Cloud-based CMS: Is It Ripe or Just Hype?

Enterprise applications delivered from the cloud have become a hot talking point in the tech industry recently. Fueled by an increasing focus on cost cutting, ease of use, scalability and faster time to market, cloud applications are being discussed in detail at various seminars and industry conferences. Taking a cue from these market indicators, most major enterprise application vendors have already started offering their applications via the cloud. Any enterprise application you name, including database, ERP, CRM, etc., is already being offered, in some form, through a SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) or cloud-based model. A Content Management System (CMS) is no exception as we have begun to see the arrival of plenty of CMS applications delivered from the cloud. However, do these cloud-based CMS applications really bring a new paradigm for managing your content? Or, is it just old wine in a new bottle with all the associated industry pain points still present?

To get an answer to the above question lets’ try to list some of the most commonly heard pain points related to CMS applications and how cloud-based CMS applications can help alleviate them:

  1. Usability: An easy user interface is certainly not the strongest feature of most enterprise CMS. It is a paradox given the fact that CMS is supposed to be the tool that reduces IT dependency and lets business make changes. In one of my earlier posts, I discussed in detail, this very issue. A cloud-based application with more of a web application-like interface for content authoring and publishing can certainly bring some relief to this problem. However, often a complex content entry process results due to how the product is modeled and shrink-wrapped into a process, rather than the product itself. A cloud-based solution might still be subjected to the same process rigor which can make it as complex as any traditional enterprise CMS. For example, in order to reuse an image across a site, the image might need to be defined as a content object as well. While using that image for a particular article, the author needs to first convert the image into a separate content object and then establish the relationship with a relator widget. This process invariably becomes cumbersome and technical in nature for a regular business user. Can a cloud-based solution offer anything more intuitive to this problem?
  2. Time to Market and IT dependency: CMS packages for a long time have been sold as business user-friendly tools which can de-couple content authoring from technology dependency. As we see it, for enterprise applications that is still a far cry. For an online marketer who wants to create a quick microsite for an upcoming promotion, he or she might still need to submit a request to an IT group, who will then respond to that request by creating, testing and eventually deploying the site; thus, taking far more time than what the business demands. However, to be fair to the under-staffed IT groups, their workload is already quite heavy. This is one area where a cloud-based CMS can bring some much needed urgency. Since the majority of SaaS or cloud-based applications will be driven by SLAs, a quick turn-around time for any potential service requests is an important requirement, if not mandatory.
  3. Multi-Channel Publishing: Customer touch-points have now expanded beyond just the web. From smart phones to tablets to kiosks, television and print; your content needs to reach new frontiers in a consistent fashion. This is easier said than done though. The biggest challenge in today’s content world is quick, seamless re-purposing of content for various channels to which it is destined. Most enterprises that have complex dynamic content publishing needs, like web-based news and publication or e-commerce, rely on home-built solutions or heavily-customized integrated commercial solutions to achieve this feat. There are hardly any CMS vendors who provide a full scale end-to-end multi-channel publishing solution. A cloud-based application is not going to be a game changer for this problem anytime soon. Fundamental challenges of content repurposing will still be the same.
  4. Scalability: Many times the inherent architectural constrain of an application causes a limit on its scalability. This is an area which causes the majority of the enterprises to switch from one CMS vendor to another one. There are many aspects to the scalability problem like maximum number of concurrent user support, maximum document size upload, etc. The solution to scalability demand is often not just adding more servers and databases but rather the need is for a completely different approach to design and architecture. A cloud-based solution can offer you quick infrastructure scalability; however, application scalability will still be a problem.
  5. Security and Control: This is an area of great importance to organizations like insurance, banks and healthcare providers that deal with sensitive consumer information. For the majority, having a complete control over the security of data is a critical success factor. Any major slip-ups in that can cause irreparable damage through lost customers, lawsuits and overall bad press. For any CxO, a cloud-based solution raises this particular issue of security at the forefront of his or her decision making process. Things will likely not change radically for cloud CMS in this regard for quite some time to come.

In conclusion, it seems that cloud-based CMS do provide the advantage of quick turnaround and faster time-to-market for your content. However, as of now, it still inherits the few other fundamental issues of content management like security, application scalability and multi-channel publishing. The majority of early adopters of cloud CMS are targeting low hanging fruits like cookie cutter based micro-site design and hosting, event hosting, etc. The consensus is that there is a lot of potential for cloud-based CMS and the coming years will likely bring more insight into cloud CMS adoption for complex enterprise level challenges. Have you implemented a cloud-based CMS? What has been your experience?

Prithwiraj Deb

Manager - ECM Practice, Virtusa. Prithwiraj is a manager in the business consulting group of Virtusa, with focus and expertise in Enterprise Content Management, Portal Development and Storage Technology. He has been involved in implementing solutions for global clients across Industry verticals and domains. Prithwiraj joined Virtusa in 2006 and has since been a key member of the ECM Solutions Group. Prithwiraj is a certified AIIM ECM Practitioner and has interests in WCM, Web 2.0, Mobile Content and E-Commerce related areas. He holds a post-graduation in Business Administration from Xavier Labor Relation Institute (XLRI), India. Prithwiraj prefers reading travelogues as and when he gets the time, and loves travelling and visiting new places and cultural sites.

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  • James McGovern January 6, 2012

    Multi-channel publishing requires a thoughtful output architecture that can be realized using tools such as HP Exstream. The key challenge is that most output in financial services may still be created using legacy approaches. At some level, the value of cloud cannot be realized until customers are willing to change how they approach the architecture of their enterprise applications. Cloud requires more than just a new place to deploy the same old…

  • Prithwiraj Deb January 12, 2012

    Hi James,

    Thanks for stopping by and providing this valuable insight—I am in total agreement with you that cloud strategy can’t be looked in isolation and instead should be a part of broad enterprise strategy.

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