EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Flexibility Rules: Q&A With Beliefnet CTO Jason Rodriguez

If you are a regular visitor to the multi-faith Web siteBeliefnet, or if you subscribe to its e-mails, you may have noticed the site is becoming a little more playful. Something new — a quiz or prayer tool or connection to a social networking site — is introduced every month.

However, the word CTO Jason Rodriguez uses to describe these offerings is “flexible,” not “playful” — and certainly not “Web 2.0,” which is another term these widgets might evoke.

Rodriguez’s choice of adjective is understandable: Beliefnet has been able to develop this new layer of content, in large part, through a new content management system that went live in October. It is, as he told TechNewsWorld, “eminently flexible.”

TechNewsWorld: Companies are scaling back on IT investments. Why did Beliefnet go forward with this one?

Jason Rodriguez:

Well, for starters, we began this project a year ago — before the economy started to sour. We knew that if we were going to move forward with the content plans we had in development, we needed to upgrade our technology. The system we had in place made the publishing process highly dependent on technology, and for a company as small as ours — we have around 60 people on staff, 12 of which are in tech — that was sometimes a burden.

TNW: Give me an idea of how much content we’re talking about.

Rodriguez:

We have about 30,000 to 40,000 items on the site right now. These are continually updated and added to. One of the biggest portions of the site is now blog-related. We have about 30 bloggers updating their columns from once a day to 10 times a day. With the new CMS, we can publish even more with less involvement from the technology.

TNW: How did you do your due diligence when selecting the vendor?

Rodriguez:

We looked at several companies that had gone through such a transition, and what we saw were a lot of failures. I knew that anyway — that implementing a CMS is a huge task. And ours was a particularly huge and complex project because we also had to migrate all of the content we had from our old CMS.

So we reviewed countless products and then selected the ones we felt were a good fit for further review. There are a lot of good products out there, but they are not all necessarily for you. A lot depends on how often you publish, for instance, or whether some of your staff is remote.

Then the vendors came on site and interviewed our editorial, sales and marketing staff to find out what our particular issues are. That step was very important to us.

TNW: Why is that?

Rodriguez:

I saw an implementation first hand, where the company had spent a year working on it and then the CMS project was scrapped in the end, because it still didn’t meet the needs of the company. That was in 2005-2006, so it wasn’t that long ago.

But those vendors that extensively interview prospective clients are best able to guide around the pitfalls. They just need the right information about the platform’s intended use and company structure.

TNW: How many did you look at?

Rodriguez:

About 12 to 15 different products. The initial evaluation took two and a half months — and the implementation itself took six months.

TNW: Is six months a normal implementation time frame?

Rodriguez:

No — it took that long only because we customized it to our needs very specifically.

TNW: Who did you wind up eventually selecting?

Rodriguez:

I don’t mind telling you that since it has been a good experience — our platform is provided by Sitecore.

TNW: You were inking your contract with the vendor at the beginning of the year, when the economy was still strong. Were you able to negotiate with the vendor on price or other facets?

Rodriguez:

Actually, we were. Even in a good economy, the CMS market is so competitive the vendors are forced to be flexible on pricing. Most products we reviewed were represented as packages, for instance, but those packages were extremely flexible. In fact, the vendors were willing to work with any price point we put in front of them.

TNW: With the CMS now in hand, what else are you working on?

Rodriguez:

A lot of what we are doing now is our internal integration with Fox. (Beliefnet was acquired by Fox Entertainment Group in December 2007.) But we are also leveraging the benefit of our CMS. We are looking to launch new tools, like quizzes or prayer tools. We plan on rolling out something new every month. We can do that now that the system has the flexibility.

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