Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Waiting for Microsoft

"Portals magazine" has an article which suggests that the world might be waiting for Microsoft to build the Content Management System (CMS) to end all Content Management Systems. It suggests that IT mangers are playing a waiting game until they do...

At my old company, FirmwareDesign, we sold a number of different systems and successfully helped developers implement them. But we pulled out of the market, there were too many different Content Management Systems around at at that time for us to achieve critical mass and be commercially (rather than just technically) successful. Unfortunately, the situation hasn't changed much over the past few years. Very few players are profitable. One would have expected market consolidation to have occurred by now and so reduce the number of vendors and systems. Meanwhile there is no clarity for those who have money spend. Too many products, too much risk.

Why is that so?
  • Any individual Designer/Developer worth their salt will use techniques to improve their productivity and reduce the drudgery of HTML hacking. Before long, that starts to look like a Content Management System. Inevitably, such home-brew systems reflect the capabilities and prejudices of the individual or his/her organization. In many cases, these system are quite effective, although they typically suffer from a lack of documentation and a heavy reliance on the knowledge of a few individuals. Their development cost is "invisible" and sometimes it seems like every developer has built one. Invariably, there is a rationalisation for not using a commercial CMS.

  • The role of a website within an organization is still evolving and maturing. Business Managers (and a substantial proportion of IT Managers) still have uneven expectations of what to expect from an intranet or public website and only vague perspectives of design and development methodologies. This means that a lot of customers are not in a position to pick the right system. They feel lost before they even start.The easiest decision is not to make one at all.

It should not be surprising that when Business Managers and uninformed IT managers select a Content Management System, it sometimes turns into a multi-million dollar disaster. And when Designers/Developers are left to make their own decisions, a site gets delivered often on budget but with an inadequate feature set, poor long term support and non-existing documentation.

Another challenge is that the market is made up of organizations of all shapes and sizes, their websites need to be matched in price and functionality. There isn't just one successful way to build or maintain a web site. A Content Management System needs to be matched with a particular site and more importantly its owner/operator. In some cases, it needs to be easy to use and configure, even though it might only be suitable to a particular kind of site, at other times it needs to adapt and evolve over time and will consequently be more complex to maintain and configure.

Of course, it's difficult for the sales people of even the most reputable Content Management Systems to say "Sorry, our system is not suitable for your company". Let's face it, if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The truth is that there simply isn't one system capable of managing the site of a newspaper, a multinational enterprise and a plumber, equally well.

Microsoft stopped developing the CMS it acquired , probably because it didn't match their technology integration direction. Any new offering from Microsoft is likely to require the customer to use other closed Microsoft technologies like MS-Office, Sharepoint, etc. And there is no reason to assume the market will jump at the opportunity to upgrade its "Infostructure" just to manage its website or intranet. There is even less reason to assume Microsoft can come up with an "All Things To All People CMS".

What is much more likely to occur is what happened in the Accounting Software market (which Microsoft is desperately trying to buy its way into). Certain packages have come to dominate ecological niches such as Small Business in Australia, or Very Large Enterprises With More Money Then Sense and are doing very well thank you. It is unlikely that one system or even one vendor will dominate the accounting software space. The CMS market will similarly have to evolve to excel in particular niches, some broader than others, but individual markets all the same. It was interesting to see Bill Rogers (Ektron CMS) focus on niches in his latest newsletter. That just has to be the way forward. And of course once a system is successful, Microsoft will decide at some time whether to compete or acquire. Mind you, what if an open source CMS became a market leader?


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