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What to Look for in a Business-Scale Database-Driven Content and Context Management System

The key to establishing a well-managed distributed model of web development and maintenance is the right tool. More and more companies are looking for content management or other Internet development applications to manage the flow of information, but as Forrester astutely points out, many products have “serious shortcomings.” How can you be sure that you’re choosing the best solution for your business-scale web site?

To ensure that your business or organization has the power to implement and grow a web presence that meets all of your needs, Estrada® has developed a list of necessary features that a web development application should include in order to facilitate an efficient, effective distributed site development paradigm.

1. Scalability to grow and manage large or complex web sites
Web development applications must allow businesses to grow, yet remain easy to manage. An application that works well for a personal web site may not provide the features needed for a business-scale site. Especially important is the ability to add new web sites within your central installation so that your entire site can be managed in one easy-to-access location. Also, web technology applications should be designed specifically to manage business-scale web sites, particularly those that that comprise multiple sub-sites and/or many content contributors.

2. Centralized Control, Distributed Authorship
Your web solution should make it easy for you to distribute authoring capabilities throughout your organization to avoid webmaster bottleneck. The key is to give the individuals or departments that are responsible for information that appears on your web site the ability to update it. The advantage? Self-service. Customer service can post its new 800 number without depending on some webmaster over in the IT department to get it done for them. At the same time, you want to retain an optimum level of central oversight of your site in order to avoid the old anarchy model.

  • Multi-level security: Ability to grant permission to an unlimited number of authors who can contribute to all or designated areas within your overall web site.
  • As your site grows and staff changes, remain in control by editing existing authors’ access permissions, granting authors additional powers or rights to new sites, or removing an author’s access to sites as necessary.
  • Smart database technology ensures that authors who have access to a site also automatically gain access to sub-sites within that parent

3. Completely server-based application
Anyone who has access to the Internet and possesses the proper security credentials to your system can be an author.

  • If you have staff working in various locations—across town, out of state, or even internationally—server-based applications make it easy for them all to collaborate on web development.
  • Your application should be a cross-platform solution so that anyone using a PC, Mac, PDA, or even a web TV browser can work on the web site—without needing to install or configure software.

4. True Content Management
Some authoring tools claim to offer content management, but are little more than online page layout editors. While it’s useful for a system to do minor formatting tasks for you (such as making text bold or changing a font), look for features that offer real content management ability:

  • Reuse Information. Authors should have direct access to all existing information in the database, eliminating the need to retype pages of redundant data. A database core makes it easy to avoid the logistical nightmare of trying to maintain and coordinate information on many web sites. Authors can easily re-use content by embedding it into their web pages. Best of all, a database backend makes sure that reused content throughout the site is always kept accurate since it can be edited in one location and automatically updated throughout the site.
  • Simple and straightforward content authoring paradigm—easy to learn, easy to use—that allows your authors to master the application easily and begin creating your web site quickly.
  • Enable scheduling and expiration of time-sensitive content.
  • Shortened deployment cycle. Your content management system should expedite site development, allowing your teams to work more efficiently to bring your site online rapidly.
  • Separate design from content. Templates allow authors to present information that appears in multiple instances throughout a site using different, context-appropriate graphical frames.
  • Flexible template management. Although major design changes may require a graphic designer’s skills or an HTML programmer’s, be sure that your content stakeholders can make minor modifications to templates on their own. An effective content management system should allow them to make on-the-fly adjustments to templates (for example, adding a footer to pages within a sub-site or adding a simple navigation bar).

5. Security and Staging
For situations requiring stringent content delivery control or reviews prior to publication of new content, content staging is a requirement. Content staging means that a designated individual or individuals must explicitly approve changes to a web site before they go into production.

  • The review and publication tools need to be efficient and flexible. Content reviewers must be able to approve whole pages at a time for speedy editing, or able to fine tune their reviews to approve paragraph by paragraph, when necessary.
  • You should also have the option to turn staging off in selected portions of your site to avoid unnecessarily delays in developing and updating less sensitive areas.
  • Version control—so that changes can be tracked and previous versions of content restored, if necessary.

6. Integration and Flexible Functionality
There is nothing worse than discovering that the great new technical solution that you purchased won’t work with your existing systems. To avoid this:

  • Look for an application that will integrate with your existing databases and other systems.
  • The application should allow you to leverage existing resources within your web site without having to upload and maintain duplicate sets of files.
  • Ideally, a web development application should also be an extensible development platform, allowing you to create new functionalities that meet your specific business needs. With Estrada, for example, your technical staff can develop functions that extend the system’s capabilities in precisely the ways that you want.

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