Insight

It Takes a Village: Going Enterprise with WordPress

by Rich Wagner

WordPress is one of those ubiquitous web technologies that has been around since 2003—quite frankly, an amazing stretch of time for any piece of web software. And from a business standpoint, it is sometimes easy to think of WordPress as that same blogging and small business platform that it used to be back in the aughts.  

But, as the years have gone by, WordPress has defied the odds and persisted. It has also grown up and matured as a content management system (CMS). And it is arguably as popular as ever in 2020. In fact, w3techs.com estimates that a staggering 36% of all websites are WordPress sites.     

While many of these sites remain those stereotype small business and blog sites, enterprises are increasingly finding value in WordPress as a digital publishing tool. Many household name media outlets use it, including Bloomberg, TechCrunch, BBC America, The New Yorker, Sony Music, and Time Inc.

At Maark, we are well familiar with the needs of enterprise level CMS tools, working with Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) on a daily basis. And, even though we continue to work primarily with and invest heavily in AEM, we are also seeing the value of WordPress to fill a critical hole in the enterprise CMS landscape.

To be clear, WordPress, in and of itself, is not a standalone enterprise CMS. But when you take it as a core technology and augment it with a handful of plugins and an enterprise hosting platform such as WP Engine, then it begins to have many of the capabilities one would expect from a bonafide enterprise tool.   

What Makes an Enterprise CMS?

Exactly what constitutes an enterprise CMS is one of those questions that is subject to debate. In fact, the answers are often based on the particular needs of the enterprise in question. Nonetheless, the capabilities that I discuss below are usually considered the essential components that any serious enterprise CMS should have.   

Scalability

Traffic patterns change after a site is launched. Storage needs vary over time. And performance expectations may fundamentally grow higher as a site grows in traffic. An enterprise CMS needs to be able to scale both horizontally (adding more machines) and vertically (adding more resources to existing machines) to handle traffic growth and traffic spikes. What’s more, you also need the flexibility of scaling down at times to control costs in circumstances in which you don’t need the power. The hosting platform used to drive a WordPress site plays the central role in providing a scalable, dynamic environment that can be tweaked, adjusted, and honed based on demand and performance needs.   

Reliability

Perhaps it goes without saying, but an enterprise CMS obviously needs to be fully reliable. When a small traffic web site goes down, it may be an irritation. But when a high-volume, mission-critical enterprise site is offline, even for minutes, it can cost the corporation significant dollars. Once again, the WordPress hosting platform is an all-important determinant in the overall reliability of a WordPress site.  

Security

WordPress has always been plagued a bit with a reputation for being insecure and prone to holes. But, in 2020, that rap is really ancient history. The core WordPress technology is now backed by a strong security team, the ability to do quick background updates, and other security measures. But, at the same time, WordPress’s third party plugin system can still expose security issues, making it essential for businesses to vet any plugin carefully before using in a production environment.

The hosting provider is going to play a significant part in overall security - both for the general platform as well as guarding against WordPress-specific vulnerabilities. WP Engine, for example, partners with Cloudflare to offer enhanced enterprise security services, including a managed WAF (Web Application Firewall) as well as DDOS mitigation and prevention. What’s more, WP Engine offers a Smart Plugin Manager for auto-updating plugin upgrades and restoring breaks.

Multi-Site

Many larger companies need to have separate sites for each of its brands or properties but want to be able to administer those sites from one location. WordPress supports multi-sites to enable you to run a network of subsites within a single instance of WordPress. Super-admins can manage the full site network and assign roles across these individual sites.

Localization

A company who needs an enterprise CMS will almost invariably have a global presence that requires content of the website to be translated into the local language. WordPress has a variety of plug-ins available, such as WPML, that allow you to localize site content and manage various language versions.

Personalization

A tailored, personal experience is something most every corporation is prioritizing for their web site. Adobe has a suite of products and a new platform dedicated to this capability. In comparison, WordPress is not going to give you anything like those Adobe personalization offerings, but if one’s needs are more modest and scaled back, then WP Engine's GeoTarget functionality is something to consider. WP Engine uses MaxMind GeoIP database to enable geo-targeted content at the continent, country, and regional levels.   

Enterprise Media Management

Digital media is a critical component of most any enterprise site. WordPress does support essential media types—images, videos, audio, and documents—and enables content managers to manage them on the backend. And while WordPress media management capabilities are appropriate for the usage and asset management for a website, it should be clear that WordPress is not looking to provide a fullscale digital asset management (DAM) solution.      

User Roles and Workflows

User roles and content workflow rules are essential for enterprise-level publishing when you may have many people involved in the process. WordPress provides support for user roles (admin, editor, author, etc.), though it is notable that these are task-based permissions, not content-based. There are plugins available, however, that provide support for content-based permissions.

WordPress does not have a workflow or rules editor built into the administrator console. But once again, there are several workflow plugins that can fill the void to help enterprises manage and keep track of content at various stages of the publishing process.  

Headless Support

An emerging need across enterprises is to be able to provide an “omnichannel digital experience” across devices. But an enterprise can find managing the content needed to flow across a website, mobile app, smart watch app, and IoT devices both challenging and a considerable resource investment. For example, a traditional CMS supports content management for a website, but will have no viable way for a native mobile app or other channels to access that content. As a result, companies can end up managing website content in WordPress, duplicating that content for use on a mobile app, and cobbling together a way to copy and then distribute a subset of that content to smart watches and IoT devices.  

Intended as a solution to this problem, a *headless CMS* is a backend content management system that serves as a common content repository that can be accessed programmatically via API and displayed on a multitude of devices and platforms. Or, to use marketing lingo: create once, publish anywhere.  

At Maark, we have built a multitude of solutions with such headless CMSs as Contentful and have performed headless implementations using Adobe AEM. We can now add WordPress to that list. WordPress recently added headless support to enable companies to manage their digital content inside WordPress and publish it across multiple channels to provide a singular experience whether they are connecting using a Dell laptop, Android phone, Apple Watch, or Amazon Echo.    

A “Mean and Lean” Tool for Digital Transformation

The table below details the components and what element is involved in the solution. As you can see, it does "take a village": a combination of WordPress, key plugins, and WP Engine (or other enterprise hosting provider) can be used to transform WordPress into a bonafide enterprise CMS.  

WordPress is still not going to compete with AEM in an enterprise feature-by feature comparison. But it really is not meant to. AEM may be the 800-pound gorilla in this comparison, but WordPress has the advantage of being “mean and lean”: cost, relative development speed, intuitive block editor, and simpler workflows that can sufficiently meet the needs of many enterprises. At Maark, we prefer to see WordPress as yet another great tool that can be used to lead digital transformation in the enterprise.  

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Rich is an anchor in a sea of technology disruption. A Silicon Valley veteran, Rich relishes the challenge of focusing Maark’s technology resources on the big picture while delivering on the immediate one. Rich manages a SWAT team of experts in the art and craft of technology delivery across a breadth of domains, including digital transformation, product development, systems integration, devops, and SaaS solutions.

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