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Building and setting up a website is not a one-time project. Different departments in the enterprise will have areas of content they need to add to and update. Plus, websites have to be maintained and updated on a regular basis due to the dynamic nature of modern business.
In the early days of website maintenance, the task of uploading and updating site content usually fell to the IT department. One method for uploading web content to the server was to use file transfer programs such as FTP (file transfer protocol). Another common approach was to create an upload function within a Web interface allowing different content owners to select appropriate files and upload them via HTTP. Both methods are common, and still used by web hosting companies and small & medium enterprises (SMEs).
Problems With the Classical Approach
Traditionally, technical staff would have to assist a content editor who needs to update a site by translating the content into a suitable web page format (i.e. HTML) and uploading it to the web server on their behalf. This iterative process often led to delays in publishing, and is obviously not an efficient process given the high mutual dependence required between the content provider and the technician. Managing the website updating process is another problems with older approach. Sometimes a web page may consist of several content areas that require input and material from several different enterprise departments. When more than one person is able to update web pages simultaneously, the problem of logging and tracing "who has amended what" and "what the latest version of a page is" becomes serious.
Web Content Management Evolution
The Web Content Management Systems (WCMS) that have appeared more recently are designed to tackle these problems, and make it easier to collaboratively update a website. A WCMS is a web application that facilitates a group of collaborative users, usually from different departments across an enterprise, to maintain and organise web content in an effective and manageable way. Web content can include text, images, audio and video. A modern WCMS can also include workflow features so that the creating, storing, and updating of web pages, along with approval sub-procedures, can be streamlined. In addition, features such as versioning, check-in/check-out auditing, and so on are useful for managing and tracking the updating of web pages.
IMPACT AND BUSINESS TRENDS WITH WCMS
Commercial WCMS products have the following benefits1:
1. Quicker response times: making new web content such as marketing materials available on the web is much quicker because content owners can update materials to a website directly, without the need to assign such tasks to technical personnel;
2. More efficient workflows: requests for changes and updates to a site are simplified under a WCMS framework. Users across different departments can add and apply changes to web content with a pre-defined and agreed-upon workflow process.
3. Improved security: under a WCMS framework, content is only published after approval by designated supervisors or managers. This reduces the chance of publishing material by mistake, which is usually due to human error. In addition, most WCMS systems provide audit trails of publishing activities all of which help maintain accountability;
4. Other benefits include improved version tracking, integration with translation servers, and consistency of page presentation through the use of common page layouts and controlled templates.
Web content management has grown in importance2 over the past few years, and commercial as well as open source WCMS products are now available on the market.
THE COMMON COMPONENTS OF WCMS
Many WCMS are programmed in languages such as Java and PHP, and run on a web server. In addition to the web server, WCMS may also contain additional components such as workflow engines, search engines, and email integration modules. Web content and data is normally stored in data repositories or databases such as MySQL (open source) or Oracle (commercial). This could include text and graphic material to be published. Older versions of web pages from a particular site under management may also be stored in the database. Generally, draft web pages are not uploaded directly to the production web server. Instead, users keep copies of draft pages offline until they are approved for publication. Then, once approved and signed-off, a file transfer program runs automatically, uploading and linking in the final pages on the production web server. A WCMS is essentially a web application supported by a backend database, with other features such as search engine, and perhaps integration with a translation engine. The general security threats applicable to web applications, such as cross-site scripting, injection flaws and/or malicious file execution, can all be applied to a WCMS.
For the purposes of accountability, users normally need to be authenticated before they can access the WCMS. In some situations, users authenticate via an intermediate server called a reverse proxy server, instead of connecting directly to the WCMS server. In addition, content duties are segregated by dividing users into two groups-content editors and content administrators-where only content administrators have final publishing authority. The role of technical personnel would be in building web page templates and maintaining the consistency of web page layouts and a common look-and-feel. Generally, data and content sent to a web server is considered public information. If it is necessary to store sensitive information on WCMS servers, appropriate data encryption and authentication measures should be put in place.