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Nothing stirs a good tech conversation like Web Content Management Systems (Web CMS).

Some think it's time to get back to basics. Everyone has a say on who has the best CMS out there. And people watch this industry pretty closely -- especially on merger and acquisition talks.

But this is a technology. And enterprises need it to do their jobs better -- and make websites look fabulous while managing content.

So what is the most important feature in a Web CMS? We put this question out to some Web CMS veterans today in our latest Discussion Point.

By the way, this closes out our 2014 season of Discussion Point pieces. Check out prior ones. Got a great topic for 2015? Tweet us @cmswire.

The Question

What's the most important feature in a Web CMS?

The Answers

David Aponovich, senior director of digital experience, Acquia

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Aponovich helps Acquia articulate the business and technical value of Drupal and the Acquia platform. Before joining Acquia in 2014, he was a senior analyst at Forrester Research, where he researched web CMS and digital experience platforms and consulted with Forrester’s global clients on web CMS and digital transformation. He spent six years as a CMS consultant at ISITE Design, a digital agency, and was previously marketing director at a CMS software company. Tweet to David Aponovich.

Expect openness above all. Your web content management system should integrate with other technology systems to support your digital experiences. I’m talking about integration between CMS and marketing technology, like analytics and email marketing and a multitude of other tools that are part of a broad ecosystem of software.

CMS is key to delivering content-rich interactive experiences, but it can’t and shouldn’t do everything. Similarly, one vendor can’t do it all – Forrester Research and others recently debunked the myth that buyers want or need a singular CMS-based “marketing cloud” that offers everything, plus the kitchen sink. It’s a nice vision from vendors, but it’s not realistic for buyers for a lot of reasons: high cost, high complexity and low integration maturity.

The grandiose visions feel a little like Enterprise Content Management all over again. Remember that? A decade ago, software firms pushed a holistic vision for all-in-one platform for document management, records management, archiving, business process management, and -- oh, by the way -- web content management. These systems crumbled under the weight of complexity and the misalignment of disparate users with disparate use cases. It didn’t make sense; many companies paid significant costs to learn it wasn’t going to work for them.

That’s why open integration is so critical, because, in reality, we’re in a post-feature-war world in CMS. Buyers grasp that most content management systems provide similar core capabilities, and that the real differentiators are outside the traditional feature list, assembled on a business by business basis to address the unique needs of the company and its market.

Open integration means taking an approach that goes beyond the standalone CMS paradigm of the last 20 years. It recognizes that for most enterprises, what we used to call “web site management” is now the pivot of most tech stacks. Today, the challenge is to view CMS in the context of digital experience delivery, which needs to bridge the back office systems to the front end of desktops, tablets and smartphones. More simply -- your digital experience management system needs to bridge your legacy systems, embrace your preferred point solutions, and get them on the glass in a model that thinks forward to the future.

A CMS helps you thrive and transform, when it is easy to connect it with third-party content sources, and data repositories that contain detailed customer information, like your CRM and customer profiles, to drive better personalization and visitor engagement.

Patricia Eagan, digital communications and technology consultant

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Eagan has spent the past 20 years evolving with the web and the digital world. She became involved with CMS from its early days and continues to follow its trends. After working in several organizations heading up digital communications and multiple web redesigns and CMS implementations, she decided to share her experiences with others. She now works as a group moderator and consultant at J. Boye and is also a principal consultant at Digital Guidance. Tweet to Patricia Eagan.

At year end you always see a proliferation of tweets touting the 10 best or top 10 whatever in a certain field or trend. So when asked to name what I considered was the best CMS feature, I thought, “How do you pick just one feature as the best”?

The answer is simple, in my opinion -- there is no one best that fits all. Now this answer may seem to be a way of avoiding the question, but here is why I say this. When looking at the features offered in a CMS there are many standard features that are essential to most customers such as user-friendly interface, editing tools and social media integration.

But the best CMS feature is the one that best addresses the business needs of the organization in managing their content. If a company is serving a global market, then for them the best feature may be strong translational capabilities for multilingual support. For a research organization that I worked with their best feature was an editor that supported copy and paste of content with scientific notations with no additional editing required.

If you really want to focus on what is the most critical feature set, with today’s emphasis on content strategy, then it would it be the control one has over content. Content structure and modeling, content reuse and separation of content from design become key aspects of how content is managed through the CMS.

In the early days, the editing capabilities of a CMS may have been the best feature; today this is standard. But how content can actually be managed to support the organization’s content strategy and thus their business goals should be the best feature of a content management system. But how effectively this is supported by the current CMS platforms is a question to be explored at another time.

Ali Alkhafaji, director of technology, chief architect at Virtusa

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Alkhafaji has been working in the customer experience management world for more than 10 years, where he has developed a breadth of knowledge and experience in WCM, mobile, social, digital, marketing, eCommerce, portal, document management and UX technologies. Recently, he has focused on the insurance and healthcare industries, where his clients include Fortune 500 companies. Alkhafaji has spent the past eight years teaching and conducting research. Currently, he is finalizing his PhD dissertation on Artificial Intelligence at DePaul University. Tweet to Ali Alkhafaji.

It is quite difficult to narrow down the most important features of a CMS into one most important feature, especially in a vacuum. To some organizations, omni-channel delivery is an absolute must and no solution can be complete without the robust ability to deliver content to mobile and tablet users. Others have a business model that is dictated by internationalization and localization and having to compromise on a solution without this specific feature isn't an option. Similarly, security might be a deal breaker for a financial institution while eCommerce might be one for a retailer.

Bottom line is, the most important feature is highly dependent on the use case and business model.

Having said all that, every CMS selection activity I performed ended up with the same set of the usual suspects (regardless of the client's requirements). This is true because the out-of-the-box feature set of a CMS and its customizability are two generic (and rare) must-haves for any solution. Any organization would expect a large set of OOTB features like omni-channel delivery, internationalization and localization, workflows, permissions, base templates and components, tagging, notifications, rich text editor, etc. Also, it is one thing to say this tool has a large set of OOTB features and another to celebrate and promote the usability and robustness of those features.

However, no matter how rich the OOTB feature set offered by a CMS, the biggest effort associated with any implementation is based on customization. No organization would use every OOTB feature as is and no solution OOTB feature set can satisfy all requirements for an organization, which is why customization is crucial. CMS tools must be easily customizable without rendering the solution "too custom" to be maintained or upgraded.

Jeff Cram, co-founder, chief strategy officer, ISITE Design

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Cram co-founded the digital agency ISITE Design and publishes the CMS Myth, a blog about making content management work. In his role as chief strategy officer he helps guide the agency's strategic direction and services which includes consulting with organizations on how to be successful with large-scale content management programs. Tweet to Jeff Cram.

There's been a "feature explosion" in web content management as CMS vendors have repositioned and expanded into broader marketing and experience platforms. While well intentioned, these new capabilities often help sell more product, but don't always address actual user needs.

As we head into 2015, it's time to pump the breaks on bolting on more features that check RFP boxes, and spend more time making the platforms we have work better for the people who actually use them.

I see enormous pent up demand for features that better support the author experience -- solutions more purpose-built for specific publishing scenarios. Many enterprise CMS platforms were founded on the premise they can do anything with enough customization and configuration -- which they can -- but don't often support the needed task-based publishing scenarios. As an industry, we talk about ease of use in an abstract sense, but rarely get specific about what actually makes a CMS easy to use.

With a focus on improving author experience, I'd like to see features that continue to help improve publishing tools for creating, previewing and managing multi-channel content. I would also like to see better integrated capabilities for editorial planning and team collaboration around content. We see innovation in this area from smaller point solutions, but larger incumbent CMS platforms seem reluctant (or slow) to invest in features that actually help people plan, organize and distribute content.

Mostly I'd like to see more of a user experience-driven mindset that drives the prioritization of features. There's so much exciting innovation and R&D happening, but vendors often have deep engineering teams with anemic design and experience talent. The most important feature in a web content management system may very well be the one that vendors say no to shipping in the first place.