IT's next big challenge: exploding Web volume

As companies' Web sites become more integral to business operations, the number of nontechnical content contributors is quickly surpassing that of technical participants. As a result, IT managers can no longer dismiss the importance of implementing a well-thought-out, content-management strategy.

While there are obvious benefits to tapping more content contributors, IT must juggle a growing set of factors to successfully bring information to their Web sites.

"Content in large organisations can now be created by tens of thousands of people, and that's causing all kinds of headaches," said Rikki Kirzner, an analyst at IDC. "There are horror stories all over the place -- content released before it should have been, content being seen by someone who shouldn't have seen it."

One business that is taking this dilemma seriously is General Electric Co (GE), which this week will announce a deal with Interwoven to use Interwoven's TeamSite 3.1 product enterprisewide, said a source close to the company. GE will deploy the management solution for its seven different businesses, including NBC and Capital Services, to take care of all of its intranets, extranets, and external Web sites, the source said.

But GE appears to be more the exception than the rule when it comes to implementing content-management solutions -- although analysts believe this will change and advise IT managers to heed the early warning signs of a potentially unwieldy situation.

"IT hasn't yet taken content-creation tools seriously," said Harley Manning, an analyst at Forrester Research. "They need to start getting involved and thinking about an overall content-creation and management strategy."

Daryl Plummer, an analyst at the Gartner Group, agreed, saying that organisations would be wise to appoint a "cybrarian" to coordinate the management efforts; develop a share repository for content; and create a system for authorising people to have access to the providing and changing of content.

Some products, such as Interwoven's TeamSite 3.1, Vignette StoryServer 4, and FutureTense Internet Publishing System do enable nontechnical users -- such as marketing, sales, and human resources employees -- to get involved in contributing and publishing content, while also allowing IT managers to keep a handle on content.

Eric Brown, an analyst at Forrester Research, noted that sites that use content-management systems will also need to change tool tactics.

"When site managers adopt automated production systems, nontechnical contributors switch from HTML authoring processors and templates," Brown said.

Brown and other analysts emphasised that Extensible Markup Language (XML) must also be considered part of the strategy.

"XML is hugely important for the next year and the year following that," said Martin Marshall, an analyst at Zona Research.

Despite analyst warnings, some users believe the content-management market is ahead of reality.

"There still needs to be a cultural transition ... You're trying to get people to translate knowledge into a different venue, and they're used to talking -- not writing," said David Meany, vice president of IS and chief information officer at Just for Feet, an athletic-shoe retailer in Alabama.

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