearly 100 different vendors offering content management services today."

Content management systems, which help automate and provide a framework for producing and delivering content, have advanced considerably in the last few years. They now cost less, allow more people in the content chain to use them and are opening up to integrate with other enterprise applications such as customer relationship management software.

"We're just responding to market demands," says Leif Pedersen, Vignette's vice president of product marketing. "We've been hammered left and right from industry analysts about these products needing to come together and be integrated and sold as one."

A few years ago, when businesses first discovered that they had more Web content than was feasible to maintain manually, they looked to companies such as Documentum and Vignette to provide systems that automated the process of producing online content. But with initial price tags of $500,000 to $1 million for software alone, some businesses decided to build the systems themselves.

That was the content management path taken at first by HealthStream, which offers online training for doctors and nurses. "It was kind of a homegrown solution encompassing manual systems that had a subset of the functionalities of packaged solutions," says Billy Aplin, HealthStream's content manager.

As HealthStream's site grew, however, so did the demands on its development team. Aplin finally decided to go with a system from Interwoven that fit his needs. "We wanted to focus on what we do best. We'll let them focus on what they do best."

Mark Gilbert, a Gartner research director who focuses on content management, says that's often the trend today. "A lot of people were building it years ago, but now the trend is to buy it," he says. It also helps that prices have come down: Even the top-tier players have cut their software fees to about $250,000 to $300,000, Gilbert says.

Pricing pressure has been one result of an explosion of vendors targeting the midmarket. Several companies offer such software to midsize businesses, including Microsoft — which earlier this year bought NCompass Labs, a Web-oriented content management system developer, and now sells Microsoft Content Management Server 2001 for roughly $40,000. Others vendors in the midtier space include Hablador, Merant, RedDot Solutions and Reef.

Some content management system vendors changed their licensing terms. Vignette has ceased selling its software on a per-user basis, since the number of users on a content management system fluctuates regularly, Vignette's Pedersen says.

With prices dropping, more companies are adopting packaged content management systems. Sales of content management products grew 67 percent in 2000, according to Gartner's Gilbert. He says that despite the slowing economy, the sector is likely to see another 20 percent to 30 percent jump this year, and will ring up about $1.5 billion in sales.

Still, the Web content management software business is not what it used to be. Spending on IT infrastructure has slowed across the board, and content management system vendors have had to focus their sales pitches on demonstrating quantifiable return on investment, says Miller, who before joining Documentum was Hewlett-Packard's content manager.

"When I first put [HP's content management system] together, I talked to our executives about the kind of return on investment they were looking for. They would just say, 'Put together some numbers,' but it was pretty obvious we were going to save some money," she says. "In today's environment, people need more ROI to show not just that they'll get a return, but how much."

As the content management system market matures, customers are demanding more functionality. That means content management systems need to provide enterprise application integration, open to more users and slap a friendlier, portal-like face on top of it all.

"What we found is that there are a series of additional sets of functionality that customers want that go beyond what people think of when they think of content management," says John Van Siclen, Interwoven's chief operating officer.

In terms of integrating with other platforms, XML plays a critical role. "XML is moving from sort of an interesting techie thing to an expectation that people understand that if I want to maximize, reuse and repurpose my assets, XML has to play a significant role," Van Siclen says.

XML allows a company to store information that isn't database- or application-specific so that data can be shared among multiple applications, whether they are a businesses' own internal applications or those of a partner or customer, says Simon King, BroadVision's vice president of business strategy.

Once the system has those XML capabilities, the possibilities for presentation open up. "The XML document is structured in a way that lets you apply the true structure afterward, so you can access the data from a PDA [personal digital assistant], phone or the Web, and you end up with a sole system for deploying content to multiple channels," King says.

On the other side of the content chain, more businesspeople are becoming members of the content team. Whereas once only the Web designers and a few specially designated employees contributed content to the Web site, today almost everyone in an enterprise can be considered a contributor.

"We have over 800 enterprise-class customers that use our system and they sometimes have hundreds or even thousands of content contributors," Interwoven's Van Siclen says.

By engaging end users and suppliers to do their own content management, companies can gain more value from their content management software. "There's now a lot of focus on the user experience," King says.

But those systems weren't originally designed with the lay user in mind — and that's why providing a portal interface is now all the rage with content management system vendors. "Portals are definitely the trend in the market," Gartner's Gilbert says.

Several content management system companies have inked partnerships with enterprise portal companies — including Epicentric and Plumtree Software — to provide an all-in-one interface. Unlike typical portals, though, the content management portals provide a way to publish content as well as access it. "It's not just read-only," Van Siclen says.

"Everything is about the portal now, because people want a consistent view," Documentum's Miller says.

Editorial standards