It's here, the public preview of SharePoint 2013 and guess what? Microsoft has made some significant enhancements to its web content management capabilities. But is it enough? Is SharePoint really a serious WCM contender? That's our question for this discussion point. Here's what the experts said.

 The Question

Why or why wouldn't you consider SharePoint 2013 a serious Web Content Management Contender?

The Responses

Stephen Powers -- Forrester

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Stephen Powers is a research director and principal analyst at Forrester Research, where he serves Application Development & Delivery Professionals. He is a leading expert on technologies to support online customer experiences, including web content management, digital asset management, and personalization.

Is SharePoint 2013 a serious WCM contender? Well, at the risk of sounding like a politician, it depends on what the meaning of the phrase “serious WCM contender” is. A classic definition of WCM is software that allows you to create and manage content destined for web sites. This includes tools for content authoring, collaboration, metadata, workflow, and archiving. By this definition, SharePoint is a “serious WCM contender”: it has sufficient support for all of this, plus it has the Microsoft brand behind it, and plenty of resources to do implementations.

For marketing-driven digital experiences, however, WCM not only needs to support the management of content, it needs to natively support (or seamlessly integrate with tools that support) engagement and measurement. Engagement involves the delivery of contextualized customer experiences in the online channel, based on factors such as visitor profile, historical behavior, location, and device used to view the content. Measurement refers to the tools used to measure site visitor behavior, and include web analytics, social analytics, and A/B and multivariate testing. The top vendors in the WCM space are all focusing on Manage/Engage/Measure in their WCM strategies.

Full disclosure: I haven’t seen a full, in-depth demonstration of the product yet, only a brief demo. From that demo, it does appear that Microsoft is taking some positive steps forward in terms of its contextualization capabilities, a long-criticized deficiency of previous versions of SharePoint, including the use of its search engine for auto-contextualization (as opposed to manually-intensive, rules-based personalization). They also claim to have improved authoring and development tools. They haven’t spoken to me much about “measurement” aspect of digital experience, though, and this is another area where SharePoint 2010 is deficient.

So, do these potential improvements make SharePoint 2013 a serious WCM contender? It’s hard to see it coming close to the level of digital experience support that you’d get from an Adobe CQ5, an SDL Tridion, or a Sitecore. But the improvements are at least a step in the right direction for SharePoint. And for sites which are less marketing-driven, SharePoint 2013 could very well fit the bill. But as always, when selecting WCM technologies, I recommend that buyers not only think of what they have to support today, but what they’ll need to support three years from now.

Andrew Pelz-Sharpe -- 451 Research

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Alan Pelz-Sharpe is the Research Director for Content Management & Collaboration at 451 Research. He has over 25 years of experience in the information management industry, working with a wide variety of end-user organizations and suppliers around the world. Alan was formerly a Partner at The Real Story Group, ECM Consulting Director at Indian Services firm Wipro, and VP for North America at industry analyst firm Ovum.

There are two sides to the SharePoint WCM story. The WCM market is over crowded and very high quality specialist options are thick on the ground. So if a buyer is looking for a pure play WCM solution then it's unlikely SharePoint would figure in the discussion. On the other hand we are seeing the priorities around an external web presence radically change. Customer data, and the analysis of that data is now paramount, with WCM and Portal technology playing a supporting role. So if you are running Microsoft Dynamics for your CRM, and are comfortable with the Microsoft Stack and the .Net development environment, SharePoint 2013 would merit consideration, particularly as there are some major improvements in this latest release. For instance there is better cross-site and multi-language management capabilities, along with improved analytics and cleaner URL's. None of these make 2013 a best of breed player, but they do narrow the gap.

Andrew Bishop -- Jacob's Unique World

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 Andrew Bishop works as a principle consultant for Jacobs Unique World, where he advises clients on collaboration & social enterprise strategy, with a focus on Microsoft SharePoint. When not working with clients to solve their information management problems, Andrew can generally be found tramping around the alpine country near his home town of Melbourne, Australia.

Microsoft has achieved massive sales in SharePoint over the past few years, but little of this success has been due to SharePoint's WCM capabilities which have been somewhat wanting. In fact, when you discover a website is based on SharePoint, you can't help marveling at the tenacity of the website owner. SharePoint 2013 is likely to change this situation.

Following through on commitments they made not long after the release of the SP 2010, Microsoft have made some serious investment in the WCM capabilities of SharePoint. New flexibility for menu and navigation management, simplified permission controls, better mobile integration, the ability to use search based site content and integrated SEO compliance are key new features that are going to make site owners very happy. Less promising is the view that custom branding remains a non-trivial affair in SharePoint 2013 Preview, but there may be better news as we get to the production release, still some months away

Shawn Shell -- Consejo, Inc

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Shawn Shell is the founder and Principal consultant at Consejo, Inc., a firm specializing in the development of information worker solutions. He is an expert on SharePoint, Office, Microsoft Content Management Server and custom ASP.NET applications. Shawn is also a Contributing Analyst for the Real Story Group and a co-author of Microsoft Content Management Server 2002: A Complete Guide, published by Addison-Wesley. Shawn actively blogs (http://blog.consejoinc.com) and you can follow him on Twitter (@shawnshell).

This is an interesting question and one that doesn’t have a single answer. The challenge with SharePoint is that it’s not a one-trick pony. In fact, SharePoint, as a platform, has multiple use cases and WCM is only one of them. This begs the question, is it possible to judge SharePoint a “contender” along only this singular dimension?

SharePoint, as a platform (and not merely a product), drags and contributes a deep and broad set of capabilities. This has been true since the 2007 version. Adding to this breadth and depth are all of the new architectural changes Microsoft has introduced in 2013, like making the product very much a cloud-oriented platform. It really (now) combines the Azure hosting environment with more depth in content contribution products like Office, along with all of the historical capabilities. While this “drag” has some definite benefits for enterprises overall, it calls into question situations where a more focused WCM might make more sense.

In the end, SharePoint should certainly be a serious contender. However, the inclusion of SharePoint on anyone’s short list should be constrained by three factors: 1) how much of SharePoint broader capabilities will be includes in the WCM implementation, 2) what is the medium to long-term vision for information management overall (is it just WCM or something more) and 3) what products, platforms & staff skills already exist inside the firm that may make it difficult or even challenging to adopt SharePoint beyond WCM? If you cannot provide positive responses to at least two of these three areas, SharePoint may not make a good fit. If, however, you able to leverage SharePoint beyond WCM, its technological underpinnings match the technological bent of your firm and there are no particular barriers to SharePoint adoption, SharePoint should be in contention.

Tony White -- Ars Logica

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 Tony White is the founder of Ars Logica, an advisory and consulting firm that helps users of technology evaluate and select the right CXM solutions for their business.

Yes, it is true that SharePoint 2013 is a better WCM contender than its predecessors, and this is something that Ars Logica was not sure would ever happen. So we are not disappointed either by the improvements themselves, or that significant improvements finally appeared (especially regarding usability). Anyone who has had a look at the updates will quickly realize that they really are significant (better Web Parts, nice integration with Office 365, improved social features, etc.)

But purchasing SharePoint for its improved WCM functionality is like buying a house because you like the appliances. SharePoint is an enterprise collaboration platform, and its ecosystem could well be architected to achieve something like enterprise information management. This is a much bigger picture than just WCM. Those interested in SharePoint should be considering their overall information management requirements (including, but not limited to multi-channel collaboration and content management). If those requirements make the SharePoint platform a viable option, then so much the better that it now includes better WCM. But caveat emptor! You buy SharePoint for WCM alone, and you will be paying hundreds of thousands (or even millions) for the stove, refrigerator and dishwasher.