Content Management System

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Content Management Systems ("CMS") are software systems aimed at helping people dynamically create and maintain web sites. They are generally "ready-to-go" softwares that end-users can deploy without coding which enable a community to manage shared information collaboratively and efficiently. It facilitates quick information handling with minimal effort, since stored data is organized logically to make it easy to find. New information is captured, stored, organized, revised, expanded, deleted, published. Users have specified roles in a hierarchy of privileges; basic users have minimal access, while system administrators have extensive control. Examples of worldwide CMSs which are open to the public include online encyclopedias like Wikipedia and Citizendium, but private firms have their own enterprise-wide CMS applications as well.

(PD) Chart: Thomas Wright Sulcer
Should a website get a CMS? Here's a flowchart of a decision making guideline.

Content management systems have many functionalities and specific characteristics :

  • Dynamic content management (based on flat files or databases) ;
  • User management (with access policies) ;
  • Expandability (by adding modules, plugins, templates, etc) ;
  • File sharing (especially for softwares or multimedia content) ;
  • Sometimes specific functions like publishing workflows, version control, statistics, private messaging...
  • Customization (layout, colors, fonts, ...)

They are now used for personal purposes or for commercial activities (in that case, they are often called Enterprise Content Management).

They are divided in two parts : a front end and an administration section. The front end is what any end user can see (sometimes through rights and habilitation filtering). The actions that an end-user can carry out (like adding content, comments, etc) depends on the rights he owns. The administration section (which is generally protected) handles administrative tasks, like users and rights management.

Technical Framework

There is no typical framework for Content Management System. What is needed is :

  • A web server (for intranet or extranet), like Apache or IIS ;
  • A programming language (that can be handled by the web server) like PHP, Perl, Python, VB.NET ;
  • A file system or a database to store data (the content).

Many CMS are open source, although that does not mean that they are free of charge (though they generally are) but that they can be read and modified by anyone (provided the user respects the license agreement). Most of CMS are based on the LAMP architecture, for which you can easily (and at low cost) find providers for web hosting.

Usage of CMS is growing due to the expansion of web usage, especially with Web 2.0 that allows web sites to interact with others web sites.

Different types of CMS

CMS can have different main purposes :

Filing cabinet.
A filing cabinet was the nineteenth century precursor to the modern CMS. It stored different documents in files, organized in folders usually alphabetically, and helped users retrieve information.

Most widespread CMS are open source, even if some editors have developed commercial versions. Some editors have both free and commercial versions, depending on the usage of the web site (in that case, the licence agreement allows often a free use of the software for personal use or for non-profit organizations).

Media firms such as National Public Radio use content management systems to hold images, videos, and stories from sources external to them, such as the Associated Press or Reuters news services, and tag the information with data about their useability, including rights information.[1] A report in Reuters explained the importance of asking questions when deciding which type of content management system to buy or use:

Content is the heart of today's websites, and managing that content with a content management system is one of the most import decisions you need to make. Your CMS is the foundation for the growth of your website. Evaluating the right CMS is also one of the most difficult processes because of the various opinions, options and functions available in today's marketplace. The key here is to clarify your needs first. What do you need your content management system to do? Do you want your CMS to provide SEO-friendly URLs and individual page control for titles and metadata? Will your CMS need to support different layout designs for different sections? Will you be adding new features to your website in the next few months? What functions are you planning for? For example, will you be adding video, additional forms, a blogging feature or possibly a member area? The point is, you want to know if the CMS system you choose is scalable. How is it scalable? Are there third-party applications already designed and ready to work with your CMS, or will your developer have to write something from scratch?[2]

Systems for businesses and organizations

An enterprise content management system or ECM is the management of the information of an organization such as a business or government agency, and the term began to become more prevalent about 2001. It handles its documents and files and data. The official definition of the Association for Information and Image Management in 2008 was:

Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is the strategies, methods and tools used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver content and documents related to organizational processes. ECM tools and strategies allow the management of an organization's unstructured information, wherever that information exists. [3]

ECM is an expanded sense of what has traditionally been seen as "document management" or "records management", and it is a rapidly evolving area of business expertise. It includes handling of applications such as e-mail, instant messaging, business-to-business communication, record keeping, pictures, salespersons contact information, and digital asset management. Increasingly, ECM is integrating a wide area of software applications which have been seen, in the past, as separate.

CMS is often thought of as server-side software that helps a web site easily update information.[4]

A CMS is server-side software used to change the text and images contained in predefined templates. Most come equipped with standard editing tools to add hyperlinks, images, and basic text formatting like bold and italics or bulleted or numbered lists... (CMS) allows you to easily update text, images, and other media on your Web site without having to write code. Whether you're updating quarterly reports, product details, or your daily online journal, a CMS makes changing your site's content quick and relatively easy.[4]

The following trends are emerging:

  1. Integration of different software solutions into a comprehensive, enterprise-wide system.
  2. Paperless alternatives.
  3. Huge storage requirements, leading to outsourcing of document storage.
  4. Movement towards new operational and security standards such as HIPAA, SAS 70, BS 7799 and ISO/IEC 27001.
  5. Movement towards new data exchange formats, including application-specific such as HL7 and general such as XML
  6. Standard solutions easily adapted to a wide range of applications. The trend is for increased functionality. So an ECM method can be adapted easily to manage data for a golf course, a parent-teacher organization, a software developer, or a translation service. The idea is partly to eliminate redundant services and procedures.
  7. Invisibility of the background architecture to users.
  8. Emphasis on cloud computing.

The movement is towards an integrated organization-wide solution which reduces paper and which enables the sharing of all kinds of documents to meld sometimes obsolescent software products into more comprehensive and intuitive systems. When done right, an ECM solution finds "lost" documents, speeds access to documents, streamlines business practices, keeps sensitive information securely locked up. Further, it provides back-up procedures so that mistakes can be traced and fixed, typically by using audit trails, and monitoring usage. For example, a customer service worker would have quick access to product specifications and formats so that he or she could answer an impatient customer's question quickly and accurately, but at the same time, the history of which files were accessed could be recorded and studied, possibly to help managers figure out even better ways to expedite the process. Software vendors offered a smorgasbord of related programs and packaged them into a "suite", but integrating packages has been an ongoing challenge for the software industry.

Several large software vendors added serious ECM products beginning around 2006 and 2007. Microsoft offered "MOSS 2007" and Oracle offered "10g". One computer industry analyst suggested it would lead to a greater stratification in the ECM market.[5] There have also been open source programs available which include LogicalDOC, WebGUI, Alfresco, Sensenet 6.0, eZ Publish, KnowledgeTree, Jumper 2.0, Nuxeo, Plone and Freedom.

A key is often opening up data sources to new publics, such as a firm's internal company-wide network being opened up to suppliers. Large firms such as Walmart have been doing this for years, as a way to improve communication between its vendors and its stores. Outward-directed web portal development will become increasingly important.[6]

ECM can also be analyzed by five functions:

  1. Capturing data by means such as optical character recognition, or recognizing handprints, so-called "intelligent characters" or "optical marks", as well as more traditional methods such as barcodes. Document imaging techniques are becoming more prevalent, as well as forms processing including e-forms. One goal is to combine disparate data into a uniform format for expedited handling.
  2. Managing data means manipulating data, often with databases as well as "access authorization systems" which typically require passwords for access to priviledged areas. Document management systems help check incoming information for accuracy, as well as help keep track of which versions of data are being added, and help users search for specific data, navigate within the system, and visualize data sometimes with graphic programs or pictures. There are increasingly the digital and software equivalents of "whiteboards" being used to help communities brainstorm, as well as schedule appointments or manage complex projects. Sometimes information must be converted from one format to another, indexed, standardized, or tagged with identifiers. Workflow information which addresses the steps which certain tasks are to be performed, must be updated and revised according to new developments, and this is often seen as a subset of business process management or BPM.
  3. Storing the vast and ever-expanding universe of data requires that information be prioritized, and deletion schedules maintained to automatically remove accumulating junk. Data can be kept in file systems, databases, warehouses for data, libraries. The general strategy is to make the most valuable information readily accessible by giving it priority, while less important information can be saved in compressed file formats, printed to paper records (for longevity or legal reasons), or even deleted altogether. The levels of storage include: online storage, "nearline storage" (such as on hard disk or tape format), and "offline storage" where documents must be loaded into a reader before being accessed. Library "check-in check-out" administrative procedures are needed to keep track of this information.
  4. Preserving data which must be kept for historical, legal, or other business reasons is best done on cheap, efficient media but which have long-term shelf life, such as microfilm or paper. Information should not be editable or changeable at this point, but rather, the purpose is to keep data alive in a set form. The process of continually moving newer information to older formats is sometimes called continuous migration. Long term storage media include "WORM" optical discs and hard drives and tape drives, and microfilm, and paper. Storage networks can also be used as well, provided they're built to prevent editing of data, protection, and have some kind of backup procedures to guard against fire, theft, vandalism, or natural destruction based on water as well as wear and tear.
  5. Delivering data means publishing it in an attractive, easy-to-use layout, which allows users to tailor what they see. For example, users can adjust the type size of fonts, so users with impaired eyesight can make the typeface bigger. Delivery formats include the Extensible Markup Language (XML), Portable Document Format (PDF), XML Paper Specification (XPS). Sometimes compressed documents must be re-expanded again to be useful or edited. Converters and viewers are often necessary for certain documents to be readable. The notion of syndication means that the same content can be used repeatedly in different formats. In all instances, publishing data requires security conventions such as passwords as well as encryptions, watermarks, public-private key encryptions, and so forth, to ensure that only authorized users can see the specified data. The data can be delivered via the Internet as well as internal organization intranet or extranet, as well as E-business portals, e-mail, fax, text messages, sounds, visual signals and pictures. And of course, a printer could print out and mail a traditional hardcopy paper document or letter.

The ECM is a growing and sophisticated market. One estimate was that the total market in 2007 was $2.9 billion (USD) and is expected to grow at a rate of 13% through 2011.[7][8] It includes firms such as

Advanced Processing & Imaging], Documentum, FileNet, OpenText, Interwoven, Vignette, Stellent, IBM, Oracle, EMC Corporation, Hewlett-Packard, Infonic, Computhink, Laserfiche, ColumbiaSoft, Hyland Software, Xerox, Saperion, Ever-Team, SunGard EXP, WAVE Corporation, Objective Corporation, and Xythos Software.[9].[10] Nuxeo, Alfresco, Spring CM, Jumper Networks,[11] Sense/Net[12][13][14][15][16]

Content management systems on the web

A web content management (WCM, WCMS or Web CMS) system is content management system software which functions over the Internet. It manages HTML content. It has authoring tools enabling users to create content without knowing how to use complex programming or markup languages. Systems have databases to store content and have special information needed by the system often called metadata. Content is stored in XML formats, generally, allowing flexible re-use of content. Typically there's a presentation layer which allows users to see content given their user-specified choices. Sometimes systems put often-accessed material in a cache in the server to speed access to critically important data, or when data is repeatedly re-used. Administration can be done remotely or through use of a specially-tasked computer which provides rich functionality apart from the central server; it's sometimes called a "fat client" or "rich client." Fat clients can do many tasks without accessing the server.

Web content management systems have features such as automated templates to create standard output (which gives the appearance that all content comes from one place), editing tools, modules to allow upgrades without redesigning the system, tools to manage workflow to handle the balance of sequential and parallel tasks, delegation capability which gives some users privileges for limited times, and e-mail notifications.

The three major types of web content management systems are called:

  1. Offline processing. Changes are made offline, and the system is accessed and updated periodically.
  2. Online processing, sometimes called frying systems. They apply templates on demand, so they're more versatile, but sometimes slower to operate.
  3. Hybrid systems which combine the benefits of both. For example, some write executable code such as JSP, ASP, PHP, ColdFusion, or Perl pages rather than static HTML which makes it possible to run the software without deploying it on every server. Other hybrid systems can operate in either offline or online mode.

One computer and website designer at the New York Times who manages the media firm's CMS explained the role: {{quote|Our content management system — the software that we use to publish our articles on our Web site — is based on a finite number of templates. So in large measure we're resigned to working within those pre-determined layouts. The range of expression that you see day to day on the home page and on our various section fronts is really a credit to the editors and producers who do the actual publishing of the articles. They use the C.M.S. the most and have learned to be very creative with it. (My design group is focused on the site as a platform, and we don't often get involved with the daily layout of the news.) If there are any shortcomings in the range of expression that those templates offer, it's the job of my design group, working with our technology team, to create new ones that better suit the needs of the editing staff. This can be a lengthy and involved process. Often it doesn't make sense to invest the effort in creating a brand new template if the needs it will address are singular or short-term. So we will often — not frequently, but often enough — try to work around the limitations of the existing templates using custom code, essentially "hacking into" our own templates to achieve a unusual presentation.[17]

Other systems

Component content management system

(PD) Chart: Thomas Wright Sulcer
A document management system handles a wide variety of documents into one system, but their functionality has been growing to encompass an even wider variety of documents into an integrated CMS.

A component content management system or CCMS, manages single topics, concepts, or assets such as images or tables or product descriptions. This is in contrast to a system that manages documents (see next section). A component can be as large as a chapter or as small as a word or letter, and manages these at the granular level, and allows users in some cases to see them as particular components or as traditional documents. Each component has lifecycle data about its owner, version, approval level, and use, and can be tracked individually or in an assembly. CCMS can be part of a larger content management system.[18]

Document management system

A subset of content management systems is a document management system or DMS which is a computer program or system of programs to manage documents. These can be digital documents as well as digitized versions of paper documents. It is often seen as a specific function of enterprise content management. It can range in size from a simple Rolodex of phone numbers to an electric warehouse. To some extent, industry observers feel that document management tasks are being expanded into larger, more inclusive content management systems, and the software industry has been moving towards greater functionality and integrated applications. All document management systems deal, to varying extents, with these kinds of issues:

Location Where will documents be stored? Where will people need to go to access documents? Physical journeys to filing cabinets and file rooms are analogous to the onscreen navigation required to use a document management system.
Filing How will documents be filed? What methods will be used to organize or index the documents to assist in later retrieval? Document management systems will typically use a database to store metadata about documents and a File System to store the actual physical files.
Retrieval How will documents be found? Typically, retrieval encompasses both browsing through documents and searching for specific information. What kind of information about documents are indexed for rapid retrieval?
Security How will documents be kept secure? How will unauthorized personnel be prevented from reading, modifying or destroying documents?
Disaster recovery How can documents be recovered in case of destruction from fires, floods or natural disasters?
Retention period How long should documents be kept, i.e. retained? As organizations grow and regulations increase, informal guidelines for keeping various types of documents give way to more formal records management practices.
Archiving How can documents be preserved for future readability?
Distribution How can documents be available to the people that need them?
Workflow If documents need to pass from one person to another, what are the rules for how their work should flow?
Creation How are documents created? This question becomes important when multiple people need to collaborate, and the logistics of version control and authoring arise.
Authenticity Is there a way to vouch for the authenticity of a document ?
Traceability When, where and by whom are documents created, modified, published and stored [19]?


  1. NPR's API Rights Management: Rights Tagging System, NPR, June 8, 2009. Retrieved on 2010-03-05. “One of the things that I am most commonly asked about regarding the NPR API is rights management. Because we are distributing content to unknown destinations, it is critical to make sure the API itself can control what gets offered and to whom. To handle these kinds of issues, we built a robust permissions and rights management system into the API. But that is not enough. Rights management starts with contracts and ensuring that the content is tagged appropriately.”
  2. ennifer Shaheen. Which Features Should Your Website Have?, Reuters, 2010-03-05. Retrieved on 2010-03-05.
  3. AIIM: current ECM Definition.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Why Your Web Site Needs a Content Management System, San Francisco Chronicle, 2010-03-05. Retrieved on 2010-03-05. “A Content Management System (CMS) allows you to easily update text, images, and other media on your Web site without having to write code. Whether you're updating quarterly reports, product details, or your daily online journal, a CMS makes changing your site's content quick and relatively easy. A CMS is server-side software used to change the text and images contained in predefined templates. Most come equipped with standard editing tools to add hyperlinks, images, and basic text formatting like bold and italics or bulleted or numbered lists. While not as robust as stand-alone word processor software, a CMS can be used to compose original documents.”
  5. Evolving Electronic Document Management Solutions: The Doculabs Report, Third Edition. Chicago: Doculabs, 2002.
  6. Ulrich Kampffmeyer, "ECM — Herrscher über Informationen". ComputerWoche, CW-exktraKT, Munich, September 24th, 2001.
  7. ECM Gartner Magic Quadrant Report — published on 11th October 2006.
  8. Gartner “Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Content Management” 2007 — published on 21st September 2007.
  9. ECM Gartner Magic Quadrant Report — published on 11th October 2006.
  10. Compare ECM Suites Vendors List - CMS Watch.
  11. Jumper Networks Press Release Jumper 2.0 Released under the GPL, Jumper Networks, Inc., 26 March 2009.
  12. Alan Pelz-Sharpe (2007-04-23). Enterprise Content Management Marketplace: Opportunities and Risks. CMS Watch.
  13. Open Source ECM continues to grow
  14. Gartner “Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Content Management” 2007 — published on 21st September 2007.
  15. Ismael Ghalimi (2007-04-10). First Koral, then ThinkFree and EchoSign. ITRedux.
  17. Khoi Vinh. Talk to the Newsroom: Khoi Vinh, Design Director, The New York Times: Media and Advertising, April 21, 2008. Retrieved on 2010-03-05.
  18. Ann Rockley and Steve Manning. Component content management: Overlooked by analysts; required by technical publications departments. The Rockley Group Inc.
  19. Food and Drug Administration (2007). Guidance for Industry: Computerized Sysems Used in Clinical Investigations. Retrieved on 9 April 2009.