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Is Content King for ASPs?

Web sites, like football teams, need good management to produce winning results. Yet despite the fact that the Web is no longer anything new to businesses, many companies are only now coming to the conclusion that they need to spend money to acquire an effective Web content management system (CMS). Anecdotal evidence at least suggests that most sales of CMS software or services are to businesses that have had no previous CMS or who have attempted unsuccessfully to build their own CMS in-house.

Lining up to meet this need is an array of CMS suppliers, including packaged software vendors, ASPs who host and manage the software vendors' products and ASPs offering their own Web-native CMS software.

Does CMS and ASP Mix?
Deciding how a CMS can best be delivered is not a straightforward matter, as Austin, Texas-based Vignette will testify. Although Vignette is offered in a hosted environment by a small number of Vignette partners, most customers license the software outright from the independent software vendor (ISV).

This strategy is a big change from late 2000, when the company set up partnering agreements with eight ASPs including Surebridge and Agiliti enabling them to offer Vignette's V/5 platform to small to medium-size enterprises (SMEs). "We definitely thought about the ASP market in 2000, but when the B2B marketplace environment collapsed we moved away from it," Conleth O'Connell, Vignette's CTO, told ASP news.

Read and React
"We definitely thought about the ASP market in 2000, but when the B2B marketplace environment collapsed we moved away from it."

—Conleth O'Connell, CTO
Vignette

Give us your feedback in the ASPnews Discussion Forum

O'Connell says the company has focussed its attention now on larger enterprises, and these companies are busy rationalizing their computing environments by centralizing the software in use rather than devolving control of software at the departmental level.

"IT departments have, in effect, been required to become internal mini-ASPs, so we have been looking at the ASP model in that respect, and enabling features like delegated administration, and departmental reporting." Looking to the future, he expects Vignette to put renew its interest in the ASP model in the next two to five years.

Evolution to ASP Is Natural
Jim Howard, CEO at Los Angeles-based Web-native ASP CrownPeak Technology, believes that a move to the ASP model is inevitable for all the large packaged CMS vendors. "Software as a service (SaaS) is simply the most efficient way to develop and deliver software, and we will force them to adopt the model. I think that in the next five years all the majors will adopt SaaS," he told ASPnews.

Read and React
"Software as a service (SaaS) is simply the most efficient way to develop and deliver software. I think that in the next five years all the majors will adopt SaaS."

—Jim Howard, CEO
CrownPeak Technology

Give us your feedback in the ASPnews Discussion Forum

Web native software such as CrownPeak's Advantage CMS can be customized and integrated with other systems, he says, and was built from the ground up for scaleability and manageability using a single instance of the application. "Our costs can be kept low, because while BroadVision maintains perhaps 300 developers, we have less than 10," he says.

Howard points out that part of the reason for this is that CrownPeak's content management system only does content management. "At the top end of the market, Vignette has moved into the application server space, and a lot of the installed products they offer are trying to handle highly transactional systems. This is not what we're for — we are only a content management system, but we have embraced Web services, with native support for XML via SOAP and other ways. We offer standard features at low cost."

Howard predicts there could be consolidation in the Web native software space as suppliers merge and partner to provide integrated applications such as a combined content management, user management and sales force tools. While Howard said a merger or acquisition is conceivable, CrownPeak Technology is currently focusing on adding these services via tighter integration with partners.

Giving Customers Only What They Need
San Bruno, Calif.-based Web native software supplier Atomz moved into content management 18 months ago, and it too stresses the low cost but limited feature set it provides. "There are features that Interwoven or Vignette offer that we don't have, but we actually provide 100 percent of what most customers need at low cost," Steve Kusmer, president and CEO of Atomz, told ASPnews.

Read and React
"If you have writers around the world and you want them to be able to access a site, then with Vignette this is not so easy."

—Steve Kusmer
President and CEO
Atomz

Give us your feedback in the ASPnews Discussion Forum

But "ASP" doesn't necessarily equate to "limited functionality," Kusmer said. While packaged software is often perceived to be high end, there are features that a Web native product such as Atomz Publish can offer that packaged software can't — at least not so easily — according to Kusmer.

"If you have writers around the world and you want them to be able to access a site, then with Vignette this is not so easy. We have designed our product to be used by people using 56k modems. Also, redundancy is important, but to create a redundant system using Vignette you need to double up. With Atomz, your CMS is automatically replicated across servers and data centers."

CMS Providers
At a Glance

Atomz
Customers: 1,400
Staff: 40
Profits: Profitable now

CrownPeak Technology
Customers: 30
Staff: 20
Profits: Profitable now

Vignette
Customers: 1,500
Staff: 800
Profits: Expects to be profitable by Q3 2003

He also suggests that the ASP model enables and encourages better customer service and support. "Obviously, we are financially incentivized to keep our customers happy so that we get the next year's revenue. We can also incorporate new features much faster than packaged software vendors," Kusmer says.

Is It Big Enough?
The big question for CMS ASPs is whether a CMS is a big enough application to stand alone. It's possible that sooner or later most CMSs will end up being part of some larger software system, either through acquisition or by being acquired by a third party. But even so, that still leaves a niche for the low-cost, basic functionality CMS application offered by an ASP, as well as the fully featured packages offered by larger ISVs such as Vignette.