The SharePoint 2010 release is just around the corner and there's been a lot of chatter about SharePoint’s new capabilities -- especially those relating to web content management. Given SharePoint 2007's weakness in the Web CMS area people are naturally curious how the 2010 release stacks-up. In this article, I peel the onion on the new SharePoint web content management capabilities, and how the product might serve your organization’s strategic web objectives.

SharePoint 2010's Core Capabilities

Let's begin our discussion by reviewing, at a very high level, what specific business problems SharePoint was meant to solve.

Microsoft designed SharePoint as a collaboration platform to address specific business needs, such as collaboration, secure portals, data integration, document management, records management, search and discovery, etc. Further to this, the platform offers robust APIs, which allow extension of the base platform to third party solutions that address specific business needs for corporations in the mid to enterprise markets.

SharePoint is generally viewed in the market as an Enterprise Content Management platform with enriched web editing capabilities. It also offers some capacity for consistent branding and layouts across the organization.

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Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Core Components

What's New In SharePoint 2010?

SharePoint 2010 is being bundled with a lot of new features and capabilities. In this article we will focus on the capabilities that add value for an organization considering using SharePoint 2010 for their website. For the complete list of new capabilities please visit Microsoft's SharePoint portal site.

User Experience Improvements

The Microsoft SharePoint team has finally added the popular ribbon editing control to the platform. This makes content editing easy and more intuitive for end users. SharePoint will also support inline editing with the new release. The AJAX enabled editing experience will greatly enhance the user experience on the SharePoint platform.

Editor's Note: Also read: 8 Ways Web Content Management has Improved in SharePoint 2010

Improved Taxonomy, Metadata

Keeping in line with the growing need for well-structured taxonomy on a website, SharePoint 2010 now includes Managed Meta Data Services that allows the creation and management of Meta tags across multiple sites.

Editor's Note: For more information on Metadata in SharePoint 2010, read: Overview: SharePoint 2010 Metadata and Taxonomy Management and Jeff Carr's series starting with: SharePoint 2010: Using Taxonomy & Controlled Vocabulary for Content Enrichment.

Audience Targeting

Meta data tagged content can be further used to dynamically position content for the site audience, using the new Audience Object Model. Audience objects will allow us to target specific content to the target visitor segment thereby making their experience on your site more effective. We believe this is a great feature for content re-purposing and will enhance usability experience, especially for e-Publication sites or the resource section of any site.

Multilingual Improvements

A lot of organizations now manage multilingual content on their sites. This adds to complexity in business processes as they struggle to keep all sites up to date. Microsoft SharePoint offers an elegant solution to the problem by introducing notification capabilities that tell you what has changed from the source page. This is done right in the AJAX ribbon control on the content page.

Compliance with Standards

All content edited in the new SharePoint HTML editor will be standards compliant and should greatly reduce the amount of effort required to enable viewing content across different browsers, operating systems and devices.

Reusable Workflows

Inline with the regulatory and compliance needs, SharePoint now offers reusable workflows. Choose between simple (serial) or sophisticated (parallel) workflows to suit your organization's content approval needs. Organizations can also build custom workflows, to suit their unique business needs using Visio 2010 that can be imported into the SharePoint Designer 2010. Using the new Visio Services, SharePoint now offers workflow visualization allowing end users to visually track where they are in the workflow process.

Web Analytics

SharePoint also offers inbuilt web analytics to understand how your website may be performing. It shows the regular KPIs (key performance indicators) for website monitoring -- like number of unique visitors, total traffic on site, top destinations on your site, top referrers, etc.

Search Insights

The most exciting feature includes search insights -- it allows for monitoring what visitors are searching on your site, what your top search queries are, which search queries are failing etc. The search insight can be used to fine tune the content, meta tags on your site to enhance user discovery and experience.

All in all, the new Microsoft SharePoint 2010 seems to offer everything a web content management platform should support to manage a public facing site.

Strategic Website Objectives

Websites have evolved over the years. Organizations are increasingly using corporate websites as a strategic channel instead of a tactical brochure site it was for so many years.  Let's review some of the strategic website objectives in the mid market segment that business (marketers) are trying to achieve.

For the sake of making a business case for web content management, I have divided the objectives into tangible (impacting revenue and cost savings) and intangible (impacting processes, regulation and compliance) categories.

Tangible Objectives

  1. Enable the corporate website as a source of new sales leads.
  2. Allow customer self-service -- thereby eliminating the need for elaborate customer service budget (resources + infrastructure).
  3. Centralize the content life cycle across all digital assets -- allowing for a skeleton operating team to maintain multiple sites -- typical across all organizations now.
  4. Optimize IT bandwidth (and budget) -- by transferring website ownership to marketers. This move will allow organizations to focus IT and capital resources for other strategic initiatives.

Intangible Objectives

  1. Use website to promote thought leadership with the target audience -- This will help create sustainable strategic advantage that competition cannot copy easily.
  2. Enable content owners (marketers and subject matter experts) to own the complete lifecycle of the content -- instead of relying on IT to roll-out content on their schedule.
  3. Manage the complete life cycle of the content -- creation, approval, updating and content re-purposing -- without any coding effort.
  4. Better serve and manage multilingual content across all digital assets.
  5. Adhere to complex regulatory and compliance needs without creating bottlenecks in the approval process.

Next, let's compare SharePoint against the leading CMS platforms to see how they compare to best address the above listed website objectives.

SharePoint vs. Web CMS Platforms

As CMSWire readers know, not all CMS platforms are created equal. Some products are more mature than others in certain capabilities. However, they all provide general CMS capabilities in one way or another.

For the purpose of this article, I am considering a generic set of capabilities across CMS platforms that have been identified by research firms as the best of breed in the mid market segment.

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As illustrated in the above images, the SharePoint 2010 platform provides a rich set of capabilities that competes with the leading content management platforms. In areas where it lacks out-of-the-box capability, SharePoint will require varying degree of customization to fulfill the strategic objective.

For SharePoint, one of the biggest challenges and in my opinion perhaps the most important one with respect to the web content management initiatives, is the extensive dependency on IT resources. I expect SharePoint 2010 to continue maintenance under the IT wing, post deployment, and that means longer time to market, slow enhancements resulting in slower penetration and adoption amongst the business users.

Next, let's review some of the capabilities offered by the leading CMS platforms that enable them to differentiate themselves from SharePoint 2010.

Web CMS Competitors' Edge

CMS Platforms have evolved over the years from a basic website editing tool to managing the day-to-day tasks that enable a strategic edge for an organization.

CMS platforms are best positioned in the marketer's toolbox. They allow marketers to position the right message, to the right audience, in the right context, on all devices, in multiple languages, across multiple networks, in the shortest timeframe with limited or no IT involvement, both during and after initial implementation, at a low initial and total cost of ownership.

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Web CMS Capabilities

The leading CMS platforms provide all the necessary tools to enable marketer's to do their job easily and efficiently. Capabilities like Multi-Variant Testing, Lead Scoring, Content Targeting, Multi-site and multi-device deployments, DAM (Digital Asset Management) capabilities, Ease of administration, Low upfront cost and even lower total cost of ownership set CMS platforms in the leader's corner of the web content management space.

In my opinion, the real edge for CMS platforms is their success at end user adoption. In the web content management world, as is the case with the enterprise content management systems as well, "adoption = success".

We have all seen our fair share of disappointments due to lack of end user adoption in various implementations. The leading CMS platforms do a fabulous job in making their systems easy to use by end users. With little training, I have seen business users (marketers) use and manage the CMS platforms to manage big, complex websites. Given everyone's experience with adoption failures in previous SharePoint initiatives, we should be looking out for ease of adoption in the new SharePoint 2010 platform.

SharePoint 2010 Recap

SharePoint 2010 is bundled with great new capabilities that will allow for new ways to share documents and collaborate on corporate intranets and secure portals. The new web content management capabilities will offer an opportunity to employ SharePoint capabilities for corporate websites. The platform will offer exceptional integration with the corporate intranet site, especially for organizations that need to push intranet specific content out to the public sites -- for example higher education vertical.

SharePoint will continue to serve as a rich platform that can scale to serve organization objectives given we allocate enough time and budgetary resources for the initiative.

Recommendations

In closing, I would recommend the following if you are planning a new website initiative:

  1. List your strategic website objectives. Make sure you are considering both tangible and intangible objectives.
  2. Map your strategic objectives to the available technology platforms to determine which platform will get the job done --
    1. Efficiently
    2. In a timely manner
    3. At a reasonable price point
    4. Is easy to adopt by the end user and easy to administer
    5. Will enable your business user (marketer) to manage website content to create sustainable strategic differentiators in your competitive landscape
  3. Do keep in mind the long term TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) of your website initiative 'cause your needs will change and evolve as you become more strategic and sophisticated with using your website as a strategic channel for your organization.