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The WCM marketplace

The Web content management (WCM) technology marketplace in 2008 is as dynamic as ever—and as fragmented as ever. In fact, fragmentation has remained this market’s most defining characteristic for the past decade. Scores of experienced, viable WCM vendors around the world have passed their 10th birthdays, and hundreds of other newer, often regional, players nip at their heels. This state of affairs will persist for the foreseeable future.

The wealth of choices—while sometimes decried by analysts predicting imminent industry consolidation—has on the whole been good for customers. With enough investigation, WCM buyers can find the right tool to fit their particular publishing operations and systems architectures, all while availing themselves of the kind of rapid innovation that characterizes such energetic markets.

Still, it’s also a rather strange marketplace, with some of the world’s biggest software vendors competing against some of the smallest for the same deals. There is a broader logic and some definite patterns to the WCM industry, though, when you look closer.

The major players

When you see the failure of this marketplace to consolidate the way many others have, you have to ask, "Where are the big guys?" It turns out that most large infrastructure vendors offer WCM products that sell reasonably well, but none come even close to dominating the market.

  • IBM’s Web content management tool, WWCM, got a bit lost among the panoply of Lotus, WebSphere, DB2 Content Manager and acquired FileNet suites. WWCM is showing signs of new life, but remains somewhat limited by its close dependencies on WebSphere Portal Server.
  •  EMC’s Documentum unit markets Web Publisher and an assortment of related WCM modules, but it has suffered from a legacy of heavyweight, proprietary approaches that seasoned Web architects typically try to avoid.
  • Oracle now sells WCM technology via its Stellent acquisition, but seems to be promoting its enterprise content management (ECM) capabilities much harder in an attempt to push the Stellent toolset up-market.

You can perhaps understand why large vendors don’t pay too much attention to WCM. In contrast with the behemoth ECM investments that many corporate buyers make, Web content management deals, while ubiquitous, are not particularly large.

In other words: It’s a perfect market for Microsoft. And yet Redmond has also stumbled in this space, first with some acquired technology earlier this decade that never really took off, and most recently with its optional Web publishing services within MOSS 2007. In addition to being extraordinarily pricey for public-facing Web sites, MOSS has largely failed to provide the kind of out-of-the-box Web site authoring and management experience that customers had expected of a product with such a well-earned reputation for easy document collaboration. To be sure, Microsoft can now boast hundreds of MOSS 2007 installations for Web site management, but that testifies more to Redmond’s broad and loyal channel than to the product’s intrinsic merits as a WCM service.

You probably also know about old standbys Interwoven, Open Text and Vignette, which continue to market longstanding WCM products that sell just well enough to keep chugging along. If persistent rumors of acquisitions by bigger fish like HP, IBM or Sun ever come true, it could bring substantial change to the former companies’ Web content management platforms.

The big middle

The real action is happening at the tiers below, where we see an unusually broad and vibrant mid-market, whose swelling demand keeps lifting nearly every vendor targeting WCM buyers with budgets between $30,000 to $200,000. Of course, that includes a wide swath of vendors, from the likes of SDL Tridion, Day, Mediasurface and Percussion at the top, to EPiServer, Hannon Hill, Refresh, Clickability and CrownPeak toward the bottom—along with more than a dozen serious contenders in-between (along with open source, which I’ll address later).

CMS Watch divides this middle segment into three tiers—upper tier, mid-market and challengers (see chart on page 9, KMWorld, Vol 17, Issue 6)-but we see the same pattern of innovation and fairly intense activity across its breadth.

That vibrancy stems from the emergence of a new breed of Web and intranet manager—let’s call her Marie—who is linking Web content management more closely to visitor satisfaction. Shifting more energy from content production to content consumption is compelling Marie to pay more attention to a different set of requirements than her Webmaster predecessor.

New requirements, new challenges

A short list of such requirements would include:

  • standards-based XHTML code, which raises search engine rankings, improves accessibility and speeds redesigns;
  • actionable analytics, far beyond simple page "hit" numbers;
  • micro-site development, to accommodate rapidly shifting product and partner publishing needs; and
  • social software in general and user-generated content in particular.

Agile vendors with more modern architectures have more readily addressed those needs, although it varies from product to product. For example, even some newer platforms struggle to generate standards-compliant XHTML markup—most notably MOSS 2007. On the plus side, built-in accessibility checkers are becoming more prevalent.

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