sdl tridion cms review What is Tridion? Or is it Trillian, Trideon or Tridian? What can we say, it’s tough being a Euro web content management vendor in the U.S. market. After conquering most of Europe, SDL Tridion started its Web CMS quest in the U.S. in 2006 with their flagship CMS product -- Tridion R5 -- an offering that has received accolades from such critics as analyst firm, Gartner. R5 comes with a myriad of standard Web CMS features, like inline editing using SiteEdit and some unique functionality such as the Translation Manager. This Quick Take Review is an overview of SDL Tridion R5.2 with a detailed summary, full of "meat," at the tail end of this article.

SDL Tridion R5 Basics

Vendor Name: SDL Tridion Product Name: SDL Tridion R5 Product Category: Enterprise Web CMS Typical Scenario: SDL Tridion R5 is typically a choice for multilingual and marcomm websites

Company & Product History

SDL Tridion -- simply “Tridion” at the time-- was founded in 1999 and is headquartered in Amsterdam, Netherlands, with offices in the UK, France, Germany, Belgium, Spain and Sweden. In 2007, Tridion was acquired for €69 million by SDL, a leading provider of Global Information Management (GIM) solutions. The oldest version of the product is R3, as far as anyone can remember. It was followed by a number of new releases, including the latest R5.3 that was launched at the end of 2007. Its most commonly used predecessor is R5.2 SP1. However, some customers, who have to date been unwilling to brave the upgrade pains, are still running on R4. SDL Tridion’s strengths lie in multilingual/multi-site support using the product’s BluePrinting feature. Tridion R5 is recognized as leading Content Management Solution by Forrester, Butler and Gartner. R5 separates Content Management from Content Delivery. Content management products include: * Content Manager Explorer -- main interface * SiteEdit -- inline editing interface * WebDAV Connector -- access to content via Windows Explorer * Word Connector -- allows users to create content in MS Word Content Delivery products include: * Presentation Servers -- machines where published content resides * Dynamic Content Broker -- assembles dynamic pages Additionally, there’s a range of such tools as: * Archive Manager * Content Porter * Business Connector * Content Distributor

Market & Pricing

SDL Tridion R5’s target market is mostly concentrated around interactive marketing, marketing and communications sites and global enterprises with multiple language support requirements.

Price Range

Given the fact that SDL Tridion’s pricing model can be very complex, it is hard to pinpoint a typical deal price. It may vary greatly depending on the package, which at the very least includes three environments (development, test and production), several Presentation Servers, Content Broker, Content Porter and named user licenses -- for content authors, developers, system administrators, etc. The license also specifies a limit on the number of CPUs on each machine where the product is installed and features like BluePrint depth, Complex Schema support, binary document search support and Workflow support. And this is without optional modules like multilingual interfaces, Communications Statistics, Word Connector, Translation Manager or WebForms. There are about a dozen of language packs you can add to your package, including Japanese, Spanish, Dutch, German, French and others -- all with native spell-checkers. Customer support, new releases and maintenance fees are usually around 20% of the entire package price and are charged annually. Depending on the time of a given fiscal year, you can expect to cash out anywhere from US$ 80,000 to … sky is the limit. Locating a sales representative should be easy, as there are several SDL Tridion sales offices in APAC, EMEA, North America, South Africa, etc. The highly recommended engagement of SDL Tridion Professional Services for technical training and implementation support will cost you another “penny,” depending on the level of your consultant’s expertise and the length of engagement. Braving your way through a typical tech training module will take about five full days.

Partner Network

Numerous implementation partners worldwide include: * Accenture * Capgemini * HintTech * Siteworx For a complete list, go here.

Customers

There are around 500 SDL Tridion customers in the world, including big shots like Ricoh, Lexus, Toyota, KLM, Canon, Renault, Alitalia, Emirates Airlines and Scania. Their North American customer base includes AIG, MetLife and Hanley Wood, among others.

Product Root / Original Business Problem

For a European vendor located on the crossroads of various countries speaking different languages, it was a logical choice for Tridion in its early days to concentrate on the localization and globalization sides of web content management. Since the emergence of Internet as a global communication tool, there evolved a need for technology that could facilitate localization and better cross-market, global communication. Corporate branding strategy often required the message and look-and-feel consistency for corporate websites spread out around the world (e.g., Toyota, KLM). This is where Tridion found its niche and developed a product with strong localization support through the CMS and the BluePrinting technology that facilitates sharing and re-use of common content and design elements across multiple sites. Soon after the acquisition by SDL, the company released Translation Manager v2.0 in 2008. This product integrates with SDL Translation Management System (SDL TMS) and the SDL Tridion R5 CMS, enabling users to send content stored in the R5’s Content Manager to SDL TMS for translation.

Key Features and Ratings

Here, we will outline the key features of SDL Tridion R5. In each section, you will find product ratings between 1 and 5 -- 1 being poor and 5 being excellent. For a summary of features and ratings, refer to the Review Summary section at the end.

Product Core Technology

Rating: 3/5 SDL Tridion R5 works in both Microsoft .NET and Java/J2EE environments via WebServices using the SOAP protocol. APIs: SDL Tridion R5 supports Java and COM APIs. The latter is actually TOM (Tridion Object Model), based on COM. In 1999, it was all Perl. Databases: Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server and IBM DB2 Platforms: UNIX, J2EE or Microsoft .NET, IBM WebSphere, BEA WebLogic and Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS) Supported browsers: Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0+ and 7.0+ Languages and protocols: * VBScript, XSLT, JavaScript, J2EE * Static and dynamic HTML, JSP, ASP and ASP .NET pages and/or XML/XSLT fragments * Several protocols are supported, including FTP, SFTP, HTTP and HTTPS.

Content Entities

Rating: 3/5 SDL Tridion’s famous Building Blocks represent the core of this WCM solution. Building Blocks are Component and Page Templates, Component Presentations, Components, Pages and Schemas. r5-building-blocks.jpg
SDL Tridion R5 Building Blocks

Content authors usually create Components based on certain Schemas (which define permissible content fields), followed by combining those Components with appropriate Component Templates, thus, creating Component Presentations. newEvent.jpg
Creating a new Component in R5

A Page may contain several Component Presentations. Every Page requires an appropriate Page Template in order to be rendered properly. There are two types of Components: Components storing text and links and Multimedia Components handling binaries (.jpg, .gif, .swf, .doc, etc.) Pages are created in Structure Groups (i.e., a website sections) in a corresponding Publication (i.e., website). As you can see, all this terminology alone may have the “deer in the headlights” effect on content authors and developers alike. As a result, it takes time for users to get used to the complex hierarchy of Tridion terms. R5 comes with a set of default Page and Component Templates, which, most likely, won’t be useful, as customized Page and Component Templates will need to be developed to fit the layout and code of your particular website. While tagging is not the strongest suit of SDL Tridion R5, certain metadata -- so crucial to SEO and internal searchability and findability of items -- can usually be handled either on the Structure Group/Page level, or through embeddable metadata Schemas. While the Building Blocks technology can be great for managing content, there are some pitfalls. Some users find it daunting while working with a big number of Building Blocks, when assembling a Page that can contain anywhere from one to thousands of Components. Try to keep it simple. The “Where Used” feature shows content dependencies in one or several Publications. From the development standpoint, all Schemas and Templates are created in a development environment and then transferred to test and production environments, using the tool called Content Porter, where they become available to end-users. Oh, Content Porter… This one deserves separate attention. We’ll get back to you later in this review.

Content Versioning

Rating: 3/5 R5’s Versioning is quite simplistic and can be used for two things: to view History and to Compare. The History feature provides data on all modifications on an item (user names and timestamps are included). Using the Compare tool, you can see the exact changes -- highlighted in various colors -- made to an item by comparing any two versions. VersionCompare.jpg
Versioning control in R5

Workflow

Rating: 3/5 R5’s Workflow engine is pretty standard. The basic flow is Ready for Editing – Ready for Publishing, with the ability to modify and add other levels of approval. You can create and customize your Workflow in MS Visio armed with a Tridion plug-in and define your specific approval requirements. r5-workflow.jpg
R5 Workflow in Visio If you want to go further, there are additional modules (at an extra price, of course) that allow for inline and e-mail notifications. The standard, out-of-the-box version includes commentary capabilities. Tridion’s Event System can also be used to introduce a number of automatic (vs. manual) activities in the content management process. According to SDL Tridion, the newest product version -- R5.3 -- offers the new and improved Workflow capabilities described as giving you a “greater control over your workflow processes with more tools for website contributors to monitor and ensure the quality of their corporate communication, branding and marketing messaging.” R5’s Workflow is natively integrated into the GUI, which makes it easy to track where the content items are, providing a good bit of transparency to users. R5’s Workflow can also be integrated with Microsoft Outlook allowing a user to perform various activities from his/her inbox.

Multilingual Support

Rating: 4/5 This area is probably the strongest suit of SDL Tridion R5. Following the acquisition by SDL, Tridion can now offer new localization tools. With Translation Manager (TM), customers can set up that a TM for a certain Publication and specify target languages, as well as use Workflow to specify the translation process, as illustrated below. translation.jpg
R5 Translation Process For each translation process customers can set up a number of criteria, such as which translation agency to use. When properly configured, clients can initiate a translation in one or all Child Publications using Translation Manager, which will prompt a translation job creation at a chosen agency. Translation jobs can be seen in the GUI right below the Publishing Queue. From the translation jobs list you can send the job to the TMS (Translation Management System) and check the status of your translation. Translation Manager is supported by Tridion R5.2, R5.2 SP1, R5.3 and TMCS 1.3 SP1. A note on localization: It may be painful, but if you want to localize a Publication you have to localize every Component/folder in it.

Editorial Features

Rating: 3/5 If you set aside the hurdles outlined above (and below), SDL Tridion R5 can be very popular with content editors. Depending on the implementation, it can be quite easy to manage online content. There’s version comparison and roll-back, which doesn’t seem to be used often by content authors. The system is so complex, that in, most cases, content authors end up using the most basic features of SDL Tridion R5 to author content. r5-gui.jpg
R5 GUI R5’s inline editing tool -- SiteEdit -- is magical, when configured properly. In addition to that, you can enhance your out-of-the-box R5’s Workflow to the point where it can actually be helpful and send e-mail notifications. Tridion COM API is available to customers and is used often, with varying degrees of success, to allow for better usability and implementation flexibility. Integrations with third-party software packages such as Google Enterprise Search and online metrics suites like WebTrends and Omniture can be almost painless. R5’s digital asset repository is managed through Multimedia Components that can store major binary extensions, which can be configured per your requirements. R5-dig-asset-mgmt.jpg
R5 digital asset management

One of the weakest editorial points of the SDL Tridion WCM solution is the lack of Web 2.0 preparedness. It is not the best tool if you are into such “fancy” Web 2.0 trends as video feeds, RSS, blogs, comments and tagging. The product is not very well-suited for almost any kind of user-generated content. And even the closest possible solution, SDL Tridion WebForms, is a module that is far from being usable. Communication Statistics Chronically problematic on the back-end side, Tridion Communication Statistics module provides in-site views of how your content is doing. Business folks can track how their content is performing by viewing web pages with stats graphs on it in a staging environment. Communication Statistics is the most fascinating part of any SDL Tridion sales demo. Graphs and color overlays show comparisons of content in its popularity contest. r5-com-stats.jpg
R5 Communications Statistics

SiteEdit One of the most user-friendly inline editing interfaces on the WCM market, R5’s SiteEdit is a popular CM interface for non-technical users used to perform simple actions like re-arranging content blocks, adding new content, editing existing content and spell-check. siteedit.jpg
R5 SiteEdit

Personalization and Profiling R5’s Personalization and Profiling module (which used to be called WAI) is aimed to create personalized web sites and web pages catering to specific audiences. It works with both explicit and implicit profiles, ensuring that content is personalized based on information that visitors have provided.

Content Delivery Architecture

Rating: 4/5 R5’s Content Delivery is mainly based on two products: Presentation Servers and Dynamic Content Broker. In addition, there are other modules that are part of Content Delivery, including Dynamic Linking, Personalization and Profiling, Content Distributor and Content Deployer. The separation of Content Delivery from Content Management ensures that only approved content goes outside the firewall. Delivery of both dynamic and static content is possible, using either the Dynamic Content Broker or the Presentation Server approach. Dynamic Content Broker assembles pages containing dynamic content based on configurable queries. Content Broker’s API is public and can be used to retrieve published content using custom built applications. On the static side, Content Delivery System (CDS) distributes published content from the Content Manager to Presentation Servers, where it is stored in either a file system or a relational database. r5-content-delivery.jpg
Basic R5 Content Delivery architecture

Presentation Servers also manage R5’s Dynamic Linking feature responsible for resolving and rendering of links between published content items. Architecturally, SDL Tridion usually recommends a four-tier setup, which they call DTAP (development > test > acceptance > production), as illustrated in the graphic below. r5-dtap-architecture.jpg
R5 DTAP setup

All environments, with a possible exception of test/acceptance, require a dedicated machine. Content Porter is a Windows client used to import and export code, content and other items from one environment to another (up and down the chain). Content Porter can connect to any OLEDB or ODBC data sources. A note on Content Porter: many sysadmins think of it as the worst nightmare, with cryptic errors, lack of flexibility, inability to cope with complex dependencies and endless e-mail chains with customer support. It is also a known fact that this tool, which can be very wise and sophisticated, needs to be run at least a couple of times before you approach something resembling success. It may be useful to know that when you publish content, you are likely to publish to several different targets. For one, it’s preprod and prod (think licensing costs here!). Most organizations have IT infrastructures with web farms of several web servers, i.e., several Presentation Servers (think licensing $$$ again). The unlimited Content Delivery license may be your way to go in this scenario.

R5.3 Features

As we’ve noted previously, the latest version of the product was released at the end of 2007 and boasts several innovative enhancements with an eye to marketing/communication and developer needs: * Enhanced workflow -- A more transparent way of tracking activities is introduced, as approval statuses are displayed in the list views of items. Multiple workflow activities are better supported, allowing users to work simultaneously on multiple content items. * Modular templating -- The new templating framework separates various Template Building Blocks, making it easier to assemble various pieces of code, design and functionality into new modular templates. Developers can work in either Dreamweaver or Visual Studio and debug Template Building Blocks right in the Template Builder diminishing the number of errors. * Additional platform support -- R5.3 provides UNIX support and Content Delivery on UNIX and Java platforms, along with new public .NET and TOM.NET API’s. Additionally, Windows Vista and Windows Internet Explorer 7 are supported. * Visual BluePrinting -- Visual BluePrinting provides content authors with a more transparent grasp of relationships between content items that are shared between different Publications. More on R5.3 can be found here.

Our Take, In Summary

Here’s a summary table of the review:
FeatureDescriptionRating
Core Technology.NET, Java/J2EE, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, Unix, VBScript, XSLT, JavaScript, SOAP, ASP .NET3/5
Content EntitiesBuilding Blocks, multimedia support, SEO support, can be intricate when going into dependency levels.3/5
Content VersioningFairly basic, meets average requirements for content managers.3/5
WorkflowConfigurable, optional e-mail notifications, comments3/5
Multilingual SupportA strong point for the product. Native integration with a Workflow and Translation System is optionally supported.4/5
Editorial FeaturesGood usability, poor Web 2.0 support, content previewing, good metadata support, spell-check, digital asset repository3/5
Content Delivery ArchitectureVery complex, configurable, scalable4/5

Product Strengths

* End-user friendly * Ideal for marketing-oriented sites * CRM, e-mail campaigns and analytics support * Strong multi-lingual/globalization support

Product Weaknesses

* (Still) relatively weak support in the U.S. * Steep learning curve for developers * Inflexible back-end requirements * Questionable in efficiency modules

Summary

While it may seem that this review brings up many of the SDL Tridion R5’s weaknesses, the goal here is to provide information otherwise unavailable to potential customers. All the praises and accolades can be found on SDL Tridion’s web site under the Products section, where the agenda is understandably rather different from ours. In the development world, if we were to hold a contest on the most annoying Tridion error message, we probably wouldn’t be able to decide between the wonderful in their randomness “null is null and not an object” and “object doesn’t support this property or method” messages. Some developers working with R5 are often disappointed with the (un)available developer tools. However, this impression may change as more and more organizations adopt the new R5.3 version’s Modular Templating. Also, let’s not forget about Powertools, a set of often helpful R5-related cool gadgets, which are explicitly and officially not supported by SDL Tridion but were developed by internal R5 enthusiasts. Other geeky complaints include the lack of good documentation, online community support and a regular developer Joe’s ability to decipher mysterious error messages that Tridion throws out. Some developers also point out that Tridion R5 is not the easiest CMS product to integrate with up-to-date technology, including AJAX, .NET controls, third-party controls and web services. Another thing to keep in mind is that for developers learning the product it will be a steep learning curve and very little support. SDL Tridion’s “Achilles’ heel” in the U.S. is clearly the fact that knowledgeable Tridion experts in the U.S. are rare and hard to find. Having said that, be prepared for a possibly long and stormy implementation route. To SDL Tridion’s credit, the company’s Customer Support and Professional Services divisions in the U.S. are constantly expanding. But, realistically, it takes about 2 years to ramp up a new consultant to the point where he/she is billable and useful to customers. Aside from the fact that a web-browser based and very PC-centric CMS that is only compatible with Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0+ and 7.0+ (and even then, it requires substantial configuration), Tridion R5 is a great Web CMS product, especially when it’s compatible with your IT infrastructure and business goals. No, R5 doesn’t work on Mac’s -- don’t even try. Firefox is out of the question as well. It’s IE and IE only, and don’t forget about Trusted Sites! Overall, SDL Tridion R5 is a well-rounded Web CMS. This is especially true if you have time to devote to a proper deployment and good acquisition and implementation budgets in addition to a team of dedicated IT folks who are quick learners. It can be pure magic, when implemented properly.