The web content management feature matrix can be a useful tool, if you use it wisely. Here's how.

Web CMS Requirements Matrix Defined

If you've ever had to evaluate a solution then you probably know what a requirements matrix is. Typically in the form of a spreadsheet, it is a list of capabilities -- or requirements -- a given product or service needs to have for you to consider it. 

The capabilities are listed, usually by high level category, down the first column on the left. Across the top, you can list the various vendor solutions you are evaluating. In the middle, you start marking which requirements the solution meets, making notes if necessary.

In some cases, the requirements matrix is used as a grading tool, where a team of business and technical users vote (between say 1 and 5) on how good a vendor meets each requirement.

Sample Section of WCM Requirements Matrix

Components of a Typical Matrix

A WCM Matrix generally has a number of categories including:

  • Content Entities: This area concern the root format of content in the system (i.e., is it a page or item); what content types are available out of the box and are they customizable; the ability to add new content types and metadata; how you can reuse content; how is rich media content handled etc.
  • Taxonomy Features: Is there support for tagging, can you have more than one tagging/taxonomy model, is there support for categorization, etc.
  • Versioning: Is content versioned, versioning structure, can you view previous versions (including side by side redlining review), revert to a previous version, is there versioning for a complete site and more.
  • Workflow: Is workflow supported? What workflows come out of the box, can you create custom workflows, are there notifications/alerts, can you have parallel workflow (i.e., sending content to print and translation at the same time).
  • Multilingual Support: Is there support for multiple languages, is there a default language (which is displayed if the requested language is not available), can the CMS be localized, etc.
  • Editorial Features: How can content be created (WYSIWYG editor, in-content editing, MS Office), spell checker, adding images and other media to content, work queues, what browsers and mobile devices are supported, is there desktop integration?
  • Social Media/Web 2.0 Integration: What Web 2.0 features are built in? Comments, tagging, user generated content, support for blogs, wikis, social networking, forums, etc.. What 3rd party vendor solutions are integrated (including widgets and/or complete solutions).

In addition to these important considerations, you also need to assess the WCM on technical points, such as the core technologies used (Java, PHP, ASP.NET), ability customize the system and presentation (availability of APIs, etc), templates and theming available and the content delivery architecture (caching models, technical architecture, etc.).

Creating Your Custom Requirements Matrix

The WCM requirements categories listed above are general -- they are not specific to any WCM nor to the needs of any particular organization. What you have to do is understand how the WCM solution you select must function in order to fit your specific requirements, and then create your own version of the matrix.  This task is not easy for a couple of reasons.

First, if you are not experienced in web content management, then you are probably not the best person to to define your WCM requirements. You may have no idea if it matters if your content is created as a web page or an item. You also may not know if caching is really important or not. You'll need to find the right people to provide input.

Second, you may think you know what you need and so you create your matrix to fit those needs. However, when evaluating vendors, you learn about other ways to do things, or other things you can do with a WCM solution that aren't on your matrix.

What do you do then? Every vendor has a different pitch, which always includes what they believe are a number of differentiators. This can make your evaluation process difficult at best.

So what do you do?

The Requirements Matrix as an Internal Tool

Some would tell you to throw away the requirements matrix completely, but we don't agree. There are some good ways to use this matrix that make it a beneficial tool longer term.

Internal Research

The WCM Requirements Matrix is great for initial research, prior to vendor presentations. Create a base matrix based on common functionality. You can find this by looking at just about any WCM vendor website or analyst research requirements matrix. Don't build this matrix based on your requirements, this is not about your needs yet.

Take this initial matrix and start doing your own web based research on a number of WCM vendors. Be prepared to update the matrix with additional functionality as you find it (like we said, every vendor tends to be a little different). To get two very different perspectives on capabilities, have both a technical and business analyst do the research, covering the same vendors.