SharePoint at a Glance

EContent Magazine - Spring Issue 2018If you work in digital marketing, IT or internal communications, chances are you’ve heard about SharePoint. Perhaps you’ve heard that SharePoint is difficult to use, ugly and immobile – so bad in fact, that it’s pretty much a dying platform. Or maybe you’ve heard that SharePoint is a market leading product, adopted by many large organisations and supported by one of the most talented and active development communities in the software industry.

So which one is it?

As I’m midway through the migration of the University of Leeds faculty intranet from legacy platforms to SharePoint, let me share some first-hand experiences of what SharePoint has to offer its customers today.

What is SharePoint?

The core user need that SharePoint aims to solve is collaborative document management.

The old-fashioned way of collaborating on a document is to place the document on a shared drive, or to send it by email to everyone concerned (and then some). This approach leads to multiple versions of the same document in multiple locations and makes it hard to access the most recent version of the document quickly. SharePoint addresses this problem by providing one central place for document storage, and removes the need to create multiple records of the same file.

Organisations also use SharePoint for web content management, forms management and online communities, however it’s the document management element that is at the heart of what SharePoint is all about.

Types and Versions of SharePoint

There are two distinct product types of SharePoint: online and on-premises. SharePoint Online is the cloud-based option. It’s regularly upgraded by Microsoft in the cloud and therefore doesn’t have a version or year number in its name. SharePoint Server is the on-premises product. All the maintenance and upgrades for SharePoint Server is done by the in-house IT team or a chosen service provider. The most recent on-premises version is SharePoint Server 2016. Previous version, SharePoint Server 2013 is still used in many organisations.

Terminology

Key SharePoint terms, and their database design equivalents:

  • List – database table
  • Item – row in a database table
  • Column – column in a database table
  • View – database view (i.e. a SELECT query, a subset of data in a database table)

Learning a new platform is like learning a new language, it takes time and dedication. Understanding the terminology is the first step on this journey. The easiest way to understand and remember the key SharePoint terms is to approach them from the database design point of view.

For example, a SharePoint list is similar to a database table. It stores content and displays it in a table format. A SharePoint view is a subset of a SharePoint list, just like a database view is a subset of the data held in the database table.

For business users SharePoint terminology is counterintuitive and unusual, but for developers and IT support staff – not as much.

User Interface: Modern vs Classic Experience

For the last two years Microsoft has been gradually rolling out Modern Experience – a set of user interface improvements aimed at making SharePoint Online easier to use and mobile-friendly. You could almost call the Modern Experience a new version of SharePoint Online, except you can’t, because it isn’t consistently available throughout the product. Some pages and functionality are supported by the Modern Experience and others are not. Even switching between Modern and Classic Experience is not straightforward, there simply isn’t a select box allowing you to switch between the two. It’s done differently in different areas, making it a disjointed and frustrating experience.

Modern experience isn’t available at all in SharePoint Server 2016, the on-premises product.

Look and feel

Out of the box, branding options in SharePoint are limited to uploading a company logo and changing the color scheme according to a pre-defined look. Applying your own branding, using your own HTML, CSS, JavaScript and images, in a way that wouldn’t be destroyed by the next upgrade, requires significant expertise and effort.

Mobile

There are three ways in which Microsoft addresses mobile aspect in SharePoint.

  • Mobile Browser View site feature is turned on by default and renders SharePoint site on a mobile device in a very simplified way, displaying subsites, SharePoint apps and document libraries, but not any other features or navigation aids. A typical SharePoint sites is not usable via this interface.
  • Modern Experience is largely responsive, however as noted earlier, it isn’t rolled out across the whole of the SharePoint Online, and is not available in SharePoint Server at all.
  • SharePoint Mobile app was released in 2016, and is currently a mix of native app screens and embedded browser site pages. It doesn’t yet provide the features that users expect but it’s certainly an important step in the right direction.

From user point of view, out-of-the-box SharePoint cannot be described as mobile-friendly. Truly mobile-friendly SharePoint sites require responsive custom templates and like any other customisation, imply additional development and maintenance costs.

Workflow, Forms, Tasks, Online Communities

There’s much more to SharePoint than just document management capabilities. Features such as forms, surveys, project tasks, workflow, forums and blogs all work reasonably well. They’re not cutting-edge, best-of-breed solutions in comparison to other niche software products focusing on each of these needs in isolation, but they can be attractive as “good enough” solutions that are part of a stable, widely supported platform.

Community

Gaps in SharePoint documentation, training, customisation needs and support services are met by a large, active SharePoint community. There’s no shortage of information on any aspect of SharePoint. Even quirks and bugs are documented well. SharePoint talent is readily available, but due to the complexity of the product it doesn’t come cheap.

Conclusion

SharePoint is a complex collection of collaboration software. It is best suited for projects with a prominent document management requirement, but can also be used for knowledge management, web content management, forms management and online communities. The way SharePoint works isn’t immediately intuitive but both best practices and quirks are well documented. Training and professional networking opportunities are widely available. Out-of-the-box SharePoint isn’t mobile-friendly at this time, although steps are taken in the right direction to address this. For many projects SharePoint requires customisations and additional products from third-parties, and this needs to be factored into the cost of the SharePoint project.

 

Web Content Management systems in Higher Education (UK)

What content management systems are Universities and other Higher Education institutions in the UK use? Here are some examples.

Abertay University Activedition
Aberystwyth University TERMINALFOUR
Anglia Ruskin University Cambridge Sitecore
Aston University Easysite
Bournemouth University Drupal
Brunel University London Contensis
Canterbury Christ Church University Contensis
Cardiff University  Squiz Matrix
Cranfield University Sitecore
De Montfort University Leicester Contensis
Glasgow Caledonian University  TERMINALFOUR
Imperial College London TERMINALFOUR
King’s College London Contensis
Lancaster University TERMINALFOUR
Liverpool Hope University  TERMINALFOUR
Liverpool John Moores University  Sitecore
London Metropolitan University TERMINALFOUR
London School of Economics and Political Science  Contensis
Loughborough University  TERMINALFOUR
Newcastle University  TERMINALFOUR
Nottingham Trent University  Squiz Matrix
Nottingham University  Contensis
Oxford University  Drupal, Plone
Queen Mary University of London TERMINALFOUR
Queen’s University Belfast  TERMINALFOUR
Royal Holloway University of London  Contensis
Southampton Solent University Contensis
Stirling University  TERMINALFOUR
University of Bolton Contensis
University of Portsmouth TERMINALFOUR
University of Sheffield Polopoly
University of Aberdeen  OpenText
University of Bath Bespoke system, developed in-house
University of Birmingham Contensis
University of Bradford TERMINALFOUR
University of Brighton  Contensis
University of Bristol TERMINALFOUR
University of Cambridge  Plone
University of Cumbria Contensis
University of Dundee TERMINALFOUR
University of Edinburgh EdWeb (Drupal)
University of Exeter TERMINALFOUR
University of Glasgow  TERMINALFOUR
University of Hertfordshire Squiz
University of Huddersfield TERMINALFOUR
University of Hull Contensis
University of Leeds  Jadu, Typo3, WordPress
University of Leicester Plone
University of Liverpool TERMINALFOUR
University of London Goldsmiths College TERMINALFOUR
University of London School of Oriental and African Studies  Percussion
University of Manchester  TERMINALFOUR
University of Reading Activedition
University of Southampton SitePublisher (previously TeamSite)
University of South Wales Wagtail
University of St Andrews  TERMINALFOUR
University of Suffolk Drupal
University of Sunderland TERMINALFOUR
University of the Arts London TERMINALFOUR
University of the Highlands & Islands TERMINALFOUR, Plone
University of Wales  Contensis
University of York TERMINALFOUR

Content Strategy for Ultra-Large Digital Presences

Thursday Nov 9, 2017, JBoye Aarhus 2017

The world is overwhelmed with web content. Yet many organisations publish content blindly and operate without a documented content strategy, exposing themselves to business risks and missed opportunities.

Content strategy is planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content [1]. It guides web content management projects to deliver business value. Effective content strategy relies on a variety of skills and disciplines, including marketing, communications, editorial planning, web development, user experience and analytics.

In this session we will cover:

  • The WHAT?
    Evaluating what you have in terms of content, skills and resources. Content audit, training needs, recruitment.
     
  • The HOW?
    How to produce quality content? How much to write? How often? What works online, and what doesn’t? What is content modelling? Which Web Content Management system to choose?
     
  • The WHO?
    Who is responsible for web content? Decentralised vs centralised content editing approach.
     
  • The WHY?
    Why does the content exist? Does it increase revenue, lower costs, improves customer experience? What are the goals, KPIs and success criteria for web content.
     
  • The NOW WHAT?
    Once the content is created and published, how do you keep the standards high and content up-to-date? Digital quality management, web governance, analytics, editorial calendar. How to communicate success, influence top management and advocate for change.

This session will suit anyone responsible for creating, managing or overseeing web content. It is relevant to web managers, marketing managers, web content editors, content management professionals, website owners, digital agency and technology vendor teams.

Find out more

[1] Kristina Halvorson, Brain Traffic

How to Write a Business Case for a WCM System

An opportunity to make a business case can be a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it’s an indication that the project is taken seriously. On the other hand, it formalizes the intentions, emphasizes responsibility, and implies approval by multiple stakeholders (smell internal politics, anyone?). Writing a good business case requires a pragmatic approach, strategic thinking, and persuasive language. Done well, it can convince the top management to invest in your project. Done poorly, it can cause delays or even stall the project entirely.

Web CMS implementations take time and cost money. The purpose of the business case is to justify the investment and to prove that you have reasonable chances of success. So how can you write an effective business case for a web CMS that helps the decision makers to recognize the value of the new platform?

BEFORE YOU BEGIN

Before you start working on the business case, think about your audience. Whom are you writing it for? What language do they speak? What metrics do they use? What’s their major pain? What’s the most exciting opportunity? What’s at the top of their list in terms of priorities?

A common mistake is to assume that the thorough approach required for a formal business case is all about the subject matter (in our case, WCM). It isn’t. The business case should emphasize the impact that the new web CMS has on the business, not the complexity of the software and its features.

STRATEGIC CONTEXT AND THE NEED FOR CHANGE

A good business case addresses a genuine business need, pain, or risk. Two decades ago, most business cases for web CMSs focused on efficiencies and resolved the pain associated with maintaining the increasing volumes of content. Today, the majority of the web CMS business cases focus on the business need, such as sales targets or customer engagement goals. A link to a strategically important business need provides the urgency that puts your business case at the top of the pile. A new web CMS might be useful and important, but why should the organization invest in it now?

OPTIONS AND THE RECOMMENDED SOLUTION

If a selection process has already taken place, recommend the web CMS platform that was chosen and briefly outline the reasons why. When recommending a solution, remember to include the implementation costs and timescales. However, recommending a specific web CMS platform in the business case is not always possible. In a large organization, a typical web CMS selection process includes requirements gathering, stakeholder interviews, an RFP, and vendor demonstrations. With so many web CMS platforms available, the selection process requires a significant investment of time. If you haven’t had an opportunity to conduct a thorough selection process, offer an estimate based on the current understanding of the situation. An obvious alternative to your recommended course of action is doing nothing. If no action is taken, what will happen? What impact on the business will this have? What opportunities will be lost? Think about this carefully. The stronger your argument, the more likely your business case will be given the priority it deserves.

HARD AND SOFT BENEFITS

When articulating the anticipated outcome of the project, consider describing it in terms of hard and soft benefits. Hard benefits are specific and measurable. For example, a 10% increase in online sales or a 10% reduction in headcount are hard benefits.

Soft benefits don’t have the obvious impact on the bottom line. Improved staff morale or improved customer experience are important outcomes, but their impact on the business is more difficult to quantify.

For many web CMS initiatives, estimating hard benefits is, well, hard. Replacing an existing web CMS with a better solution is similar to moving to a new house. If done for the right reasons, the benefits are there, but assigning a monetary value to it doesn’t always make sense. Things such as happiness, a less stressful commute, and better opportunities to exercise and make friends will likely lead to a better lifestyle, but the precise impact of these benefits is difficult to measure. Similarly, a new web CMS platform can improve customer experience and team morale, but the resulting increase in revenue or specific cost-savings are not easy to estimate.

If most of the benefits for your web CMS project are soft, you might want to drop the hard and soft benefits labels altogether. Instead, categorize benefits by high-impact, medium-impact, and low-impact, as determined by their alignment to the strategic goals.

FINANCIAL ANALYSIS

The problem with creating a credible ROI for a web CMS project is that the ROI calculations are only as good as the assumptions that underpin them, and implementing new technology is riddled with unknowns. Vendor demonstrations and proof of concept bring us closer to understanding whether the system is a good fit for the organization’s requirements, but it doesn’t accurately reflect the full complexity and scale of the project. One more, or one less, skilled content editor required for the duration of the web CMS implementation can swing the cost estimates by as much as $50,000.

If an ROI is seen as an important part of the business case in your organization, your best bet is to discuss the format of the ROI calculations with the person who will be evaluating it, usually a financial director. Ask what metrics and what terminology should be used and how the calculations are made. This will bring you closer to speaking the same language as your decision maker. Refer to specific and reputable sources when estimating your costs. For example, get a quote from an independent consultant, industry analyst, or an agency with significant experience in web CMS implementations.

RISKS AND DEPENDENCIES

For a certain period of time during the web CMS implementation, there will be two systems running: the old (with the up-to-date content) and the new (partway through content migration). Therefore, the timing of the web CMS implementation shouldn’t coincide with significant content updates, product launches, or mergers. Other risks might include the ability to deliver change management, overcoming organizational challenges, reallocating and training staffers, and elevating the quality of content.

PERSUASIVE LANGUAGE

You could argue that facts are facts, and when it comes to writing a business case, communication style shouldn’t come into it. But things that are not communicated well can be poorly understood and not given the attention they deserve. Persuasive language is specific, factual, and clear. It has many voices: Use quotes and research findings from thought leaders and experts in the field to support your message. Spend time cutting out information that doesn’t help to make a decision. Making a business case is similar to predicting the future—you can’t always be accurate, but you can be specific and clear.

Lost and Found: Content Modeling for Large Digital Presences

The keys! Not in my pockets. Not in the drawer. Not on the table. Where are they?

It’s bad enough to have to turn everything upside down when your house is, sort of, tidy. It takes longer, and drives you crazier, when the house is a mess. Chaotic, disorganized places are stressful.

The same is true for websites. Managing badly structured web content is hard. When content authors are stuck with an unusable editorial interface or with content types that don’t make sense, they start working around the CMS. At some point, there are so many workarounds that training and documentation become confusing too, resulting in a desperately reactive approach to web content management (WCM).

Content modeling—when done right—is meant to prevent this mess from appearing in the first place. It is about organizing content in meaningful ways, so that there’s a place for everything in your digital home. 

Content modeling is the process of organizing content assets and relationships between them in order to enable logical, efficient, and sustainable content management practices using chosen technology platforms.

According to Deane Barker, author of Web Content Management, content modeling is defined by the following:

  • Content types
  • Content attributes
  • Relationships between them

Content modeling takes root in data modeling, a mature software engineering practice used to translate business requirements into database design. However, in content modeling, the freedom to design databases in any custom way you like just isn’t there. Between the business requirements and the database design, there is a CMS that imposes conceptual and technical limitations on how the content can be organized. This additional CMS layer influences the way content modeling is done and the terminology that is used in the process. To create an effective content model, it’s helpful to have a broad knowledge of the CMS principles, so that you’re led—but not blinded—by the chosen CMS and its philosophy.

Both data modeling and content modeling cannot be done well by software developers alone. Input from business stakeholders is essential to make the technical design meaningful and aligned to business goals. In fact, you can spot a content model done by a techie by a mile—it’s usually an over-engineered, cover-all-eventualities, logical structure that is beautiful and horrifying in equal measure. The real world isn’t like that.

 

The Basics of Content Modeling

On a small scale, content modeling is easy. Content types used for the University of Leeds’ conferences template are pages and widgets. There are hardly any relationships between the content types to speak of—except that a widget can be contained within a page.

So far, so good—but this conference website is a tiny part of a much bigger collection of university events, which are displayed in different areas of the university’s digital presence, depending on their date (past or present), type (workshop, seminar, or conference), and intended audience (undergraduates, prospective students, academics, and so on). In this larger context, sticking to our original set of content types just won’t cut it. To be able to connect our conference website with other parts of the university’s digital presence, we need to look at it from a bird’s-eye view.

 

High-Level Content Modeling Considerations

  1. Establish priorities—Not all content is created equal. Some content is supporting key customer journeys, and some content is supporting somebody’s whim. Some content attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors, and some content attracts analytics spambots from Russia. Identifying content that sells and content that makes a promise is crucial. This priority content is your living room. It must be tidy, otherwise no one will want to come to your digital home.
  2. Identify enterprise-wide content—This is the content that’s used by multiple departments and areas of business. It needs to exist in a central place as a single point of truth. It cuts through the silos and has to make peace with other systems that are in place.
  3. Future-proof—For long-term success, there needs to be an easy way of identifying where to slot the new stuff. A sitemap provides a good enough level of categorization for a small website, but for a large digital presence—in which new websites get created every day—it’s helpful to have an even higher-level overview of the digital presence. Categorize different websites by brands, impact, technical complexity, purpose, and so on.

 

Strive for the Balance

Extremes are easy. In more than a decade spent implementing and managing CMSs, I’ve seen both understructured and overstructured content. Too little structure and you end up with webpages resembling Word documents from hell, with big red headings and garish fonts that hurt your eyes. Too much structure and content editors are losing the will to live because they are entering the web content, sentence by sentence, into the tiny boxes. Generally speaking, marketers tend to value flexibility over structure, whereas software developers prefer modularity and stability. To create an effective, sustainable content model, strive for balance.

Similar to how a floorplan helps in deciding where to put your furniture and belongings during a house move, content modeling is useful in making decisions about where to place your web content. It helps to clarify, or sometimes even establish, business requirements. It is often influenced by the chosen CMS, its philosophy, and its terminology.

Content modeling doesn’t have to take the form of a flashy presentation or a glorified document. Documenting the content model is useful, but the thinking and planning behind it is just as important.

Content Quality in Devolved Authoring Environments

In the beginning, there was the word. It wasn’t content managed. There was no HTML. There were no templates, no workflows, and no CMSs. Things were easy. But then there was a paragraph, a heading; there were links, images, and interactive content. Before long, things got complicated. Updating words, webpages, and websites became hard work.

CMSs made this hard work easier. People without specialist knowledge of web development started to create web content too. It became possible to publish more content faster—except there was a catch. The CMS didn’t produce quality content. It simply published whatever it was that people entered into the system.

When I worked for a digital agency, we had a client—let’s call her Lisa—who was lively, enthusiastic, and always full of ideas. She was on a mission to make the world a better place. When she got access to the CMS and was put in charge of managing web content for a large hospitality website, she was excited. Within days, content was updated here, there, and everywhere. The site had it all: big red headings, enormous images, cryptic fonts that hurt your eyes. Never mind the emails to us with the subject line “Help!!!” when the CMS didn’t work wonders. Never mind the bloated code behind the scenes to accommodate Lisa’s very peculiar requirements. Never mind all the features that we developed specifically for her. When Lisa set her mind on something, there was no stopping her.

Interestingly, as a business manager, Lisa was knowledgeable, pragmatic, and determined. But armed with a CMS, she was a danger to herself and others. How could this be? Worst of all, Lisa was not alone. There were others. CMSs turned out to be a double-edged sword, and in the wrong hands, they led to large volumes of poor-quality content being published day in and day out.

Although CMSs have vastly improved in the last decade, and creating decent web content is easier than ever before, there are still lots of Lisas around, and they still produce lots of poor-quality web content. Why? The reasons are varied, but they boil down to four main ones:

Lack of skill—Without a doubt, limited knowledge of usability principles, writing for web best practices, and SEO get in the way of producing effective web content. But this is a problem that’s relatively easy to fix through training and professional development.

Lack of experience—Effective planning, knowing what to leave out—not just what to put in—and being able to predict longer-term outcomes is learned through experience. Accomplished web editors see beyond the excitement of creating a new site and can adequately plan for maintenance and support. However, amateur content editors focus all their energy on creating new content, and they don’t leave enough time and resources for the follow-up work and content updates.

Lack of time and other priorities—In large organizations, content editors are often working on the website on an irregular, part-time basis, alongside their other, primary duties and responsibilities. They often know that they need to do more, but they just can’t carve out the time.

Lack of support—In devolved content authoring environments, web editors usually have access to help in the form of documentation, training, and support. But getting the right help at the right time is difficult. One-to-one support from an experienced digital professional is effective but expensive—and, therefore, scarce. Documentation is often incomplete and out-of-date. CMS training courses conducted by the CMS vendors dive deep into the capabilities of the system, but do little to help with the specifics of a project at hand.

So what can we do to counteract the lack of skill, experience, time, and support? How can we avoid the disjointed, broken customer journeys that are so common in devolved authoring environments?

  1. Locking down the functionality is a common way of managing output. Use isolated fields for small chunks of content—enter the heading here, and insert your image there. Restricted styles and fonts and limited or no access to template development does the trick. But it’s easy to overdo it and end up with an inflexible system that no longer meets the needs of the content contributors.
  2. Training that is relevant and specific to the project and the implementation at hand is invaluable. Wider training for subjects such as writing for the web, visual design, usability, and SEO is often overlooked—and it shouldn’t be.
  3. Digital governance tools can help to diagnose existing problems such as broken links, spelling mistakes, JavaScript errors, and mobile issues. These tools are particularly helpful when the lack of governance processes have led to a backlog of problems.
  4. The art of saying “no” is a necessary practice. Vision and strategic direction are important, and they are as much about saying “no” to things that get in the way as they are about saying “yes” to things that really matter. Content editors should work within clear boundaries that encourage them to produce content that makes sense for the business.
  5. Healthy pragmatism is essential. Not all content is created equal. Oliver Weedon, digital transformation manager at the University of Westminster in the U.K., uses a garden analogy to describe the web ecosystem in higher education. In this analogy, “walled garden” is the content that’s really important and requires careful consideration. “Wildflower” garden is developed with guidance and direction from the web team. “Meadows” are websites that are free to grow and develop naturally, with only minimum requirements imposed. Treating all content with the same vigor is a losing proposition.

At the end of the day, quality content comes from well-defined processes, motivated content authors, and clear vision. Devolved content authoring shouldn’t be about giving people free rein, but it shouldn’t be about restricting their every move either. With clear strategy, established governance, and relevant training, a lot can be done to elevate the quality of content.

The Elusive Definition of an Enterprise CMS

Many web CMS vendors and open source communities describe their web content management (WCM) systems as enterprise. But what does enterprise mean in this context? Are there web CMSs out there that are not enterprise? Does it even matter? Is it beneficial for organizations to invest in an enterprise web CMS, or is it just a fancy marketing buzzword that carries little meaning?

What Is Enterprise Software?

Broadly speaking, “enterprise” simply means “business”—a company or an organization with business goals. The opposite of an enterprise is an individual, someone with personal interests, preferences, and needs. So enterprise software is software that’s designed and built for an organization rather than an individual.

What Does Enterprise Mean in Sales and Marketing?

In marketing, “enterprise” typically implies quality, maturity, and premium price. You can put it in the same category as “leading” and “world-class.” These claims might be justified—or they might not be. It’s marketing, after all.

In sales, “enterprise software” refers to products that are purchased on the basis of business and technical requirements, not personal preferences. A manager, or a number of stakeholders, must be persuaded to invest in enterprise software. Sales cycles for enterprise software last 6–9 months on average and require sales representatives with an intimate understanding of the products they sell. Sales professionals also rely on pre-sales technical support at key stages of the sales process in order to showcase the suitability of the product in a convincing manner. Inevitably, the time and effort that go into the long sales process contribute to the higher price of enterprise software.

What Does Enterprise Mean in Relation to Web CMS?

In WCM, the meaning of “enterprise” is more ambiguous. It’s easy to see what an enterprise web CMS is not. A perfect example of a CMS that isn’t enterprise-level is a blogging platform, such as Squarespace or Medium. A blogging platform is a simple solution that can be used to create, edit, publish, and manage web content. It is designed to meet the requirements of an individual or a small business out-of-the-box. Customizations are difficult or impossible, user roles and permissions are simple, and the system tells its users how things should be done. The user has two choices: Take it or leave it. There’s very little in between.

However, an enterprise CMS is flexible and complex. It can be adapted and configured to fit the needs of a large organization with numerous departments, business units, content contributors, and large volumes of content. If you are a large organization looking for an enterprise-level CMS, you should expect the following:

  1. Maturity—Enterprise-level CMSs are robust and mature. They work as intended and are largely bug-free, stable environments. Sometimes, organizations assume that investing in robust, mature platforms will elevate the quality of content. This is not true. The system doesn’t produce content—people do.
  2. Flexibility—An enterprise-level CMS is more of a framework than an out-of-the-box, off-the-shelf product.
  3. Scalability, reliability, and performance—An enterprise-level CMS should be scalable and able to cope with growing website traffic and an increasing number of content assets, without an adverse impact on performance and reliability.
  4. Integration—An enterprise-level system should provide ways to integrate the system with other enterprise solutions.
  5. Governance—Linear and non-linear workflow, granular user rights, and user permissions are essential requirements for a large organization. Audit logs, versioning, and archiving can also be important, particularly in highly regulated industries.
  6. Security—CMS platforms are common hacking targets, so solid security methodology and security certifications are important.
  7. Ongoing technical support—Reliable, responsive technical support should be available either from the vendor (typically priced at around 20% of the license fee) or a service provider specializing in support and maintenance of the chosen web CMS.

Some vendors add other tools to the mix in an attempt to make their solution look more enterprise. Marketing automation, customer relationship management (CRM), ecommerce, multilingual capabilities, and analytics are sometimes bundled up with the web CMS. Although these tools and features can be useful to some organizations, they are not universally required in every organization and don’t necessarily make the web CMS enterprise-level.

Service providers that work with open source web CMS solutions sometimes also use the term “enterprise” simply to differentiate between the paid professional services and a free, community edition with no support contract.

What Is ECM?

Enterprise content management (ECM) muddies the waters further. ECM has very little to do with WCM. It is a practice and a set of tools for managing all of the content in an organization—not just web content, but also documents, records, digital assets, or any other data.

The term “ECM” can be particularly confusing when it comes from web CMS vendors. Software vendors such as Oracle, OpenText, and Liferay compete in the web CMS space, but focus their efforts on selling a suite of products. In this case, ECM isn’t just a bigger or better version of a web CMS—it’s a suite of products for a broad range of requirements.

More recently, players such as Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive started to redefine what ECM actually means by putting emphasis on the collaboration and file-sharing capabilities. In short, ECM and enterprise WCM systems are two terms that may sound similar, but are worlds apart.

If an enterprise web CMS is a mature, robust, and reliable system—that’s also flexible and well-supported—does this mean that enterprise web CMS platforms are generally better quality and a better choice for all? Not always.

Enterprise web CMS can be a burden for organizations that do not have complex WCM needs. To determine if a web CMS is a good fit for your organization, test drive the system using tasks that are performed daily by your content editors. There is no solution that is best and fits all. But there is a system out there, enterprise or not, that is the best choice for your organization and requirements.  

Web Design Trends 2017

Good web design is crucial for making the right impression

First impressions are important… Presentable clothes, matching accessories, getting to meetings on time – it all matters. It shows people around you that you care.

Online, first impressions matter too. Website visitors make judgements about website credibility in as little as 50 milliseconds, and one in five website visitors will leave your website, not giving you a second chance.

Staying on top of the current trends makes it possible to create a website that will impress your audience, and will hold users attention for the first crucial 10 seconds, and beyond.

So what are the Web Design trends for 2017?

First things first. Web design is not art.

Art expresses feelings, raises questions, provokes emotions. By contrast, design helps people to find answers, take action, or complete a task.

More than ever before, everything in web design, from imagery to navigation, to content, must serve a purpose. Many websites are now decades old, and some have collected huge amounts of clutter along the way. If you are redesigning an existing website, start with a clearout (content audit), and focus on what’s important by mapping key customer journeys. If, on the other hand, you are building a website from scratch, consider wireframes, sitemaps and top tasks as your starting point. Prioritise clarity over absolute completeness.

WWF

New, decluttered WWF homepage.

Persuade with numbers

Numbers project confidence. A web designer that built 60 websites comes across as more competent than the one who has ‘many years experience in the industry’. A company that has offices in 4 countries seems more established than the one with ‘international presence’. Even when the numbers are not very meaningful, being precise and specific still works. Carolyn Mendelsohn, an award winning photographer, owns 321 snow globes. How about that?

Carolyn Mendelsohn

Carolyn Mendlesohn, award-winning photographer and author of widely acclaimed In Between series

Grids, frameworks and pre-made themes

As CSS frameworks and grids mature, more and more coders use them as a basis for their web development work. They allow beginner coders to step up their game and they help digital agencies to streamline their production. Frameworks might sometimes contribute to bloated code but they cut down development time and take care of responsiveness, which makes them a good choice for many digital projects.

In addition to Bootstrap, UIKit and Foundation, which have been around for a while, new front-end development frameworks such as Suzy, Jeet and Breakpoint are also getting traction.

Pre-made themes from EnvatoMarket and TemplateMonster can also be a valid choice. Developers of paid templates tend to respond to customer feedback and continuously iterate their product, so some of the most popular themes have now gone through many improvements, to become what they are today.

Smithsonian

Smithsonian magazine uses Suzy framework which offers on-demand grid.

Flat Colors

Google Material Design was first introduced in 2014. It’s a set of principles and best practices for web designers and mobile app developers. Google Material Design is about going back to basics, focusing on what’s important, but still accounting for multiple resolutions and devices – an over-engineered simplicity, if you like.

Google Material Design with its flat colours isn’t the only approach to web and mobile app design but it continues to be popular and trendy. Fabulous app, Google Material Design Awards winner, is a remarkable example of Google Material Design principles at its best.

Fabulous App

Fabulous is a mobile app that helps you to establish healthy habits.

Authentic images

The overriding rule with regards to choosing effective images for web is that they have to be relevant and genuine. When choosing images, think about the following:

  • Product
    Are product images appropriate and useful? If so, this should be your first choice.
  • People
    Can you use an authentic image to tell a believable story about people using your product and benefitting from it?
  • Quality
    How can you show that your product is of good, or superior, quality? Can you show the craft, the expertise or the materials that make it great?
  • Ethics
    Are you charitable, ethical, organic, green? Does your business give back to the community? Does it make the world a better place?

Overused staged photography will make your website look dated. Choose realistic images that portray real world and real people. Use new perspectives: selfies, feeties, drone and head-on camera pictures and videos. Try full-screen approach, with the image occupying the whole screen.

Chris

Christian Betancourt is e-sports, portrait, landscape, and lifestyle photographer

Video

If a picture can tell a thousand words, then video must be even better, right? Homepage background videos can tell a story behind a product or service within seconds – Evernote, Airbnb and Loyola Marymount University are notable examples. For longer, more sophisticated video stories in web design, have a look at edstafford.org and silenza.it (It’s worth noting that mobile versions of these websites do not display videos.)

Loyola Marymount University

Background video on the Loyola Marymount University’s website

Navigation

Humans can hold between 5 and 9 items in their short term memory. A landline number such as 496 0926 is relatively easy to remember, but something a bit longer like 07700900546 is far more difficult to retain in your memory. That’s why, for a long time, web developers and UX designers strived for a maximum of seven menu items (7±2) in the website navigation. But that’s changing.

The number of visible, main menu navigation items is now reduced to the absolute minimum. Paypal has only three visible items in their primary navigation. Tate have reduced the number of items in the main navigation from 11 to just 3 during their most recent redesign in 2016. Laterooms redesigned it’s homepage in 2015 to focus solely on the booking process.

Tate

Simple, clear navigation on Tate website

Continued influence of the mobile design means that hamburger navigation icon is more popular than ever. The jury is out on the effectiveness of this approach – it’s not just the meaning of the icon, but the size and visibility of the three lonely lines that affect the usability of the hamburger approach. Research and A/B testing seems to show that hamburger lines combined with a MENU label – such as the one on Adobe website – works significantly better than the hamburger icon alone.

Sticky navigation, such as on Pexcard by Rockpool Digital is still popular, and so are mega-menus – Museum of London built by WebCredible is a good example.

Museum of London

Museum of London was redesigned by Webcredible in 2016

Performance and intelligent analytics insight

Average weight of the homepage across the websites reviewed in this article is approximately 3.5MB. With all the high resolution images, interactive scripts, font replacement techniques, webpage performance requires special consideration. “If you can make the site load a second faster, you can drive engagement by 5%” according to Financial Times. Note the use of engagement as website metrics in this quote. Intelligent insight that goes beyond page views and unique visitors is increasingly important for understanding what works and what doesn’t on your website.

Financial Times

The aims of Financial Times redesign are shorter page load times, increased engagement, and better personalization.

The blend of personal and professional space, integrity, ethics

The line between the personal and professional space is not as clear as it was in the past. What we hear about business leaders on Facebook and Twitter, is often less formal and more in-the-moment than press releases and company’s own marketing materials. Integrity, ethics, telling people who you are, not just what you do, is more important than ever before.

Educate and Celebrate

Educate & Celebrate advises schools on LGBT and inclusion best practices.

Conclusion

In summary, modern websites of 2017 will use authentic images and full-width or full-screen layout to portray genuine, passionate, ethical people and products. Primary navigation will be reduced to the very minimum, and other links will be available through the ‘hamburger’ navigation, mega-menus and contextual navigation. Great websites of 2017 will use direct, persuasive language and will use numbers to demonstrate their achievements. Responsiveness, micro interactions and large, bold images continue to dominate the web, but they are only effective if website performance and page load times are reasonable.

Best of luck and have a well designed 2017!

What to Expect from JBoye Aarhus Conference

As much as attending industry conferences is considered a must for mid- to senior-level digital professionals, few can afford to go to more than two or three events a year. In this article, I will go through five key considerations that web managers and digital leaders can use to help them determine whether an industry conference is worth their time and money. I will then explain what JBoye Aarhus Conference delivers in each of these categories (from my experience of attending JBoye conference annually since 2011), so that you can decide for yourself whether JBoye conference is right for you.

J. Boye Conference

Conference consideration #1: Size.

There’s conferences, and there’s conferences. Some attract thousands of people (Web Summit and Adobe Summit are good examples), and others – such as JBoye, NNGroup or IWMW – bring together several hundreds of participants. Both types can be useful and fun, but they offer totally different experiences. Large conferences are more like going to a theatre – there’s more of a wow factor and there’s a higher number of totally awesome inspirational speakers (think Kevin Spacey or George Clooney), but just like in a theatre, you don’t really get to interact with them in a meaningful way. Nor do you get to talk properly to the other umpteen thousands attendees. It’s a show. By contrast, smaller conferences are more like communities, where you can build meaningful relationships with a lot of people, speakers and participants alike.

At JBoye Aarhus 2015 there were 225 delegates from 17 countries. JBoye conference is definitely a smaller, community-like event – big enough to attract great speakers, and small enough for networking to be effective and easy. Even if you feel somewhat uncomfortable in a busy, crowded social setting (many people are), Janus and his team will be happy to introduce you to the people you want to meet. This is really helpful because at conferences it’s not always easy to track down a particular individual, and the task is even harder if you’ve not met that person before.

Conference consideration #2: Keynotes and presentations, format.

Some conferences offer deep-dive training courses, which equip you with practical skills that you can apply to your own projects. Others offer shorter, introductory sessions that inspire you to find out more.

JBoye conference has both types of presentations. The first of the three days offers 3-hours workshops – interactive sessions with group exercises and plenty of opportunities for audience participation. After attending a workshop you should be equipped with practical tools that allow you to put the acquired knowledge into practice. Workshops also kick-start your networking at JBoye – by the end of the three hour workshop you’re bound to know the names of everyone in your room. It’ll almost feel like you’re friends.

The second and third day feature shorter presentations on a wide variety of subjects, as well as some roundtables and expert panels. In this fast paced format you constantly move from one room to another, and it’s a lot to take in, but you get to meet a lot of people and you get to hear about a lot of different ideas. It’s a bit like speed dating. The format gives you an opportunity to consider a number of perspectives, and identify the right people to talk to later in the day.

Quite an impressive thing about JBoye conference that I’ve not seen at other community-level conferences, is that everything runs on time. To the minute. If the presentation is scheduled for 9:00am then that’s precisely when it will start. More importantly, if a presentation is scheduled to finish at 9:45am then that’s when it will finish. This applies even to the morning Run with the Vikings at 6:30am. No time to lose.

Presentation slides usually appear on Slideshare within days after the conference is finished.

Conference consideration #3. Keynotes and presentations, content.

A major factor in deciding whether to attend a particular conference is how relevant the covered material is to your job. JBoye covers the following topics:

  • Digital Transformation
  • Digital Strategy
  • Customer Experience
  • Agile
  • Marketing Technology
  • Digital Business Development
  • Collaboration / Digital Workplace

Some of the most popular recent presentations are:

If you need to know the best approach for multithreading in node.js, or the best way to track call-to-action button clicks in Google Analytics, JBoye is not the right conference for you. Consider conferences targeted specifically at web developers and web designers instead, such as Smashing Conference, NDCWeb Summer Camp or Future of Web Design. Equally, if you’re after the roadmap and nitty-gritty of a specific software product, you’ll be much better off attending a vendor (or open source community) user conference – DrupalCon, 404 Kentico, or Hippo.Connect are some examples.

Conference consideration #4. Business networking and social events.

Being able to make useful contacts at an industry conference depends on two factors. The first is the make-up of the audience. Who are these people? What can you learn from them? Are they the type of people that you would like to work with? Are they likely to boost your energy with new ideas, or drain it with the sales speak?

The second factor determining how effective your networking will be, is the nature of social events. Are conference organisers helping people to connect in an informal setting or do you have to organise it yourself?

At JBoye the majority of conference delegates are web professionals at mid and senior management level. They are usually people who can handle both strategic and tactical initiatives, and who do just that, day in, day out. Web designers and web developers who are interested in how their work fits into broader business goals, and are looking to transition into managerial roles, also attend JBoye for its strategic content. There are usually a few digital agencies attending JBoye conference (such as MMT Digital, eXa Online, and NMQ Digital), as well as software vendors (for example Oracle, Sitecore, Magnolia and Crownpeak) but their presence isn’t overbearing and their presentations are monitored by JBoye team to ensure that they are useful to the audience and are not just another sales pitch.

With regards to social events, in addition to lunches and coffee breaks throughout the day, JBoye organises, and pays for, two after-conference dinners on Tuesday and Wednesday. This means that everyone is in the same place in the evening, and you can build lasting relationships that will extend the value of the conference far beyond the three days in Aarhus. Food, tea and coffee is totally awesome – you are in Denmark, after all!

J. Boye Aarhus Conference

Conference consideration #5. Value for money.

When it comes to convincing your boss to send you to a conference, the price tag plays a big part. JBoye conference is not expensive per se, particularly if you consider that food and social is included. Still, what makes JBoye a bit of a luxury trip for many, is the location. Most people deserve a medal for just getting there, and when you factor in travel, the three-day conference becomes a full week away from your desk.

That said, Aarhus is a great place to visit. You can read about Aarhus in Guardian, Independent, The New York Times, and if you are really serious about exploring Denmark – read a book How to be Danish by Patrick Kingsley.

Related links:

A Short History of Mergers and Acquisitions in the WCM Space

2003 IBM -> Presence Online
EMC -> Documentum
FatWire -> Divine
2004 Serena Software -> Merant Software
2005 Hummingbird -> RedDot
2005 Mediasurface -> Silverbullet/Pepperio
2006 Oracle -> Stellent
OpenText -> Hummingbird
IBM -> FileNet
2007 SDL -> Tridion
2007 Mediasurface -> Immediacy
2008 Alterian -> Mediasurface
2008 Atex -> Polopoly
2009 OpenText -> Vignette
Autonomy -> Interwoven
2010 Adobe -> Day Software
2011 Oracle -> FatWire
HP -> Autonomy
2012 SDL -> Alterian
2013 Upland Software -> Clickability
2014 Progress Software -> Telerik/Sitefinity
2015 Accel-KKR -> Ektron and Episerver
2016 EQT -> Sitecore
OpenText -> HP TeamSite

Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in the web content management (WCM) space have been so common that more than one-third of all leading vendors now own their WCM products through acquisition. Some acquisitions were successful for customers and shareholders alike. Day Software, acquired by Adobe in 2010, is now a widely recognized leader in WCM as Adobe Experience Manager. But other acquisitions failed to deliver on their promises and proved to be customers’ worst nightmares. Collage CMS didn’t just fall behind the competition after its purchase by Serena Software in 2004-it was discontinued.

The lack of clear, meaningful information about acquisitions when they happen makes decision making difficult for customers. Press releases are not usually helpful–they make vague claims about cutting-edge solutions and operational synergies. They are written to please and protect the companies involved, not to help customers decide what they need to do when their WCM vendor is acquired. One way to be more savvy about M&A in WCM is to look back at what worked in the past and what didn’t–and why.

Back in 2003, I worked on the user interface of a WCM system at a digital agency in the U.K. RedDot was our point of reference and our biggest source of inspiration. We kept on top of the new releases and learned from what we considered the most feature-rich CMS available.

RedDot was acquired by Hummingbird in 2005, which was then bought by OpenText in 2006. The transition from a pure-play, privately owned software vendor to a large, publicly traded company did not go smoothly for everyone. Many experienced employees jumped ship. Some RedDot partners reviewed their strategic partnerships and decided to go with other vendors. Prospects worried about the future of RedDot, and selling the solution to new customers became difficult.

In 2009, OpenText caused further confusion by acquiring Vignette. Analysts expressed concerns about the product overlap and advised new prospects considering OpenText content management products to proceed with caution. Fast-forward to 2016, and despite gloomy predictions, OpenText continues to support both OpenText Web Site Management (formerly RedDot) and OpenText Web Experience Management (formerly Vignette). Some of RedDot’s biggest customers still use OpenText Web Site Management, including Transport for London, the British Army, and the University of Aberdeen.

In April 2016, OpenText added a third WCM solution to the mix: HP TeamSite, previously known as Interwoven TeamSite and Autonomy TeamSite. Interwoven TeamSite was the first true enterprise WCM system; in many ways, Interwoven was the firm that established this market. In 2009, Interwoven was acquired by Autonomy, but it didn’t thrive under Autonomy’s ownership. Autonomy, including Interwoven TeamSite as part of the deal, was sold to HP in 2011 in probably the most controversial deal in software history.

Shortly after OpenText acquired Hummingbird/RedDot in 2006, Oracle acquired Stellent-a CMS with deep roots in document management. Oracle retained most of the development team, but strategic goals for Stellent shifted from pure-play content management to being part of Oracle’s single-vendor enterprise content management (ECM) suite offering. In cases in which Oracle’s single-vendor ECM pitch matched customers’ requirements, Stellent (then rebranded as Oracle UCM) stacked up well against competition, but as a best-of-breed WCM product, it was difficult to sell. In 2011, Oracle acquired FatWire for its web experience features, and it remains at the core of Oracle’s WCM offering today.

From the customers’ point of view, the most unsettling of all was the acquisition of Collage CMS by Serena Software in 2004. Merant Software released Collage CMS in 2002, and it showed promise: an easy-to-use, simple-to-set-up, de-coupled solution with enough flexibility to allow for significant template modifications using Collage’s own tag library. The system got traction in the higher education sector and, to a degree, outside higher ed too. But following the Serena acquisition, product development and releases noticeably slowed down. The system capabilities fell behind the competition, marketing was insufficient, and positioning was unclear. In 2008, Serena officially discontinued the product.

On the one hand, this put Collage’s customers out of their misery. Collage was officially and irreversibly pronounced dead, so customers had no choice but to start a selection process for a new CMS. On the other hand, replacing a CMS is a special kind of pain that no customer wants to endure. Migration to a different platform can be a 3-6 month effort (sometimes more) just to get to where the organization was on the old platform. And unless the business case includes exciting new developments, CMS migration runs a risk of losing out to other initiatives that deliver immediate business value. In the end, it took years for some Serena Collage customers to migrate their websites away from the discontinued, unsupported product. If they could go back to 2004 to look again at that press release and the acquisition rationale-and seek expert advice to avoid the drama-they certainly would.

Time will tell how more recent acquisitions will play out, such as Sitecore by EQT or Episerver by Accel-KKR. The fact that EQT and Accel-KKR are private equity firms, rather than direct competitors, means that they are more likely to invest in product development, marketing, and leadership in helpful ways. Their assumptions and projections may still prove wrong, but their intentions are more in tune with customer needs than competitors’ motives would be.

In summary, the acquisition of a CMS can lead to three possible outcomes. One is success, as in the case of Adobe acquiring Day Software, in which the acquired product fit well-both technically and culturally-and got the investment it needed to become a true industry leader. A second is survival, as in RedDot. OpenText Web Site Management (formerly RedDot) continues to be well-supported, but it doesn’t compete at the highest level as an innovative solution. The third possible outcome, although exceptionally rare, is demise. An end-of-life CMS, such as Serena Collage or Immediacy, puts customers under immense pressure to invest in a new platform quickly.

To predict how an acquisition will turn out, customers need to look beyond the press releases and seek advice from a range of sources, including the vendor, their service provider partners, other customers, and industry analysts.