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Best practices for WCM adoption

This article appears in the issue May 2009, [Vol 18, Issue 5]
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While Web content management (WCM) has been around for more than 10 years, enterprises only now seem to be getting serious about implementing WCM that can solve business problems, as opposed to solving IT problems.

Many first-generation WCM systems proved to be clunky to use, expensive to implement, misaligned with business goals and ultimately dissatisfying for both IT and business. As the Web has fueled demand for customer-centric business practices, enterprises have begun to realize that their Web presence must do far more than statically display the same information to all visitors. In turn, leading WCM vendors have augmented initial products with tools that help organizations target users and deliver persuasive content, analyze customer interactions and enable Web 2.0 engagements.

However, some of the problems that plagued first-generation WCM are inherent and will not automatically be solved with the technology advances of second-generation WCM systems. Most of the problems earlier WCM initiatives faced still exist today—because of people and processes, not WCM feature sets. Getting smarter at selecting the appropriate technologies remains important, but internal competencies and best practices will still make or break any WCM project.

Enterprises implementing WCM still face numerous challenges, such as:

  • Business and marketing still have problems playing nicely with IT. In many cases, marketers continue to rank their relationship with
    IT staff as somewhat or highly unproductive.
  • Business doesn’t have the bandwidth—or the desire—to take on WCM responsibilities.
  • IT also drives too much of the development and implementation process, leaving marketing, e-business and operations out of the loop during implementations, even though those are the stakeholders who will use and drive the completed system.
  • Some WCM tools still lack maturity to fulfill advanced customer-facing Web site needs, forcing IT to get involved and add customizations to meet those persuasive content requirements.
  • Many enterprises struggle with poor technology selection, basing RFPs on long lists of features rather than real-life business use cases.
  • Web teams often lack content management know-how, with the number of experienced professionals who have led or been involved in
  • WCM solutions still require vendor-specific skill sets, and the skills knowledge for one WCM product doesn’t necessarily transfer to another.

Forrester Research has found best practices in external Web site WCM that information and knowledge management professionals should keep in mind to avoid the pitfalls mentioned above. Though some of those best practices may seem straightforward, the people with whom we spoke had to overcome political, organizational and cultural challenges to meet their WCM goals.

Best Practice #1: Engage stakeholders throughout the project life cycle.

Enterprises with the most successful business-oriented WCM systems engage relevant stakeholders—such as content authors and contributors, template designers, interactive marketers and Web site managers—not only during requirements gathering, but also during the entire implementation process and into ongoing operations. Those who merely engaged IT and limited business stakeholders, or excluded those stakeholders from the vendor selection and design phases, inevitably launched projects that suffered from lack of user adoption and poor internal reputations.

Talk with stakeholders during requirements gathering to develop use cases. Engaging business users early enables clear definitions of their requirements and helps avoid wasting time with trite and vague RFP checklists. In addition, involve representative content contributors during the design of the authoring tools. Information and knowledge management (I&KM) pros need to find out how various stakeholders author and search content and handle workflows. Certain departments or groups may author content differently from others, and those needs should be taken into account. Content management systems are living, breathing things, and projects don’t end with phase one. Continue to periodically solicit feedback from relevant stakeholders after initial implementation and direct developers to tweak the authoring interfaces before complaints reach critical mass. That continuous feedback also enables you to keep the vendor in the loop on what features are needed.

At the same time, be careful to avoid the major pitfalls that sometimes come up when engaging stakeholders. They can include dealing with moonlighters, who may have conflicting operational duties and aren’t able to devote full attention to the WCM project. Be vigilant about having regular, scheduled contact with potential moonlighters and make sure that they communicate project deliverables clearly and in writing. Also don’t forget about documentation and training; many organizations tend to give that task the short shrift at the end of a project, so be sure to get basic documentation in place before deployment, and perhaps lighten the training load by training power users who can in turn train the masses.

Best Practice #2: Use pilots as tools for evaluation and learning.

Long implementation times remain one of the biggest issues with WCM projects. Often, organizations can go nine months or more after selecting a vendor before moving into live production mode. During that time, hidden mistakes can be compounded, and heads of e-business or marketing communications groups can get nervous due to their inability to see any progress. That can erode faith in the project and dampen initial enthusiasm. However, enterprises that tested out new WCM systems with pilot programs reported greater satisfaction with overall WCM success.

Consider commission pilots to help with the vendor selection process. WCM decision makers benefit by seeing the product in action, rather than just hearing the vendor state that it can meet certain functionality needs. You can also use the pilots to catch mistakes early in the implementation process, and they enable project leaders to better estimate the implementation timelines and the effort and resources needed for various portions of the project. Leverage the pilots strategically to demonstrate capabilities to critical constituencies; that will help to build enthusiasm and gain buy-in.

While WCM pilots can serve as a great strategic tool to prototype functionality, organizations need to avoid a few missteps that can diminish their value. Be sure not to develop meaningless pilots; pilot programs should demonstrate functionality in a way that’s simple enough to keep resource needs down but diverse enough to act as a selling point for different constituencies. Also, don’t commit "pilot error," meaning, don’t necessarily base WCM purchase decisions on which vendor can install its software more quickly on a corporate server; instead, remember that a pilot project should last weeks, not hours or a few days. And lastly, keep the 80/20 rule in mind, and don’t attempt to accommodate the most difficult use cases, rather than the typical ones. It’s tempting to test the outer limits of the WCM platforms with overly complicated use scenarios, while overlooking more mundane but important requirements.

Best Practice #3: Keep it simple throughout the initiative.

The most successful WCM projects tend to have the most straightforward requirements. Of course, complexity is a given with the technology and every organization’s unique customer experience needs. Yet, those most satisfied with their WCM projects were those who chose customizations wisely and eliminated those that introduced too much risk.

Remember to keep requirements to a minimum; less is more, and simplifying requirements decreases implementation time, costs and headaches. In addition, make customizations the exception rather than the rule, because they can carry significant developmental and administrative costs, and have the potential to interfere with upgrade paths. Take the agile approach and think of the project in terms of phases, to minimize scope creep, improve time and resource estimates, and expose mistakes earlier rather than later.

But when simplifying, watch out for the usual traps. Simplifying WCM can lead to reduced implementation times and costs, but simplifications can also lead to unmet business goals and lack of user adoption. Be careful not to ignore core user requirements, use simplification as a shield against innovation, or underestimate—even with simplifications—implementation times.

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