Project Management

Faster, better, and cheaper corporate sites with Web services

When you need best-of-breed applications but you don't have the time and money for expensive integration work, Web services can help give you what you want quickly--without breaking the bank. Here's a look at how Mantas discovered the joys of renting.


Mantas, a software firm dedicated to the financial services industry, faced a number of challenges when it went looking for a better way to drive its online marketing efforts. Namely, Mantas wanted to build a best-of-breed online marketing platform on a limited budget, on an even tighter schedule, with limited IT resources, and without requiring a major retraining effort. Obviously, that’s a lot to ask of any system. But Mantas was able to find a solution that fit all its requirements—and more.

Mantas’ behavior detection technology provides financial services firms with products for avoiding risk, exceeding regulatory expectations, and enhancing customer relationships. Mantas’ customers include two of the six top national full line broker dealers, two of the top seven investment banks, two of the top 12 discount brokers, and four of the top 10 financial services firms. The company relies heavily on its Web site to drive leads, represent the brand, and provide product information. However, as its e-mail marketing campaigns became more aggressive and its site content got increasingly deeper and richer, Mantas decided that it had to look for a more cost-efficient, powerful, and universal way of doing things. With limited staff to manage its online marketing initiatives, Mantas needed a system that would provide a single interface to manage site content, surveys, and the e-mail newsletter. And it needed it quick because it wanted to relaunch the Web site just in time for a major rebranding campaign.

Buy or build? Try renting instead
Today, corporate Web sites are quickly evolving into increasingly serious and complex applications that let employees push up-to-date information to site visitors with a single click. Creating such a Web business platform used to be a choice between buy and build. However, today, a number of smart companies like Mantas are starting to discover that the functionality used to power corporate Web sites is available as a software service solution—usually for economical monthly fees.A software service solution can be defined as a Web-based software application provided by a third party vendor that’s accessible via a Web browser.These solution providers can offer customers a better alternative to packaged software solutions—and at a much lower price to boot.

Since Mantas is in the software business, it knew what it wanted from a software product. Right from the start, Mantas figured out that no single product could offer all the functionality at the standards that Mantas required. The obvious choice was to purchase the best products for content management, search and indexing, and e-mail marketing, and try to integrate them into its Web platform. However, Mantas’ tight budget and tight timeline ruled out complex (and expensive) custom integration work. Mantas decided that outsourcing Web content was the way to go and this eventually led it to CrownPeak Technology.

CrownPeak is a premier content management solution provider that provides world-class content management as a service. Its Advantage CMS solution delivers a complete set of features in a 100 percent browser-based interface, including source control, versioning, spell checking, link checking, comprehensive workflow, security monitoring features, multilingual interfaces, database management, and wireless compatibility solutions.

“Our products employ extremely sophisticated technology, often hailed as industry best practices for global banks and brokerages,” said John Heenan, head of marketing at Mantas. “When we decided to search for the same in content management, the path led us to CrownPeak. Their interface is very user-friendly, while the features and capabilities continue to surprise me. After doing our research, theirs was the only product with the power to seamlessly connect to other packages via Web services through a single interface for our users. And, they’ve put money back in my budget to spend on additional marketing.” Using Web services connections, Mantas was able to quickly add a complete digital e-mail marketing application and a site search application to its content management platform.

The business case for using CMS to integrate Web services
The key to success with integrating Web services is to give the users a seamless interface to all the applications that you are integrating with. “Making use of software services to drive your Web business is the first step,” said Jim Howard, CEO of CrownPeak Technology. “The next step in the game is to tie everything together into a unified interface from a single partner—with a single bill and single vendor to manage if possible. When you have limited resources and no time to spare, this level of integration can really save your organization time and money.” And, according to Howard, a content management system (CMS) is the best thing you can use to keep everything working together.

Here’s why: The goal of a CMS is to enable nontechnical business users to quickly and easily create, manage, and publish content and documents on a Web site. It’s a natural evolution to use that same CMS interface to manage your other applications for polls and surveys, lead forms, e-mail newsletters, the search engine, ad placement, and so on. If you’ve already calculated the return on investment (ROI) for your CMS by quantifying the time and effort saved by having your content creators update content directly, you can make that ROI equation more compelling by using the same CMS to let your nontechnical content creators manage the other applications that power the Web site.

A good CMS—particularly a well-hosted one—should offer preintegrated services from other companies via the same interface. The ability for the software to make these connections should be based on a good API (application programming interface) and support various connection methods like Web services, as well as FTP, SMTP, and possibly ODBC.

Integrating with Web services
“E-mail is a great example of the potential offered by Web services integration,” explained Howard. “Most sites have a way for users to subscribe to an e-mail newsletter—or they would like to. When a content management system is integrated with an e-mail system, you can use the same Web site management interface to manage your newsletters or other e-mail marketing campaigns.”

In the case of Mantas, CrownPeak provides an interface that lets people from Mantas’ marketing team create, edit, and move e-mail newsletters through the content workflow. Once these newsletters are ready to publish, Mantas can publish them directly into a system managed by CrownPeak partner EmailLabs. CrownPeak’s CMS automatically creates and pushes HTML, text versions, and AOL-friendly versions of its newsletter out to EmailLab’s system. The CMS then updates the e-mail newsletter archive on the Web site and manages the links between the e-mail newsletters and the Web site. CrownPeak also integrated user registration pages provided by EmailLabs directly into the Mantas Web site so that subscribers can subscribe and unsubscribe to the newsletter directly from the Web site. “To site users and site managers, the integration is seamless,” said Howard.

CrownPeak also used a Web service connection to integrate Picosearch’s search engine into the Mantas site. By configuring the CMS to publish out of a specialized index, Mantas has the ability to manage Picosearch’s indexing of the site and, therefore, can prioritize or eliminate content from the search mechanism. Every time site content is updated, the search system is also updated.

Site managers and editors can tweak their search engines to index the entire site, exclude certain sections from the index, or limit the search to certain site categories, without having to leave the CrownPeak CMS interface. These functions can be controlled via the CMS, by selecting a category on the content input page, or by checking a box to exclude that content from the search system. A customized search results page can be managed in the CMS and pushed out to Picosearch when it is modified.

Get things done in the right order
When planning the integration and deployment of different Web service-based applications, it’s important to keep track of the critical path items. “With every content management project, we recommend that customers prioritize the integration of various components,” advised Howard. “The integration can be performed as part of the initial project or later, depending on what the needs are at the time. For training purposes, it is better to have a completely integrated interface right away. But for budget or timing issues, it may be necessary to delay complete integration. Additionally, if Web service-based applications are underperforming or are not providing value to the organization—they are just as easily unbolted or changed. This fundamentally changes the role of the Web site manager. The Web site manager transforms into a vendor manager, ensuring that each service is providing value to the organization as a whole. It can be incredibly empowering.”

The three advantages
The advantages in outsourcing your Web applications from a software service solution provider over buying a packaged solution or building a custom system can be summed up in a few words: faster, cheaper, and less risky. The cost of renting a system is normally much lower than purchasing, installing, implementing, and managing a packaged system or building a custom system. Software services solutions also typically have very rapid development cycles, based on rapid prototyping practices. This keeps the strain on your internal teams very low. The risk of an outsourced solution is also typically lower than that for an installed product: Software services implementations are quicker and simpler—and are normally implemented by folks who are experts on the product.

 

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