Cleaning up the kingdom of content

FRAMINGHAM (10/02/2003) - Content may be king, but if so, the kingdom is a royal mess. Companies are bogged down trying to meld information from disparate departments, then pushing it through a cumbersome approval process only to be stymied by a publishing routine that's time-consuming and error-prone. And with greater emphasis being placed on the integration of business units and collaboration with internal and external partners, the demand for simple, straightforward content management systems (CMS) is acute.

Luckily, there are ways to clean up the mess. By offloading the software components to application service providers, content management can be done via a Web-based service with common templates, step-by-step formats, access controls and shared design elements.

It's important to note that a CMS isn't the same as a document or file management system, nor is the ASP model appropriate when you're looking for enterprise portals connected to robust back-end applications.

But there are distinct advantages. Consider the experience of Josh Hoover, marketing systems manager at Waterloo, Wis.-based Trek Bicycle Corp. He has developed Web sites for several Trek brands, working with numerous advertising agencies in the process. But there wasn't a unified approach to content, nor was there a coherent schedule controlled by Trek's marketing team. Worse, it was expensive to make changes to all of those Web sites.

"No one knew where anything was in the process," says Hoover, who also had to work out how to handle the translation services needed in Trek's growing European business. "We would give the content to the agency, who would pass it to translators, who would pass it back to the agency, who would then pass it back to us in this long, burdensome process," he recounts.

Hoover checked out CMS products from Microsoft Corp., RedDot Solutions Corp. in New York and CrownPeak Technology in Los Angeles, with an eye toward a hosted system because of a previous good experience with ASP versions of sales force automation technology. After the review, Trek selected CrownPeak because of its feature set, the ability to incorporate seven languages into the workflow (including support for double-bit characters for Japanese, which is important, since Japan is a growing market for Trek) and its forms-based constructions. Cost was also a big factor, since the ASP model is substantially less expensive than a prepackaged suite.

Now Trek controls its main site, cutting out the ad agencies. It has a new Web interface and, with new user permissions, authoring and editing tools, it's off and pedaling. The new site also deftly handles outside links to Trek's dealer network.

When you're finally ready to take responsibility for content and don't need massive archiving and back-end connections, ASP content management is the right path.

Pimm Fox is a freelance writer in Santa Barbara, Calif. Contact him at pimmfox@pacbell.net.

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