InternetWeek

The ability to deliver a vibrant, up-to-date Web site can make or break an e-business

Barbara Depompa Reimers

February 19, 2001

Web Site Management

Industrial Strength Content

The ability to deliver a vibrant, up-to-date Web site can make or break an e-business

By Barbara Depompa Reimers

As e-business becomes more critical, many companies are starting to treat Web content as a corporate asset. They're making efforts to improve the integrity of the data, images and graphics they post on the Web, ensuring that customers can quickly find and access the information they need. In addition, they're changing formats and recycling content to keep up with shifts in marketplace demands.

This concept, known as digital asset management, is starting to take hold in the business community. For example, NewPig Corp., a Tipton, Pa., maker of industrial cleaning solvents, is upgrading its Web site to make it easier for business customers to order products online and learn more about industry regulations.

Jeff Johnson, COO and vice president of operations at NewPig, says the company needed to get its technical documentation on products and federal regulations that impact industrial solvents in a centralized place, formatted to feed the Web site. NewPig opted for Artesia Technologies' TEAMS Digital Asset Management product. TEAMS is an enterprisewide Web content management system that lets NewPig integrate print processes and other internal workflow processes to share information for use on the Web or in printed catalogs, brochures and other documents.

"We recognized that to build a world-class e-commerce site, we needed content management from a supplier with an enterprisewide perspective," says Johnson, adding that many content management tools today don't adequately cover all aspects of content creation and distribution.

The new content management system created a database structure consisting of metadata fields, so assets stored in Microsoft Word documents, HTML pages, spreadsheets and even graphic images or PDF files could be categorized with metadata. This metadata--data about a company's data--lets NewPig create relationships between information assets that allow for more effective Web searches. With proper metadata on a document, for example, it's easy to read where a piece of data comes from, pinpointing keywords and other information in those searches.

NewPig has been working with Artesia since May 2000 to build an asset manager, create new content and rekey printed materials that it didn't previously make available in a digitized format. Most businesses underestimate the magnitude of this content-gathering step in the process. Johnson says this includes gathering, digitizing and creating new white papers and technical materials on products, regulations and important standards issues so that NewPig's customers can make informed buying decisions.

Johnson hopes the upgraded NewPig e-commerce site, which features all of the products in the company's catalog, will be online by the end of the first quarter. The company is working with Artesia on integrating TEAMS with a Quark publishing system used to create NewPig's print catalog. By the end of the year, NewPig expects to use TEAMS to create catalogs, fliers and other printed materials seamlessly. Without that integration, NewPig must enter data on price changes twice--once for the Web and another time for printed catalogs. Johnson wants to eliminate that extra effort and build in consistency and high-quality content.

The goal is to integrate information so that no matter how a customer encounters NewPig, he or she will see the same thing--the same prices, the same specs, the same product name and trademarks.

"Customers don't want to see discrepancies or mixed messages," Johnson says.

NewPig's digital asset management efforts are considered leading edge, especially when many organizations are still struggling to define content management and select from a wide range of off-the-shelf products or services to help them better maintain their Web site content.

Customers say it's not that they don't have any experience in managing content. Many, like Syl Tang, founder and president of HipGuide, a media company that offers city entertainment guides on the Web, have built their own content management systems from scratch. The problem, she says, is that as a site's content grows, so do the management headaches.

HipGuide is thinking of moving from its existing homegrown system to a third-party product--from a supplier such as Interwoven, for example--to help expand, and improve the quality of content that appears on its Web site. Tang and many other executives have found that as contributors multiply and content grows more voluminous, complex and timely, content management becomes critical to e-business success.

But because content management is relatively new, there's still much confusion about it in the marketplace. Vendors hawk everything from storage products to portals as "content management" systems. For instance, Documentum Inc. last month rolled out a new edition of its content management software that integrates out-of-the-box with corporate portal applications from three of its partners.

And the number of players now claiming content management capabilities includes many more names than early market participants BroadVision, Documentum, Interwoven and Vignette. Today, many companies offer tools and services to create, edit and manage the workflow of text and documents as well as maintain copyright information.

Gartner Group lists numerous vendors among the top suppliers. These include Allaire, EBT, E-Prise, Fatwire, Hablador, Intranet Solutions, Mediasurface, Merant, Ncompasslabs, OpenMarket, Openpages, Percussion, Tridion, Versifi, Vertical Sky and Worldweb.net.

In recent months, major IT vendors have started offering content management products. IBM offers WebSphere services, which lets IBM make money reselling other vendors' content management products. IBM now has marketing relationships with Fatwire, Interwoven, Vignette and others. Microsoft, meanwhile, is testing its Tahoe software, which is viewed primarily as a workgroup document management solution.

Lotus offers Raven, which consists of a portal product and software designed to catalog documents from various information sources--such as document management systems, corporate databases or Web sites--in a searchable database. Lotus officials stress that Raven doesn't depend on Notes/Domino, but early adopters will most likely come from existing Notes shops. Sun last month launched a system called Brazil, which leverages both portal technologies and content aggregators, by sitting between the content providers and end users to offer fully personalized and customized content.

Despite the confusion caused by the product onslaught, content management is definitely taking hold. By 2003, 95 percent of the Fortune 2000 enterprises will deploy XML content management infrastructures, says Meta Group analyst Andrew Warzecha.

Analysts and users say strong content management can reduce the cost of creating and maintaining Web sites. However, the investment for enterprisewide systems can be substantial, and some companies say it can take time to achieve return on investment. Moreover, there are substantial "soft" costs involved in redesigning processes and training personnel. For these reasons, analysts say companies are increasingly focusing on decentralizing responsibility for content management to their various departments.

The Society for Human Resource Management, which calls itself the world's largest human resource association, recently overhauled its Web site, which serves 150,000 members. It added personalization and enhanced search features via two portal packages, E-Portal Suite from Viador Inc. and Portal in a Box from Autonomy.

While the new software helps the SHRM with content categorization and searches on the Web site, the association is still planning to add more Web content management software in the next three months to improve its content creation and distribution processes.

"We want to focus on the permissions we need to publish each document, and we want to allow other departments throughout SHRM to publish online, opening a bottleneck we face now in getting content online quickly," says John Adams III, vice president of new media and publishing at SHRM.

In some cases, content management is heavily influenced by the business intelligence requirements of an e-businesses. BabyAge.com, a baby products site, uses ResponseLogic Inc.'s Adapte Technology suite to help recognize individual buyers on its Web site and dynamically serve the right mix of content to increase sales and maximize relationship-building opportunities. By using Adapte, BabyAge can find correlations between customers' geographical location and the types of products they buy. This information is helping BabyAge direct people to the most appropriate items for their needs each time they visit the Web site. "We found that different patterns or brands of strollers sold better in Colorado than in New York City," says Jack Kiefer, president and CEO of BabyAge.

While he can't quantify results precisely, Kiefer says he knows the new system works because products promoted to customers in the right regions of the country are selling well. While it once took four or more clicks to view the Rochelle high chair popular in the Northeast, that stroller, which formerly sold only a few per year on the company's Web site, is now popping up almost immediately when customers from that region sign on. "We are selling 50 or 60 of them a month," Kiefer says.

IT managers say the task of selecting from the wide array of tools, platforms and services is dizzying. Not surprisingly, most of the products and services offered are desperately in need of integration to adequately fill customer needs. Part of that challenge, says Guy Creese, research director of Internet analytics at Aberdeen Group, is how to integrate the parts of existing content management tools with transaction-oriented e-commerce systems while melding in personalization and Web analytics to figure out what's going on a Web site. "Undoubtedly, there is an enormous need for more tightly integrated solutions than have been offered in the past," Creese says.

In fact, analysts say there will be some consolidation among content management players in the years ahead as companies partner or merge with, or are acquired by others to supply the integrated solutions many customers are really after. This melding of content management with transactional e-commerce and Web analytics tools is what customers need to build a complete end-to-end system to adequately manage their corporate content.

On the upside, analysts say the increased competition in the content management market may drive prices down. Gartner Group analyst Victor Votsch says the average selling price for Vignette or BroadVision systems is more than $400,000, and Interwoven's average selling price exceeds $300,000. But other suppliers, such as Allaire, EDT, Eprise and Percussion, price their offerings under $200,000. And some products are starting to show up in the under-$100,000 range. "More customers are starting to examine the lower-cost alternatives, which will further force prices down," Votsch says.

Finally, organizations face a daunting challenge in contending with the relatively slow speed with which broadband connectivity is taking hold nationally. But that's likely to change in the next few years. Jupiter Communications forecasts the number of households with broadband service will balloon from about 5 million this year to more than 28 million by 2005. This means that the market for the dynamic multimedia content and business services Web sites want to deliver may finally reach critical mass. With the dawning of high-speed Internet links, online access will likely be brought to many more devices than wired PC browsers. "Devices such as WAP cell phones, personal digital assistants, bar tables and even gas pumps could become ways to access the Web," says Scott Bowen, president and COO of Artesia.

Bowen's vision may be several years off, but his basic message is well-taken: Start thinking of content as a corporate asset. The success of your e-business depends on it.

Barbara DePompa Reimers is a business and technology journalist based in Germantown, Md. She can be reached at bdepompa@aol.com.