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The Future of Content Management Within the Intranet

Performing ad hoc queries on databases is a great way to get information out of your intranet, but how do you put data into your company's system? The answer is: with a good content management (CM) system. We recently asked Ektron's CEO, Bill Rogers, and lead engineer, Brian Gerby, about the ideal intranet and how they foresee CM systems evolving over the years.

WT: Why aren't current intranets working?

BR: People often forget that the most important part of the equation is the content contributor. To optimize the environment for business professionals to publish their own content, organizations must provide a solution that's easy to learn and use. You get a lot of frustration and confusion when non-IT-savvy content contributors are asked to use tools like traditional Web editors, graphics software, and FTP tools designed for developers. With these tools, the user can actually make changes—often mistakenly—to areas that shouldn't be modified. It's important for IT to maintain some level of control.

BG: We repeatedly hear frustration from both IT staff and business professionals. Their concern: If content must pass through a Webmaster to be published to the site, you inevitably get bottlenecking and subsequent delays—unless the organization can afford to continue adding IT staff to keep up with growing volume. The more content there is, the more cumbersome the site becomes. People may lose interest in the intranet because as it grows, it becomes more difficult to access information, search, and so on.

WT: Define an ideal intranet and explain how CM fits into that vision.

BR: In an ideal scenario, an intranet is the centerpiece of an organization—the one place where employees or business partners can get whatever information they need, whenever and wherever they need it. For an intranet to be successful, it must incorporate an effective system for managing all types of content. After all, content is the foundation of any intranet. Content management systems have matured in recent years. User interfaces are becoming more friendly and intuitive, and some CM systems now offer more than a simple text-area field for content editing.

WT: Who are some of the CM vendors, and where does Ektron fit in?

BR: For small to medium-size businesses or corporate intranets, systems are available from InfoSquare, InfoOffice, and PaperThin. Our goal at Ektron is to offer a full-featured system at the lowest price point in this space. In the medium-size range, there are packages from Eprise, Allaire/Macromedia, eBusiness Technologies (EBT), Six, and Gauss. For Fortune 1000 Web sites and high-end intranets you have players like Vignette, Interwoven, Open Market, and FileNet.

WT: What should a buyer look for in the next generation of CM systems?

BR: The system must support effective searching. A good configuration would require that a set of properties be included for every document or HTML page added to the intranet. For example, you'd enter properties like author, department, title, subject, category, and so on.

BG: You want to be able to reuse your content. Look for a system that lets you tag content with XML. As content is entered, a developer or contributor can tag the portion of the content that is to be used by a WAP device, for example. The real challenge for future intranets will be to provide easy-to-use tools that let contributors tag content with relevant XML tags. If this process isn't easy and intuitive for nontechnical professionals, it won't be done.

BR: Personalization will be extremely important for the next generation of systems. Once you've categorized content, your intranet home page can act as a miniportal for your employees.

WT: Aren't CM systems that have all these components expensive?

BR: In many companies, the intranet isn't part of a more fully integrated IT strategy and, therefore, there's little chance to realize the potential return on investment (ROI) of the intranet itself, let alone the CM system within the site. Literature shows varying estimates for intranet ROI—with reports of 23 to 88 percent and payback in one to two years on the conservative side, and up to 1000 percent payback in 8 to 24 weeks on the extremely aggressive end of the spectrum. When a CM solution is added, ROI is enhanced because the content authoring base is broadened to include line-of-business staff, and you achieve efficiency in the creation, publishing, movement, and management of content.