When Ultrak, a worldwide provider of integrated, single-source total security solutions, went looking for a content management system (CMS), it set out with a clear mandate: It had to be cost-effective, meet specific needs, and, most importantly, go live in four weeks.

Ultrak, recently acquired by Honeywell, is a manufacturing firm that produces solutions that integrate closed-circuit television (CCTV), networked video, video badging, alarms, access control, and alarm management capabilities into a single console. The company not only had to meet client demands for Web-based product information, documentation, and support relating to a myriad of security solutions, it had to satisfy the usual requirements of vendor management, asset management, and support of corporate functions.

The bottom line was that Ultrak had thousands of documents in various formats, hundreds of image assets, and thousands of Web pages to create, manage, and update. The solution had to have strong native document management and asset management capabilities, be standards-based, and allow for easy integration with other applications. And it had to be implemented quickly.

Issues in choosing the best solution
After reviewing various products, Ultrak decided that the only way to get the high-level functionality it needed within a tight budget and short implementation timeframe would be to outsource to a CMS service.Ultrak’s research ultimately led it to CrownPeak Technology’s Advantage CMS solution.

Typically, a CMS service comes fully implemented and supported, and as a service, it’s often billed partially or entirely on a monthly basis. Content creation and management tasks are wholly carried out on the Web. Content contributors, site administrators, template managers, and business managers use a Web browser to upload content, run through workflow, assign tasks, and manage assets. In the hosting scenario, the CMS lives in the service provider’s data center and can usually push out the published pages, assets, and other kinds of data to the client’s Web server or databases via FTP, Web services, or other connection methods.

Yet a CMS service isn’t always an application service provider (ASP).

“I see an ASP as a company that hosts other people’s applications. They may configure and customize those applications as well, but they are really just an alternative to installing and managing the same software internally,” said CrownPeak’s CEO Jim Howard. “The software-as-a-service model is quite different. We have created a Web-native application that can be efficiently provided to thousands of companies and organizations. It’s a single application that scales for many users—not a separate instance of an application for every customer.”

For Ultrak, the Advantage CMS solution delivered 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. The core technology is based on VBScript, ASP, JScript, DHTML, and JAVA COM objects and is hosted in a highly redundant environment. The product is compatible with standard HTML authoring applications such as Microsoft FrontPage and Macromedia Dreamweaver and is fully XML/XSL compatible.

The solution allows Ultrak to manage its entire range of Web content. Ultrak’s content team creates their content once, and the information gets delivered through multiple mediums including the public site and the intranet.

When the system was initially rolled out, CrownPeak Technology used its CMS service’s developer’s toolkit to train Ultrak developers to enable the application to create multilingual sites. The training process took only a matter of days, and during the rollout, the Ultrak developers were actually able to use the development environment in parallel with CrownPeak Technology’s implementation team.

“We selected CrownPeak Technology because of its unique model, rapid deployment, and ease of use. [In] relying on experts to deliver world-class applications like Advantage CMS, our internal personnel were able to push content updates from the IT group to the content creators. In content management, CrownPeak Technology enables us to outsource technology, not human capital,” said Diane Schwartz, Ultrak’s CIO.

Achieving the ROI
Cost was a major criterion in Ultrak’s evaluation of CMS solutions. Ultrak took into account the following factors: current costs for outsourcing Web changes, in-house costs for creating HTML and recreating content in multiple formats, future costs of moving to a multilingual site format (which had been planned), costs for servers and licenses, and maintenance of existing systems.

“The costs of hosted solutions vary, mainly depending on the size and complexity of the project,” explained Howard. According to Howard, first-year costs to implement, configure, and train users and support a hosted solution typically run between $40,000 and $50,000. In the second and subsequent years, the service contracts for the better systems usually run from $1,000 to $3,000 per month.

The costs of a hosted solution vary between half and a quarter of the cost of a typical package implementation. Customers get a service contract and an implemented system as part of the price.

There are two keys to figuring ROI:

  1. What elements of cost reduction are achieved by implementing the solution?
  2. How much would the solution cost?

To achieve a return, the answer to the first question has to be larger than the answer to the second.

“The better the solution, the more business problems you can solve, the more efficiencies are enabled…the higher the cost reduction,” explained Howard. “And because a rented solution is less expensive, you are likely to achieved ROI much more quickly.” CrownPeak Technology’s site provides a handy CMS ROI calculator to compare the total cost of ownership of a hosted vs. an installed solution.

Focusing on core competencies
The turnkey implementation minimized the strain on Ultrak’s internal IT department, enabling them to focus on core business, according to Schwartz. The hosted solution came bundled with development, implementation, and support services. This kept the strain on Ultrak’s internal team very low. Because Ultrak continued to own its own servers and Web site, no changes to existing hardware, software, or network environments were required.

The need for speed
When enterprises need a CMS solution in a crunch, hosted solutions can often help reduce the time to market. CrownPeak delivered the live CMS solution, including training, to Ultrak in less than four weeks. According to Howard, this is four to five times faster than typical packaged solution deployment. The rapid time to implementation saved Ultrak countless hours spent creating its intranet and updating its new, extensive public site to enable multiple languages.

Tips for choosing the right vendor
Every CMS implementation is complex, and if you don’t work hard with your vendor to plan well, you won’t solve all of your business problems.

Before you select a hosted solution, be clear about what problems you’re solving. Feature sets can vary widely among solutions, so make sure the solution you’re considering really solves your stated problems. By going through the ROI analysis process, you can prioritize cost savings and efficiency measures.

Look for evidence of a well-run operation with a real software product.

“Too many development shops claim to have a hosted product, but all they really have is a code base that they use to deliver custom solutions to their customers,” said Howard. “And these companies also are likely to stick you with a big bill for customization over time—remember, your Web site changes.”

CIOs need to answer these questions in choosing the right solution approach:

  • How much will it cost to adjust the CMS to match with our new site if it’s a custom implementation?
  • What happens if the person who wrote that system leaves the development shop?

“Spend time with your vendor. Spend time with the prototype the vendor delivers,” advised Howard. “A hosted solution is typically easier to set up and configure, so even large changes to the initial prototype are usually easy to make during the development process.”

A good way to tell if a vendor has a good product is to review the product documentation, the documentation for the API, the company’s SLA and back-up and disaster recovery plans, and the help system.

“If those elements don’t exist, be wary,” said Howard.

Looking at actual client implementations and talking with the clients using the tools is often the best evaluation method. Demos can look great but aren’t always representative of actual implementations and service levels. And most importantly, the solution should not hold your data hostage.

“Developers outside of the hosted software firm should have multiple methods to access your data,” said Howard.

CIOs should select a hosted solution that comes with a template language that is easy for internal staff to manage and update. It should be standards-based and not proprietary or based on an arcane language. Input template configuration is critical, because you have to consider what content is being controlled and by whom, and where it’s going to go.

“Remember that a good CMS doesn’t just update pages, it controls site navigation, navigational expansion, and look and feel elements as well,” explained Howard.

Once the system is up and running, don’t forget to keep in touch with the users. Howard recommends querying the system’s users after three to four months, to see if it needs to be fine-tuned. “Again, it’s usually easy to modify, and for a few hours of work, you can ensure that system users are satisfied,” he said.