Tony Byrne | Get a grip on Web 2.0 content

GCN Interview: CMS Watch founder Byrne spoke with GCN about Web content management systems

In the past few years, agency Web sites have come to depend on
Web content management systems. A good CMS 'lets you apply
management principles to content,' said Tony Byrne, founder
of CMS Watch. Byrne said he started the company because other
information technology analysis firms weren't focusing enough
on content management. In addition to consulting work, CMS Watch
also releases a biannual report comparing Web content management
systems (GCN.com/1247). Byrne spoke with GCN about the latest
report, the state of the industry and what agencies forget when
setting up a new CMS.


GCN: What is new in the latest CMS Report?


BYRNE: For a while, we saw prices leveling, and now
we're seeing prices going down, and that might have to do
with the softness of the global economy. We're seeing the
smaller vendors continuing to do well. They are pretty consistently
beating out the larger vendors. It is very much a relationship
sale, and smaller companies are more effective at establishing
relationships with Web teams. And they have been innovating
faster.


GCN: How well do traditional enterprise content management
system providers keep up with Web 2.0 technologies such as wikis
and blogs?


BYRNE: I think I would distinguish between Web content
managers who have been adopting these tools with varying degrees of
success and the big enterprise content management players like
Oracle and IBM and Open Text, which have been making their money
from heavy-duty document management.


The reality is that the ECM [players] decided that they are not
going to be able to compete there. They understand blogs and wikis
are going to happen, and people are going to find better tools than
any [of these companies] could possibly deliver. So their niche
here is to provide a back-end for these things.


One of the things our research suggests is that most blog, wiki
and tagging vendors are not thinking more than six months down the
road. They assume their customers will just build [a system] and
forget about it. But the reality is these information systems are
going to be around for a while, and more prudent enterprises will
start asking themselves how they are going to archive this stuff.
So I think the role for ECM systems going forward is going to be
for long-term archive preservation and disposition.


And ECM vendors are all also talking about this for Microsoft
SharePoint. They first came out pooh-poohing SharePoint as a
lightweight toy, and when it really took off, they saw that all
these people were putting all this information into SharePoint, and
at some point, they will have to back it up and archive it.


GCN: Why has Microsoft SharePoint been so successful in the
past year? Are there still dangers to SharePoint?


BYRNE: I think it has taken off because there is a
perception ' half true ' that it is free. The core
underlying Windows SharePoint Services part is free, and that has
left a lot of people to experiment with it. The other reason it has
taken off is that it is so easy for business people to provision
their own team spaces. That has allowed for proliferation
internally within enterprises.


And that is also the kernel of its downfall. If you let it run
amok, you can get yourself in trouble. We've gone into big
oil companies where they have done internal scans and found that
[employees] have created 12,000 SharePoint sites. They can't
manage them, let alone audit them. And it is that viral
proliferation that is a strength but also a liability.


GCN: What do agency systems developers sometimes forget when
purchasing an ECM system?


BYRNE: I see three things that are particularly germane
in the federal environment.


One is a tendency to buy a larger product than they really need,
under the assumption that because they are a big agency they need a
big tool with a big name. And that really isn't always
necessary.


The second thing I would say they do is underestimate the amount
of services required to actually implement these tools. They fail
to recognize in their budget that they will spend five to 10 times
in consulting and integration costs what they will spend in the
actual licensing of the software.


What also matters is the quality of the integration team. How
well do they know the tool? The tool could be a good fit for you,
but if this is the first time the implementation team is doing it,
I can almost guarantee you that it will not turn out very well.


The third thing is a tendency not to test the tools properly
before they sign a contract. The federal government is way behind
the commercial space here and doesn't need to be. There is a
misperception among contracting officers that the Federal
Acquisition Regulation doesn't allow this, but the FAR
actually does. Some of the smarter agencies do these, but too few
of them do.


If you are down to two or three Web content manager tools, for
goodness sakes, drag those vendors in with their consultants, have
them install the software on your system and have your people
actually test out some prototypes. It will take a month or two, but
at the end of that, you'll have a head start on your project
and you will know which package is a good fit. [This is better
than] spending 12 months on requirements analysis, having a few
hasty demos and nervously trying to figure out which vendor will be
right for you.


Think of it as a marriage. You want to have a series of
increasingly intimate dates with your suppliers. And you can do
this with the vendors. I've seen agencies do this and it
works.


GCN: How did CMS Watch come about? What jobs were the
traditional IT analysis firms not fulfilling?


BYRNE: In the late 1990s, I was leading a development
team, and we were doing a lot of content management
implementations. We were really frustrated with the tools we were
working with. What the traditional IT analyst firms were saying and
what we were experiencing were two very different things. I decided
there must be a better way.


I wanted to produce analysis that was more technically detailed,
geared more toward the actual implementers, the people who actually
customized the tools. The second thing I wanted to do was real
Consumer Reports-style evaluations, by talking to real customers
and doing site visits.


And the third thing I wanted was not to be beholden to any
vendors. We thought it was a fundamental conflict of interest when
a major analysis firm does consulting with some company that it
evaluates. That's not really right. We decided to work
completely on behalf of the buyer and not do anything with the
vendors.


GCN: What services do you offer for customers?


BYRNE: We mentor a product selection team. So when a
government agency is looking into making a significant investment
into a tool, we'll come in and critique their request for
proposal. We'll hold their hand through the whole demo and
testing process and serve as their advocate to ensure that they
will end up with a tool that is the right fit.


One of the other services we do is online education. We provide
four-hour courses. You go to our Web site and buy them with a
credit card.


Also in the federal space, we've done quite a bit of
independent validation and verification ' going back and
looking at where something went wrong and how it could be
addressed.



About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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