Sunday, January 21, 2007

Digging deeper into CMS requirements (#1: Technical Requirements)

I recently posted about the fabled CMS requirements, providing my own categorization without any further elaboration on what the different req's imply.

Today I'm gonna fill in the holes on the first category, Technical Requirements:

Technical requirements are the obligatory basic needs of the environment, hardware and software hosting and maintaining the WCMS.

The successful deployment of a WCMS depends on many information infrastructural circumstances and politics like management priority, user acceptance and technical feasibility. As will be declared in a later post, the main requirement of a WCMS is extensibility, and the one who has to make use of this requirement is indeed the developer responsible for deploying and running the WCMS in-house of the intended organization or corporation.

The hardware requirements and costs have not been a main issue in my experiences with maintaining CMS. I therefore disregarded the still very crucial requirements of scalability, availability and security. When professionally auditing WCMS solutions these requirements must be considered.

The WCMS may rise or fall by the outcome of these developer tasks.

Deployment

Developers are responsible for installing the WCMS, not only the first time, but they are also the ones performing redeployment when upgrades are necessary or patches are released from the vendor. If the process is cumbersome, this will happen with a low frequency and lead to a compromised and outdated WCMS. If it is not easy to migrate old content from the old installation to a newer one, the developer will quickly tire of the process and opt to management for choice of a different WCMS,

Integration

Infrastructural services such as e-mail, user directories and existing services should often be interconnected into the WCMS, and this will perhaps be the largest task the WCMS developer is responsible for, depending on requirements and existing information systems within the organization. Larger ECM solutions often benefit from utilizing strategies of service-oriented architecture (SOA), making it easier to integrate new functionality as web-services into the system.

Templates

Default templates and skins are bound for change after acquiring the system. Company logo and themes must be applied, and the CSS-styles applied by the WCMS may not be of the same patterns as the company's graphical profile.

This is not as much a feature as it is a necessity. A company is often judged by the outlook and consistency of its web-site. While the web designers no longer need to author the content of web-sites, they still need full control of the design. Templates allow designing once, and then applying the same design to whole parts of the site in one action.

Older web design tools have created an inclination towards not using mesh templates, where the template is separated into header, footer, left panel, main column, right column, and so on. More modern web design tools have support for working on such composite page design.

Backup

A WCMS is a complex system, and since this type of software is a fairly modern family of information systems, it is prone to experience bugs and crashes where data loss is a risk. Many technicians would argue that the responsibility of making information backup lies outside the WCMS, but there is still a requirement for the content repository to be backup-able in an automated fashion. A home grown file system or smaller database repository may lack support for such tasks.

Monitoring

Monitoring consists of automatically computing statistics and numbers on server usage and display them to the developer in a readable format. For a web-site this includes keeping track of incoming requests from visitors. If site traffic is not monitored it becomes harder to evaluate the returns of the WCMS, and it will quickly loose its favor from the management which weighs the cost of sustaining against these returns.

Logging

Logs are the server's output on relevant activities and processes. If logging is not done properly, it becomes hard to trace the source of errors and crashes.

Most web-servers have tools for monitoring the number of visitors. Traffic can be measured in number of “visits” or “hits”, although number of hits can give a very misleading understanding of how much traffic the web-site is experiencing. Number of visits and average visit length is the correct way to report traffic.



So there you have'em. My next post under this tag will explain the next category: The functionality that provides the management parts of the system, like content creation, publishing, workflow and administration. Stay tuned!