Most large enterprises now have multiple public-facing websites: a main corporate site as well as various e-business extranets, separate country or language websites, and any number of specialized brand or subsidiary sites.

As these websites become more mission-critical, enterprise architects have begun to pay closer attention, and they're asking important questions. One key question is whether most or all of these sites can be managed under a consolidated Web content management platform. Several years ago, the answer would have been no. Today, I would say maybe and point out two key dimensions to address with this answer:

  1. The diversity of website goals and objectives (and attendant needs for different types of technology); and
  2. Inherent challenges of publishing multiple sites from a single platform, including globalization scenarios.

Different Technologies for Different Scenarios

Explicitly or not, different CMS products target different use cases. You'll want to perform a careful inventory of the different types of sites you publish, and determine their varying content and application needs.

Understanding your business scenarios helps you see deeper into vendors' relative strengths and weaknesses for your particular circumstances. Among the 12 scenarios against which we evaluate CMS vendors, no single vendor addresses more than seven or eight of them, and typically only three or four very well.

In other words, some of your Web properties may not fit well into the "enterprise" platform you've selected. In this event, you can spend time, money and ibuprofen developing software to extend the platform, or you can simply acknowledge that you may need multiple tools.

Technical Challenges

Publishing multiple sites from the same platform can bring substantial efficiencies and allow for more consistent reuse of enterprise content assets. But multi-site management also comes with several technical challenges that you'll want to make sure any vendor can surmount.

The first key challenge has to do with user entitlements. Distributed enterprises need particular managerial roles that fall short of "super user" powers but offer more capabilities than typical authors. You'll want to devolve basic user management facilities to designated website managers, lest a set of centralized user administrators becomes a bottleneck in the entire system.

Surprisingly, many CMS packages do not allow you to do this because they commingle user management with broader (and more technical) system administration capabilities that you wouldn't want to expose to a line-of-business manager. Make sure your CMS vendor can accommodate how you want to manage the multitude of users your system will encompass.

The next important challenge has to do with content integrity and reuse. Naturally, many enterprises want to take advantage of a single CMS to reuse authoritative content across multiple Web properties. This is reasonable and quite possible, but it becomes increasingly difficult as your content becomes more granular.

It should come as no surprise to data warehouse veterans that enterprise content reuse therefore implies enterprise-level information architecture.

Consider the following use case. A content contributor logs into the CMS and browses to the page she wishes to edit using the product's "in context" editor that allows her to click on a specific article to modify its text. What happens if that article is also published on other enterprise websites? She may find (to her frustration) that the system has determined she does not have rights to modify that article because it appears on pages beyond her purview. If she does possess suitable rights, ideally the content management software will show her an "object dependency" report that will indicate all the different places where that content item appears and allow her to preview her changes in context. Not all systems support this.

Supporting Global Web Publishing

Supporting global publishing operations adds additional challenges that you'll want to test with any vendor. To support multinational or multilingual publishing, you'll require a process for converting or adding content to create region and language-specific pages, with respect to not only the text, but also the graphics, templates and all other elements.

When managing content and website localization, the concept of a "parent" site (e.g., in English) and "child" sites becomes a key consideration. Oftentimes, layout templates from a parent site are leveraged for local-language presentation, but also modified sometimes as well, and you'll need to track those local variants.

The ability to centralize and/or link parent and child content stores, or make them independent, greatly influences your ability to maintain global consistency or enable local autonomy. In general, more object-oriented CMS packages tend to work better here, although they also typically bring a steeper learning curve.

Finally, major international enterprises typically need to account for localization workflows, which are often parallel in nature and may require interfacing with globalization management systems. Here again, some tools do this more cleanly than others.

As always when picking software, start with analyzing personas and business processes, then do your diligence to come up with a short list. Nearly all CMS vendors claim to support multi-site publishing, but the devil lies in the details.


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