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The New Web Experience: More than an Extension to WCM?

Written By: josh chalifour
Published On: November 10 2011

That membrane between your business and the online world—your Web site—is expected to be so permeable and malleable these days that web content management (WCM) systems have to manage a lot more than just the content on your site. Now web experience management (WEM) has emerged to address the way people access and interact with your site. WEM also illuminates more of these interactions for your own business’s marketing edification. In this blog post, I’ll look into what WEM means and how it fits within the backdrop of WCM functionality.

Over the last few years, people have been looking at the focus of the platforms businesses use to manage their Web presence. These platforms have typically been the venerable WCM systems. An increasing number of software vendors however are hawking WEM solutions, which frequently have risen out of the WCM pool. It’s tempting at first to dismiss WEM as a term made up to promote something that already existed. But that would discount a good chunk of what we’re all doing on the Web these days.

I’m going to review what we traditionally see provided by WCM systems and then where WEM seems to pick up. I’m curious to read some feedback about where you see your business’s WCM/WEM requirements heading.

When Technology Evaluation Centers (TEC) originally developed its research model of WCM systems, we focused on the core functionality these systems provided. That meant covering the characteristics for processes to create or manage content, and then properly deliver it on the Web. Our model reflects WCM functionality using the following eight categories.

  1.   Content Authoring

  2.   Content Acquisition

  3.   Content Aggregation

  4.   Output and Content Presentation

  5.   Workflow Management

  6.   Version Control and Management

  7.   Security Management

  8.   Product Technology and Support


We’ve made a minor update to our model this year (you can get a template of the functionality here), but even with more than 700 criteria in all those categories, it is likely that we haven’t yet addressed all the functionality provided in the WEM space.

That said, in what way does WEM functionality come to bear on your Web presence? Fundamentally, you’ve got your business and you’ve got people that want to interact with it on the Web. You’ve used WCM systems to manage your Web site, its content, the business rules behind its production and use, and related components. Web sites were designed by and large to present your business to the people visiting your site. The site passively served up content the visitor deemed fit to browse from his or her computer. Yet, Web intelligentsia has canonized, with the label Web 2.0, a shift in perspective on how we use the Web. We still have that fundamental interaction between the online visitor and your business via the Web site, but the interaction now involves social characteristics (what I referred to earlier as permeability). So now we expect Web sites to not only serve content, but also include communication and collaboration mechanisms among many different parties (the site visitors, the business, social networks, and other things).

I also described sites as being malleable. Software vendors want their systems to support the construction of sites that actively conform to visitors’ modes of access. To do that, vendors are incorporating more analytics capabilities and simplifying how to present different versions of the site based on visitors’ platform characteristics. They’re taking into account the range of social media elements that occur offsite because these frequently feed into and inform how your site behaves under the usage of its visitors. For example, we all recognize that people want to share key things on your site through Twitter, Google+, or Facebook, so your site ought to be able to cater to that and provide relevant feedback about these kinds of behaviors. Knowing how people are interacting with your Web presence enables you to better communicate with them and provide what they want. WEM addresses all these things.

We expect the sites that we visit to mostly, automatically adjust to the way we want to interact with them—whether it’s a standard desktop browser, mobile phone, or tablet. To that end, there needs to be a recognition of and an approach to how the people visiting your site experience it. Note that although that’s the crux of WEM, it’s not necessary to do this stuff with something labeled as a WEM system. There are several approaches to ensuring your Web presence can do what’s needed. For example, you could add third-party extensions to your WCM system and integrate with other applications. The WEM promise however is that it’ll provide that functionality, integrated, to support the present manner of Web interactions and simultaneously aid your marketing techniques. WEM emphasizes an understanding of what visitors want from your site so that you can tailor what it delivers, or better yet, that it tailors what it delivers.

Whether we’re talking about WCM or WEM, we’re still essentially concerned with interfacing with visitors on the Web. Systems affixed with the WEM label continue to provide WCM functionality. But you have a choice now on whether to look specifically for products approaching the Web from the WEM perspective or to build out from the core WCM perspective.

Some people argue that systems with experience functionality are essentially bundling a lot of unnecessary functionality. I recently attended a demonstration of Adobe’s CQ5 system, which is one of the most feature-rich systems on the market. I asked an Adobe senior solutions architect if he found that many of the company’s clients were seeking them out from the perspective of needing experience management functionality, or if they really needed a traditional WCM system but wanted experience management functionality as a part of it. His impression was that there were clients seeking the experience functionality as a driving factor, and cited a few examples. Of course, the WEM direction is what Adobe’s CQ5 and vendors like Sitecore or Ektron are promoting, so that response wasn’t entirely surprising.

Worrying about experience management doesn’t mean we can neglect content management. Both aspects of Web site management are closely connected as I understood from talking with the Adobe CQ5 integration partner Integration New Media (INM). INM really prized the CQ5 java content repository (JCR) implementation. CQ5 is able, through the JCR, to adapt the content stored in existing systems for all kinds of uses. That matters if you’re dealing with content stored in legacy systems, file systems, and databases but want to manage your Web site to take advantage of experience management techniques. You need a way of using that content with all the bells and whistles of the WCM/WEM system, and without being encumbered by the various structures it’s stored in.

What also interested me about INM’s perspective on these issues is that the company has built much of its business using several well-known free and open source software WCM applications (Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress). These applications not only provide significant core WCM functionality, but also serve as prime examples of how people would customize or extend a WCM system with add-ons to achieve much of the experience management functionality needed. Add-ons make it easy to extend the system’s functionality but each one can bring its own load of inconsistencies and exceptions, including issues that must be resolved for the sake of usability. From INM’s perspective, these systems supported much of what the company provides for its clients, but as INM’s president Vahe Kassardjian explained, an increasing number of INM’s clients wanted integrated functionality that went beyond what he felt those systems provided. That became one of the driving factors for INM to partner with Adobe. In other words, I take INM’s business as evidence that companies are seeking a path where the experience management functionality is an integral part of the WCM system.

Finally, my read on WEM is that it’s a reorientation and evolution of existing systems to reflect how the Web medium enables people to access, collaborate, communicate, and otherwise interact. It recognizes that there is more to the visitor’s experience in interacting with your site than a one-way presentation. People visiting a site aren’t merely a captive, passive audience. Implicit in this, is that your business will use WEM functionality toward its marketing intelligence and customer relationships. The question is whether that functionality truly defines a new perspective to Web site management or it's encompassed by extensions to your WCM system.

Tell me, what is the direction you need from a system that manages your Web presence? If you were to evaluate WCM systems using TEC’s model with its eight categories of functionality, would you feel that it lacked what you need to have in your system or do you prefer to evaluate experience management functionality as something layered on top of your core WCM features?
 
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