The re-emerging area of Web Engagement Management (WEM) has taken the web content management spotlight of late. Many a vendor is clamoring for a leading role. But who are the real leaders and the coming challengers? Let's have a look.

Web Engagement Management (WEM) is not new. Rather, it is a new term for a collection of product feature-functionality that existed within Web Content Management (WCM), portal, personalization, and enterprise search applications for years. Updated semantics neither add to nor detract from the value of WEM. That is, demand for the technology has been around for quite some time, and I see only increased demand over the next few years.

So what exactly is WEM? Briefly put, it is the symbiotic integration of advanced personalization -- including elements of interactive search, sophisticated multimedia management, robust social computing/networking features, and marketing campaign management tools.

For details, see: What is Web Engagement Management?

The Market Loves WEM (Again)

So if WEM is not really new, why all the hype? In part, the excitement stems from vendors’ excitement over new terminology for their products -- and analysts certainly don’t mind having a new, broader coverage area after years of writing about WEM’s individual components. Nonetheless, WEM, in everything but name only, has been around for about ten years.

By 2001, vendors such as ATG and BroadVision had quite sophisticated e-commerce applications that did WEM quite well. Then came the 2001 dot.com crash, and within two years, the disappearance of the e-commerce application market. By now, the WEM leaders of that time have nearly disappeared (ATG is still nominally alive, while BroadVision is definitely dead.).

Before the crash, other extant vendors, such as Interwoven (now part of Autonomy) and Vignette (now part of Open Text), also competed effectively in the WEM/e-commerce market through tight integrations with e-commerce products (Interwoven-ATG, for example) and partnerships with application server vendors such as IBM and BEA.

Since about 2006, other vendors have been assiduously developing the personalization, marketing campaign management, and cross-channel components of their products to surpass the leaders in the “original” e-commerce/WEM market. We will discuss them shortly.

So here we are in 2010, and WEM is quickly becoming all the rage. I, for one, am happy to see its resurgence -- it really does represent the most logical collection of functionality for improving website visitors’ online experience. And how better to increase online revenues than by being able to influence how long visitors stay on your website, how frequently they return, how interactive they are with other visitors? With control of such factors come increased numbers of transactions, higher average sales prices, and improved brand loyalty.

Current WEM Market Leaders

So who are the leaders in the WEM market? Simply put, they are the vendors with most experience in, and dedication to, personalization technologies, marketing campaign modules, analytics-focused application development methods, and the smooth integration of all three. I rank the five leaders in the WEM market as:

  1. SDL Tridion (now "SDL Web Content Management Solutions Group")
  2. Sitecore
  3. Vignette (Open Text)
  4. Day Software
  5. FatWire

SDL (formerly Tridion)

Beginning in 2006, SDL (news, site), when it was still Tridion, turned its application development efforts to those features and functions of Web Content Management aimed specifically at online marketing managers. This included proprietary analytics, robust personalization, and design tools that enabled marketing management to make informed decisions based on online user behavior.

Although such tools were not new (cf. Vignette and ATG ça. 2001), SDL did an excellent job of combining these tools into a product easily learned and used by non-technical marketers. For this reason, many of Tridion’s customers have experienced excellent results in improving conversion rates, average transaction amounts, and repeat traffic. Although discrete WEM functionality in other vendors’ products may be better in some ways (such as personalization), SDL Tridion synthesizes a wide spectrum of WEM functionality into the best overall WEM product.

The four modules containing SDL Tridion’s WEM functionality are: Web Content Management, Multi-Channel Marketing, Visitor Intelligence, and Customer Interaction.

Sitecore

Much like SDL Tridion, Sitecore (news, site) has done an excellent job of building a WEM-enabled platform that often produces dramatic results for Sitecore customers. Sitecore’s approach to WEM is not qualitatively different from SDL Tridion’s. SDL Tridion simply began focusing on WEM sooner than Sitecore, and consequently got a head start. The gap between the two vendors is slight, and in the last six months, Sitecore has been gaining ground. Overall, the products are similarly capable regarding WEM, and it is possible that the 1-2 ranking will reverse before the end of 2010.

The five modules containing Sitecore’s WEM functionality are: CMS, Online Marketing Suite, Foundry, SEO, and Web Forms for Marketers

Vignette

Vignette (news, site) is the most interesting vendor with respect to WEM in this article. As discussed above, it has the most experience with personalization (both its own and its extensions of Baynote) and portal technologies. Technically speaking, it the most WEM-enabled product in the ranking, but I place Vignette third because its superior technology is not exposed in a consistently user-friendly way for the users who need it most. Some of the premier WEM-enabled websites in the world run on Vignette, but the complexity of implementing and using the product has frustrated some customers. That said, Vignette is a very good choice for highly-complex websites with bleeding-edge WEM requirements. Just be aware of its implementation and usage complexities. Although I am fairly comfortable with Open Text’s product strategy, potential buyers should be aware that the decision by Open Text (who recently acquired Vignette) to release Vignette V8 after simply updating the user interfaces has caused uncertainty in the minds of some about the company’s plans for the product.

The six modules containing Vignette’s WEM functionality are (with minor variations for especially large Websites): Vignette Content Management (VCM), Vignette Portal, Recommendations, Omniture SiteCatalyst, Community Services, and Video Services.

Day Software

For many years now, Day Software (news, site) has produced some of the most flexible and scalable WCM software anywhere. It has always been championed by IT departments, but until recently, rejected by non-technical business users. To address this problem, Day drastically improved its user interfaces in December 2007, and the long-needed update included laudable WEM functionality. Since then, the updated UIs have garnered consistent praise, and field reports continue to indicate that customers are happy with CQ5’s WEM features. Of particular note to many is Day’s elegant integration of the platform’s WCM and digital asset management capabilities. The combination of these factors places Day solidly on the WEM leader board.

The three modules containing Day Software’s WEM functionality are: CQ5 WCM, CQ5 DAM, and CQ5 Social Collaboration.

FatWire

Like Vignette, FatWire (news, site) has long focused on personalization. Its ability to analyze and leverage implicit and explicit user profiles is quite good, as is its ability to quickly serve radically different component-based pages based on variations in this information. In its product-development efforts, FatWire has been mindful of the needs of Web marketers, as evidenced by a high percentage of online retail customers. The company’s recent reseller partnership with EMC should bolster poor sales performance in the last year, and in the process, allay budding fears about vendor viability. Corporate performance over the last year seems to have temporarily reorganized the company’s priorities around quarter-to-quarter sales results, but recent developments may once again allow FatWire to focus strategically on WEM (“Web Experience Management” in FatWire’s terminology). All in all, FatWire solidly rounds out the WEM leader board.

The six modules containing FatWire’s WEM functionality are: Content Server, Engage, Analytics, Community Server, Gadget Server, and Digital Asset Management.

Market Challengers

Ektron

Ektron (news, site) is the other vendor obviously worthy of mention when speaking about WEM. Many of its customers use the CMS400 platform to run highly functional, WEM-enabled e-commerce sites, and those whom I’ve interviewed have been pretty happy with their implementations.

Strategically, Ektron has not chosen to focus on all the core components of WEM mentioned above, but it has done a good job with its foray into search engine optimization (SEO), a highly correlated technology. Had I not arbitrarily limited the WEM leader board to five vendors, Ektron would have been on it.

The final two vendors worth mentioning in an article on WEM leadership will not be obvious to most readers, primarily because of the vendors’ slight market presence. But the excellence of their products warrants a mention despite their size. They are Netherlands-based GX Software and Boston-based Bridgeline Digital.

Bridgeline Digital

Bridgeline Digital (news, site) has developed a tightly-integrated Web CMS, e-commerce, analytics, and marketing suite, called the iApps platform that performs extremely well in most of the functional areas of WEM. In terms of seamless integration between modules, Bridgeline may have done the best job I’ve ever seen. And that goes for interface design as well.

Bridgeline claims that WCM is the area where it most often competes, but as the e-commerce software market wakes up from a 6-7 year nap, I expect that Bridgeline will become best known as an e-commerce platform with the requisite supporting WCM and analytics modules. The technical and design strengths of iApps put no limits on how effectively the company will compete in the marketplace. That will be a function of how well the company markets itself.

GX Software

GX Software (news, site) is another vendor worthy of an honorable mention, not because it has described or marketed its software in terms of the core components of WEM, but because of how easily and effectively some of its customers have used to product to that effect.

To a surprising degree, GX Software’s WEM capabilities seem to be a by-product (or the result of close collaboration with its customers) of its web content management application development process. In any event, just because a product isn’t designed with a particular use in mind doesn’t mean that it isn’t good for that particular use -- in this case WEM. GX is one such happy coincidence.

In closing, I should at least mention why I discussed Interwoven as a market leader in the 2000-2003 iteration of WEM, but not in the current one. The reason is quite simple: Interwoven’s acquirer, Autonomy, has shown no interest whatsoever in any of the components of WEM besides search. And based on interactions with Autonomy since, I don’t anticipate any further development of Interwoven’s products.

Not to worry, the current leaders -- and challengers -- have picked up nicely where WEM left off in the middle of the last decade, and they are proceeding full steam ahead.