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Spheres of a Solution

Today, there are literally dozens of content management solutions in the marketplace, designed to provide similar, but not the same features. And, more importantly, each of the solutions puts a slightly different spin on the approach to solving the content problem. To choose the right solution for your organization, you must find the one that most closely matches your current business needs. Further, you need to find the solution that "fits" your organization; that is, a solution that will be used by the business community and can be supported by your IT staff. For this article, I've chosen the terms technical and social to describe these "fits" in the organization.

First, let's start by defining what is meant by the technical and social environments. The technical environment is the sum of all of the technology and technologists within an organization—which servers are running in the data center, as well as IT staff members' particular skills. It's very common, for instance, that in a data center with Sun servers, the IT staff will have skills in Java. However, in some organizations a data center with Windows NT/2000 servers will also have Java developers on staff. It's really important to look at these factors when evaluating solutions; if you have Java developers on staff, it's likely that a Java-based solution would be more effective simply because you have staff that can support and develop around such a solution. In this way, you've described the technical environment by accounting for both the technology and the people that support and develop on the technology.

Unfortunately, that's only half the story.

Many solutions have been implemented only to be thrown out later because no one used the solution. It's one thing to say that a particular package or piece of hardware is good technology; it's something else entirely to say that it works for the business community for which it was installed. A serious defect in today's IT departments (although this is changing) is the assumption that if you install it, people will use it. That couldn't be farther from the truth. In fact, it's most often the worst-written, "I threw this together quickly" applications that get the most press. Often those same applications end up being support nightmares for the IT department that just spent thousands on another solution that solves essentially the same problem.

So what's the answer? Before you select a new technology, figure out what your social environment is. In other words, interview your users. Figure out what applications they like and how they work. Simple little details like how the interface looks, what applications this solution plays nicely with, what other groups are using (for better or worse), how important is the problem that the application is trying to solve—the answers to these questions are really important factors in choosing a solution, and it's likely that if they're not addressed the implementation will fail.

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