There has been a lot of discussion recently about which CMS products offer the best Web experience management (WEM) functionality. But what can be more critical than product features is the person implementing them. Getting the right WEM integrator means asking some important questions first.

Whether you call it web experience management or web engagement management, WEM is important, both because it is an effective means of achieving a wide range of online business goals and because there is a lot of difficult-to-judge variation in WEM feature-functionality between products. 

Some platforms are “configurable,” while other products offer basic WEM through not-too-complex customization options. Still others, by contrast, demand intensive customization and rely heavily upon the creative vision of developers.

That said, bleeding-edge WEM (which is what most folks refer to when they use the term “WEM”) is really a customized affair from soup to nuts. In the real world -- not the one described in vendors’ out-of-the-box marketing materials -- customization begins with the WCM/WEM product itself and continues through the tight integration with other enterprise applications. 

Questions for CMS Developers

As those who have tried to achieve even basic goals online know, the skill of application developers always plays an important role in the quality of the end result. Delivering effective WEM requires consideration of questions such as the following: 

  • Do Web pages or components need persistence (the ability to remember whether you’ve visited the site before, for example)?
  • What scripts will be required to connect discrete parts of the experience?
  • Why should page/component design not be tied to functionality, and how is this best achieved for my use case?
  • What will be required if page templates need to change?
  • What would be involved in adding components dynamically to currently static pages?
  • What are implementation best practices for my use case, regardless of CMS features and functions?
  • What expertise do potential integrators have with other content source applications in our infrastructure (CRM, ERP, portals, document management systems, for example)?

The answers to these questions will show that the experience, creativity, technical expertise, design skills and systems architectural approach of the systems integrator are key success factors in creating successful WEM. Simply put, the best Web experiences are custom-made. As with other bespoke products, the skill of the maker is usually more important that the quality of materials alone.

We have seen WCM vendors’ own professional services organizations stumble in designing and implementing something as simple as report download pages. We’ve also seen third-party integrators success at implementing the same functionality even with no proclaimed knowledge of this vendor's products. While this is a striking example of different outcomes that stems from the skill of the integrator alone, such cases are not uncommon.

Questions for Integrators

We recommend that you vet implementation service providers as thoroughly as you do CMS vendors. The following are questions/tasks that you should put to potential integrators: 

  • Given my specific use case, what do you consider to be the most logical approach to designing an optimal Web experience? What serious mistakes have you seen (or made) in similar cases in the past?
  • What level of technical expertise do you have with each of the third-party applications we intend to integrate into this project?
  • Please show us actual examples of good and bad solutions to similar WEM problems. What were the primary drivers behind success or failure?
  • Can you put us in touch with other customers for whom you’ve assembled WEM solutions before?

Although you’ll certainly have a few of your own, these four points should be enough to get a revealing conversation started. The most important factor to consider is that – if it’s effective WEM you want – failure to consider an integrator’s ability to respond knowledgeably to your actual use cases could prove to be your Achilles’ heel.