In past three months, I have been faced with many Request for Proposals for customers looking for mid-market CMS for their second generation web-site – which they want to launch in 3 months time.  Having looked at those again and again – I now in many cases end up basing our proposal on Ektron CMS400 ( alteast for Corporate internet website scenario).  Heres why.

1) Innovative approach to custom meta-data: In top tier solutions, we tend to draw a neat object model depicting properties of different types of content we need ( e.g. Product Vs Press Release Vs other information etc. and possibly within product itself classifying based on types of products to be able to do navigation and filtering properly). In Ektron – its simpler. You define metadata and you associate a subset of it with whatever you want. So at the heart of it, all text content are “html content” type – which means you are free to move the content around and position it whereever you want to – and based on the content location – choose to have different metadata ( if you wish). It is much faster to configure, confuses users less and achieves the original purpose.

2) Multi-lingual capabilities: It provides multi-lingual capabilities allowing you to set up multi-language versions of the site very easily – tightly coupling content in different languages. However it could do with some better support for multi-country scenario ( where we may choose a subset of content).

3) Office and Explorer integration: Ektron offers Document management extensions as office interfaces and explorer interface which let you directly manipulate documents in Ektron repository. These are extemely efficient for managing attachments to pages ( if for a moment we forget document management capability in its own)

4) Forms builder: It has a wysiwyg forms builder which is extremely useful in scenario like surveys, feedback forms and polls. it comes with a good number of template solutions covering many populer internet and intranet scenario – Possibly closest to corporate website.

5) Calendar and events: It has an extremely ready to use Events calendar. Its UI has a few limitations like difficulty in creating multi-day event, but overall it works well out of the box.

6) Seperate content organization and site organization : It has content folders to manage content items, while a combination of taxonomy and navigation for site organization. Which means that you organize the content folders like your content production organization  (e.g. company/department/product/printer ) while you do your website they way marketing wants you to ( e.g solutions/home/printer as well as products/printers/…)

7) Efficient template development : It offers slightly rigit ASP.NET components to render content. You want to use them as you want the in-context editing to work, however it appears to be slightly less flexible than the top tier CMS. However – you soon start to like it as you can get the look and feel you want and your code looks simpler.

8) Publishing options: It has instant publishing – at individual content item level – as well as site replication. It works well in both the scenario of infrequent large updates as well as frequent small updates with required governance model.

 However there are certain things it can do more 

a) Offer friendly URLs

b) Offer static publishing as an option, and offer ways to have a loosely coupled content delivery.

c) Auto generate google sitemaps

d) Offer more tuning options ( like Javascript minification)

e) A more comrehensive multi-site model.

f) In my opinion, the interface works best if you have <10,000 content items and < 200 content items per folder in a single site. Beyond that, it might be more efficient to handle the different sites as different instance. This is good for large corporate sites, but may not be great for media companies. The plus side is that the interface is simple to use and extremely functional.

g) More solution accelerators / startup sites: Currently ektron comes with 4 starter sites – essentially targetted at Internet scenario. A couple of more sites targeted towards B2B  or Intranet scenario – optimized for identified users ( not anonymous users) will be great. Sightly more complex implementations for things like “products” solutions etc. will be welcome.

h) Though the pricing/licensing is simple, its could be simpler. For instance, I find it difficult to understand whether a URL license includes country variations ( like .com/.co.uk etc) or not.  Similarly the development/staging/QA licensing is not very clear – it appears to be bundled with support (i.e. you can no longer use the development/staging/qa if you dont renew the support/AMC). Or – you buy persistant license for each URL/environment. A clarification statement here will help. Also if you switch from URL license to server license , it’s pricing becomes very close to top tier CMS solutions. ( I am sure that Ektron would be willing to negociate the price down though).

There was a time around 1999/2000 when first generation portals coming in place were solving the problem of consolidating information from existing web sites.  Hence they were strong in web “clipping” and allowed easy creation of dashboards. The better ones offered single sign on. However, they were up with very stiff competition – which is simple links and NT Domian/ADS authentication.

These capabilities are driven by having a single entry point to you corporate applications. That seemed to be the only driver here.

Then came mash ups, JSR 168 and WSRP.

 JSR 168, like J2EE JARsand WARs offered the Java world to deploy the same portlet anywhere. WSRP on the other hand was more tuned to mash-ups. No matter where you are running the application, as long as it follows wsrp, you could club UI elements of these applications together in a single page.

Now again, these capabilities are fixing the same problem, but are allowing easier creation of mashups and dashboards. Apart from that, now the are also trying to increase the application longivity and relevance. Which is by removing container lock-in and also by a standardized mash up protocol at the front end, keeing intranets talking to applications on heterogenous and non-standard platforms.

So the focus seems to shift from end user view, to developement and deployment view for a single entry point to an enterprise.

 Post that, in the last two years, they scrambled to add a whole host of applications over the infrastructure – collaboration, content management and others.

In the last two years, the real change starts to happen. Enterprises starting looking at SOA. Business agility, M&A and the dynamic business drivers in general along with increasing spend on IT – is forcing the enterprise applications to be more dynamic and agile then ever before.

The need for this agility drives Service Orientation at the back end layer, but leaves the choice of front end open.

Here, the portal vendors realized that they were in a very good shape to cater to “above service bus” needs. They have struts based UI framework – and other ways to create UI, they have navigation builders, authentication frameworks & SSO enablement, they provide frameworks for inter-application communication ( for both data and events) and extremely good support for existing applications as well. So theoritically, like SOA offers agility for business logic and business data, Portal architecture offers the same for presentation. It caters to single application, multiple brands as well as multiple applications with same  look and feel. It allows tying application built completely independently together.

So transactional applications driven by SOA drive portal from the other direction.

Portal vendors have responded to it differently. Websphere offers capabilities at both ends. BEA offers weblogic portal for SOA driven, Aqualogic UI for Intranet driven and a combination of both for needs requiring both.

Personally, with so much happening on the presentation layer – especially RIA and partly disconnected applications – it is hard to imagine the presentation of browser based applications remaining static for a very long time.

With the above capabilities, the drivers which make an organization go to market for portal products have increased to cover

1) Corporate intranets and extranets ( traditional need of a single entry point to corporate applications – going on from just sign-on to deep links to integrated workflows across multiple applications thus contributing to real productivity gains) Dashboards, report presentations and other aspects of BI are also being given increasing importance here.

2) Customer self service ( Some institutions like Banks, telecom etc. have the same user subscribing to multiple services – a single entry window to all of them leave users less confused thus reducing service costs)

3) Standardized web platforms for organization ( typically driven by SOA initiatives or by having an unmanagable set of heterogenous products – like 3 portal and 6 CM products) which also provides a set of “mini” applications re-usable across enterprise.

4) Collaboration (essentially a single workflow involving multiple people and multiple applications, primarily resulting in creation of a document)

Looking at the new set of feature improvement in portals, like increased Mashup capability for non-WSRP applications, embracing outside the firewall tools and collaboration infrastructure, increasin Content Management, Increasing interface with non-browser applications (like MS office), user created forms based applications via BPM, and more – they seem to be poised to address yet another business need – the need for ad-hoc applications.