As senior director of IT business partnerships & planning for platforms for Marriott International, Meghan A. Walsh works a little here and there with Web Content Management Systems (CMS). Kidding. She works in them a lot.

"Content management is not a one-size-fits-all task and yet vendors, for the most part, treat it that way," Walsh told CMSWire. "Every vendor tells me he can deliver content to multi-channels from one CMS, but I've not yet seen it proved. However, I'm still learning and meeting with vendors so maybe I'll have a different answer for you in the next couple of months."

Walsh talked with CMSWire about the challenges of running a CMS for a large, multi-channel organization.

Presentation Shift 

Marriott wants to move some of the presentation/digital experience responsibilities from the Web Content Management (WCM)/Web Experience Management (WEM) platform to apps or custom apps.

Stressing there is no "all or nothing" in the digital space, Walsh said that while Marriott wants to remove presentation configurations and controls from content, it doesn't mean they will all be moved to the application layers. Some, she said, may still be managed in a CMS, and separating presentation from the actual content elements is what is priority.

"A key driver here is that the more closely presentation controls and content elements are tied together, the fewer channels in which that content may be used," said Walsh, a keynote speaker at the Gilbane Conference earlier this month. "For some content in some channels, this tight relationship may make sense, but I believe there is a core set of content that is re-usable across channels (web, social, mobile, email, TV, kiosk, etc.)."

What does she want to avoid? Maintaining as many versions of the content as there are channels. "That is inefficient," Walsh said, "and brings unnecessary risk to our relationship with our guests."

Approach to Different Channels

Is Walsh taking the same view for different content delivery channels (e.g., mobile, car, kiosk, web)? She believes the content platform should be able to feed all of these channels.

"We'll see if my gut is right and that there is core across all plus channel specific content for some," Walsh said. "A great opportunity is if we have solved the common content challenge through accessible, presentation-agnostic content then we can better focus and deliver on channel specific needs when they do arise. Right now, every feature, every content conversation is channel-specific, which requires huge amounts of energy."

Content Management Challenges

Wherein does Marriott's challenges lie here? People, process and technology, Walsh told us.

While some desired features and capabilities are not supported by its current technology, Walsh said she focuses on how her organization uses its current technologies, and, she added, whether it uses them to deliver the right type of content and experience.

"So, yes, I believe some of the technologies we currently use may need to be replaced," she said. "But determining that is part of the process we are undertaking now."

Platforms in Walsh's world means a combination of technologies, not a single one or even a group provided by a single vendor.

"We have some work to do to in assessing the current software we use, what we use it for, how we use it, and whether it can help us meet digital goals," Walsh added.

State of the WCM/WEM Space

We asked Walsh about unmet challenges in the WCM/WEM space around multi-channel (device) support and if vendors want to close the gap.

Walsh hears and sees WCM feeding traditional web, mobile and occasionally email.

"It's as if," she said, "there is an artificial boundary because we've historically use the word 'web.'"

Vendors should acknowledge that content can and sometimes needs to be widely distributed and that creation of content abstract from presentation has value, she said.

"There has been a huge swing toward in-context editing, which has value, but in the right situations, not all situations," Walsh said. 

What Will Change for Marriott?

As it removes presentation from the CMS, most of Walsh's functional requirements (workflow management, version management, support for translated copies, reporting, etc) do not change, she said.

According to Walsh, key areas that require more scrutiny include: 

  • Content author experience. How do we make it easier for non-technical and casual authors to create, edit and publish content? Walsh said the move to in-context editing has been a direct response to years of complaints about "how awful content entry experiences have been." However, she added, she needs to balance having an understandable, usable content author experience with managing structured, presentation agnostic content. "There is natural tension between in-context editing and an adaptive content approach," Walsh said. "Many vendors are now offering dual-entry opportunities (traditional console + in-context), but that also requires you use that vendor's presentation layer. Pros and cons of that are part of a whole other conversation.
  • Extensibility of the CMS. Can the CMS easily interact with other technologies in our platform? Can we customize without risking our support contract or our site? How easy is the CMS to code against?
  • Distribution of content. "If we cannot build an API to deliver content to multiple channels both inside and outside our organization, then that CMS is of no use to me," Walsh said.

"No one has convinced me he can be my everything," Walsh said. "In fact, I've been told what I really want doesn't yet exist. That's disappointing." 

Where Does Adaptive Content Fit?

Adaptive Content (AC) empowers folks to build and deliver relevant experiences across multiple channels efficiently and at scale, Walsh said.

"Adaptive Content is about maximizing core, re-usable content and capabilities," she said. "By structuring content abstracted from a single presentation layer we can ensure consistency of messaging across many channels. We eliminate the need to create unique versions for every channel that needs to display that content. It also frees up our designers and developers to focus on building the experience based on known structure rather than trying to build structure to meet a design, which may only be relevant to one channel, and even one experience in that channel."

AC does require people to look at our content differently and to stop thinking in pages. Why? Not all channels have pages.

"By maximizing core, when there are exceptions or channel specific needs we can truly address them without negatively impacting other uses," Walsh said. "Adaptive Content also enables us to manage content across channels once -- rather than multiple variations in multiple systems multiple times. It helps us be better in speed-to-market, system hygiene, and creativity."

Is there a relationship between AC and Responsive Design? Walsh says yes, but that they are independent but supportive of each other.

"An organization can follow an AC approach without a responsive design website and vice versa," she said. "When used together, though, the value and use of your content is extended. Remember, responsive design is a web presentation construct. So, it addresses presentation layer issues, not content issues. Adaptive content addresses content management and distribution issues, not presentation." 

AC Business Drivers for Marriott?

AC can help Marriott keep up with the pace of change in the digital world and "maybe even get a wee bit ahead," Walsh said.

"We have an increasing number of channels and desire for similar content and capabilities," she added. "My goal is when the next device or channel appears, that Marriott can focus on building the best application layer experience because the core content will already be set up for use."

In the WCM world, it's all about cycles, Walsh said: distributed authorship to centralized, component content entry to general content entry, coupled content + presentation to decoupled.

"A huge challenge is finding the balance rather than swinging to the extremes," Walsh said. "Current trends in the tools seem to be to extremes. There is a long-overdue focus on the content author experience -- but the extreme has taken it to presentation specific, in context editing experiences."

Vendors say that just because you enter content in one context doesn't mean it can't be re-used in others.

"But," Walsh said, "it becomes easier to forget about re-use when you are focused on entering content in one specific channel. That mental challenge is a real one that seems unnecessary and is avoidable. I want to be able to create context-less content that goes beyond social, web, and mobile. WCM as an industry seems to be constantly following needs rather than defining them." 

People -- the Biggest Challenge?

So what about all the people behind these technology challenges?

Walsh said the two extremes in the people space are:

  • Content authoring is either miserable and unclear, therefore requiring technically inclined or fully dedicated people who can focus on nothing else
  • So simple "even a marketer can build content"

"Both extremes are rather insulting," Walsh said. "Content entry and authoring has a spectrum of complexity just like everything else. There are some tasks that can be made quite simple and anyone can take on and others that will require training, planning and specific skill. Which department you are in should not matter."

Adaptive content may provide clarity in building content, Walsh said, but it won't also be without complexity.

"Rather than thinking about content authoring as being always the same, identify different types of tasks and then try out different authoring approaches," Walsh said. "Learn what skills are needed, how much time is needed, and what level of governance is needed. Then look at organization and adapt accordingly. It won't be overnight, and it won't be painless. You may not end up making many changes at all. Don't assume change. Determine whether it’s needed before doing anything radical."