ASP model for content management attracting looks

With corporate purse strings still tightly drawn, lower-cost alternatives to big ticket technology items such as content management systems are attempting to grab some of the few dollars available.

Several vendors providing CM as a hosted service are touting benefits of low entry cost, quicker time to market, and no ongoing maintenance fees.

ASP iUpload on Tuesday rolled out Version 3.0 of it CM service featuring enhancements designed to speed and simplify Web site development and maintenance and give more content-authoring power to business users. Another CM service provider, Atomz Corp., at the end of the month plans to introduce a security offering aimed at luring larger enterprises to the ASP model.

Several dynamics are converging to make people take ASPs seriously in the CM space, where maybe two years ago they didn't, according to Guy Creese, research director at Aberdeen Group Inc., in Boston.

"The CFOs who are trying to figure out how to stop the burn rate are seeing you can pay a quarter million [dollars] and up for something like Vignette and have it burn a hole in your balance sheet, or you can get CM as a service, with a predictable payment schedule, and treat it like an operating expense. If cash is king, the ASP model is really attractive," he said.

Another trend emerging now is that smaller application-specific ASPs are popping up, which allows for more customized services, according to Creese.

"In the early ASP days [the ASP model] was an inexpensive cookie cutter, take it or leave it. Now you can get an inexpensive service than can be customized to meet [business] needs," Creese said.

Furthermore, well-known CM software vendors such as Interwoven Inc., Vignette Corp., and Stellent Inc. have catered to the Fortune 1000 enterprises, which has left a lot of midsize enterprises groping for options.

"There are a bunch of the [organizations] in the chasm between Microsoft FrontPage and a million dollar content management system, who would like something but can't afford that much," Creese said.

This confluence of dynamics thrown in with the current economy give the ASP model a good shot at gaining traction, he added.

Version 3.0 of iUpload adds new features aimed at streamlining the process of collecting content from various contributors in an organization, according to Robin Hopper, president and CEO of iUpload, in Burlington, Ontario. Specifically, the rich text editor now allows content to be changed without the need for programming or HTTP skills. In addition, Version 3.0 adds CSS support and includes improved asset management tools for controlling and reusing images, files, and links.

IUpload also taps Web services protocols to ease integration. The service uses XML and SOAP on the publishing side to pass information out to other applications and databases, according to Hopper.

Furthermore, the service is designed to work with any Web site, without requiring changes to the site or infrastructure.

"We work with any site, HTML-based sites, ASP, JSP, any design environment," he said.

Costs for iUpload typically include implementation service and training fees for one to three days, plus subscription fees based on the number of users, starting at US$400 per month. A typical implementation time for iUpload runs about one to two weeks versus a six-month to eight-month process for some CM software solutions, according to Hopper.

One of the biggest benefits of the ASP approach is that it can eliminate hidden costs associated with CM software licensing, a drawn-out implementation, and ongoing maintenance, Hopper said.

"This unobtrusive approach means they can get to market and enjoy the benefits of content management a whole lot quicker," he saidMeanwhile, Atomz is looking to edge its hosted Atomz Publish CM service deeper into the large enterprise market with a new enhanced security service. The forthcoming offering is a VPN solution applied to the hosted model, according to Seth Brenzel, director of marketing at Atomz, in San Bruno, Calif.

The VPN offering adds to the physical and operational security already included in Atomz Publish, providing some dedicated hardware and software to allow customers to manage content in a more secure manner, Brenzel said.

"[Security] is sometimes the rub for some potential customers looking at the solution," he said.

The VPN offering provides a lot of the benefits of CM as a service -- no updates and patches to install and no hardware to maintain -- while allowing large enterprises to comply with corporate security standards.

"Essentially it is as secure as if they were going to co-locate equipment outside of their physical plant," he said.

As the top-tier market dries up, bigger vendors such as Vignette and Interwoven are all now moving to reach the mid-market with CM, according to Rob Perry, senior analyst at Yankee Group in Boston.

Most of these vendors explored the idea of the ASP model several years ago when it was popular but were deterred by the economies of scale, he said.

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