The lines between all content technology families are notoriously blurry. This is especially true of portals, Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems and Web Content Management (WCM) system, where there's lots of overlap in vendors, product functionality, and marketing messages. For example, if you're looking to implement Intranet-based document management, you could conceivably use any of these three types of products. Yet some consultancies will try to sell you all three types of solutions, with an obligatory (and expensive) integration project.
Take a scenario-based approach that solves your most pressing needs first. ECM, WCM and portals fill fairly specific roles and tend to address different problems. By understanding what you're trying to accomplish, you can better identify the technologies you do and don't need.
This article presents common content management scenarios that fall most appropriately into one of these three technologies camps. The idea is to distill the core of your business problem or opportunity and then build from there.
Evaluate Three Sets of Scenarios
|Common Content Management Scenarios (click image for larger view)|
Take a quick look at the common conent management scenarios listed in the table at right. These are the scenarios by which CMS Watch reviews vendors in its head-to-head technology evaluation reports.
As you can see, the WCM scenarios are fundamentally publishing challenges. The type of Web site(s) you publish plays a big role in your requirements -- and the suitability of different vendors. Similarly, there are different types of portals that try to accomplish different business objectives. On the ECM side, as you would expect, the scenarios become more process oriented. Industry verticals also tend to matter more in the ECM space, again mostly because of industry-specific business process needs.
Consider Overlapping Scenarios
Of course, scenarios also overlap. A WCM tool that excels at "community-oriented sites" may well look quite a bit like a "collaboration portal," which in turn might fit the bill for the kind of "workgroup collaboration" handled by ECM systems.
And what exactly, you might ask, is the difference among "Global Intranet" (WCM), "Enterprise Intranet" (Portal) or "Enterprise Web Publishing" (ECM)? Quite possibly very little. On the other hand, you should know that the tools approach the problem in different ways. The WCM solution will likely emphasize semi-structured content and documents with employee-friendly editorial interfaces. The intranet portal will bring a functional focus to interactive applications (such as a people-finder portlet). The ECM product will likely provide native hooks from the intranet into its own document and records management repositories. Ironically, CMS Watch research suggests that "enterprise-tier" vendors do a comparatively poor job at the kind of multi-Web-site management scenarios you see in large enterprises.
Most importantly, scenario-based analysis should tell you what type of product you shouldn't pursue. Just because a WCM tool claims it can store scanned documents in its repository doesn't mean you should use it for high-volume imaging. Most ECM products likely provide a poor platform for a customer self-service portal. You probably wouldn't use portal software for an ultra-large single Web site. And so on.
Vendors will often market the same product for different categories of problems, and sometimes that actually makes sense. The promise (and great frustration) of MOSS 2007 is that it can conceivably play in all of these three spaces to varying degrees, but, like its competitors, Microsoft has different ways of getting there, and one SharePoint installation still doesn't want to play too many different roles at once.