Enterprise Class Business Management Platform

TerminalFour Site Manger 7.1 Review

dwaadmin

Introduction

Vendor History 

TerminalFour was founded in 1996 by the then-Dublin City University student Piero Tintori. What started off as a few one-off projects in Ireland gradually developed into solution that is now known as Site Manager. This development was done in collaboration with two of TerminalFour’s customers.

With the initial focus on the Healthcare sector, TerminalFour soon found it’s nice in the Higher Education (#1 in Ireland and UK) and Public Sector eGovernment (#1 in Ireland).  TerminalFour has now started penetrating in finance and retail sector too. Headquartered in Dublin, Ireland; TerminalFour had expanded to Europe, North America, the Middle-East and Australia, TerminalFour is headquartered in Ireland with offices in Slough, Berkshire (UK); Sydney, Australia and Cambridge, Massachusetts (USA).

An aggressive marketer, the company targets customers of WCM tool (like RedDot, Vignette, and Interwoven) which have acquired by other vendors; and claims to generate a significant part of its revenues (over 50%) from these migrations projects.

Product Summary

Site Manager from TerminalFour is a Java based Web Content Management (WCM) tool that offers a web browser based interface only for its users. Being able to perform all tasks (design, development, administration and content contribution) from the thin client itself - with no additional client installation requirement is a big plus for the industry segments where TerminalFour is the strongest – Higher Education and Public Sector / Government.

Site manager offers static content publishing (bake and push) and content transformation capabilities that allows the same content to be re-purposed (and not reused) for publishing across multiple output channels like web browser, mobile, XML and RSS. Site Manager also supports server side scripting that allows for partial dynamic content publishing. Site Manager is well suited for scenarios that primarily involve information sharing through large websites, several microsites and even multilingual websites.

Be advised that unless you have prior experience with the tool, you will find yourself struggling a bit at first – it takes time to discover and understand the product capacities. In addition Site Manager development also requires significant HTML and CSS knowledge. Like most customer, it is highly likely that you will go with the TerminalFour Professional Services or a services partner to get yourself started.

Technology

Architecture

TerminalFour Site Manager is Java based Web Content Management solution that offers a browser base thin client interface for all its users – site administrators, content designers & contributors. Site Manager is primarily a J2EE application that runs on top of an applications server like Oracle Application Server, Apache Tomcat and JBoss. All content except for the large binary files are stored in the database that also serves as it repository.  Each Site Manager content type is directly mapped to a table in the database and each element is mapped to a column in the table. With a straightforward design to data mapping, you can conveniently access the site content from the database.

Site Manager supports dynamic as well as static site generation, however publishing is only static (explained in Publishing section). It also support server side scripting like PHP, ASP, JSP, Perl, Python and ColdFusion that can dynamically server part of site content during runtime. Site Manager supports HTML5, Web Services and WebDAV.

Security

By default Site Manager uses its in-built authentication mechanism and stores user credentials in its database repository. You can however choose to authenticating users against your existing NTLM and LDAP servers.

Figure 1: Site Manager’s authentication model support

Site Manager’s security model is defined around Roles, Right and Sections. Roles are defined for the overall site structure (root), whereas rights are defined for individual sections and sub-sections. Site Manager has five predefined roles – Administrator, Power User, Moderator, Contributor and Visitor.

Figure 2 User roles supported in Site Manager

Roles only define the actions a user can perform in a given Site Manager deployment – like add content, approve content and generate report. A user can be assigned only one role and is done based on his primary function in the site management – e.g. an Administrator role for site administration and a contributor role for content contributors of the site.

Rights on the other hand define the user’s authority to perform an action on a given site section. A user can be granted access to multiple sections in the site structure however it is important to note that his role will remain the same across all sections.  Thus if you have been assigned a Contributor Role, you can’t be a contributor to one site section and a power user for other.

This security model would typically meet most higher education requirements, but can be quite a limitation for enterprises that have granular and complex security requirements.

Figure 3 Users can be granted access to an individual section in the site structure

Scalability / Performance

Inherited from and implemented by the J2EE platform, TerminalFour Site Manager supports clustering, high availability and multi-tier distributed architecture. A typical TerminalFour implementation comprised of:

  1. Data layer hosts the TerminalFour repository as well as other external data sources that are accessed by the terminal four. TerminalFour uses standard JDBC calls to access its database repository (as well as external databases) which means that you can view and validate the data using any SQL client or expose it to other applications just like any other database.
  2. Application layer hosts the TerminalFour Site manager application that serves the web client and performs the task of content aggregating and publishing. The content can be published to the Web Layer (production environment) or a staging environment as the user may choose. In some scenarios users may also choose to use a portal server or custom application to manage the content rendering to the site visitors, in such cases these application will also reside in the application layer.
  3. Web Layer is where the static content resides and is responsible for rendering it to site visitors using the web servers like Apache and IIS.

TerminalFour does not offer any native caching capabilities, more so cause content publishing is primarily static and is pushed to the web server for rendering. For scenarios where the site implementation involves partial dynamic content rendering via the server side scripting, you can enable database cache to improve performance and cut down on the database response time lag.

The performance of websites published by Site Manager is primarily governed by the web server that is rendering the static web pages to the site visitors. Site Manager’s performance comes into play only when Site Manager is being accessed via the web client or when Site Manager is publishing the content. In the former case – I don’t expect it to be an issue, as in most scenarios the number of users will not be exceptionally high that can’t be supported by Site Manager running on a normal server configuration – this is probably one of the reasons why TerminalFour doesn’t have a CPU or a server based licensing.. However do make sure that your database is tuned properly as a few customers that I’ve spoken to have run into performance issues cause of it. As for site publishing – if you have ultra large site, look at configuring microsites for site sections where content is frequently updated. This ensures that only specific sections are published when required instead of the entire website thus reducing the server load and improving performance

Functional Solution

Site Manager has been broadly architected around Sections, Content Templates, Styles and Channels.  And then there are other components like navigation, workflow, eForm, widgets, media and reports.

After creating users and having assigned them roles based on their planned contribution in the web site creation process, you would typically start by creating the site structure. The site structure comprises of sections and subsections under the ‘Root’ which also defines the broad navigation of your site. These individual sections can also be published as independent website or microsites. You would then define Content Templates that are used to define the elements (fields) and the presentation formatting of your custom content types e.g. news, press releases and articles. These content templates are used by content contributors to submit content for the website.

Before content author can start contributing content to the site, each Content Type is associated with one or more sections – this means that a content author can only contribute content of content types that are associated with the section. e.g. When content template News is associated with the site section News, content author can only submit news content for the New section and not others content types like Blog or Contact us. The content then goes thought the workflow cycle and once approved, it’s ready for publishing.

Styles combined with Content Templates define the overall look and feel of your website.  Style defined the header, footer and the style sheet for the website while content templates manage the presentation of an individual content item. Site Manager provides several types of navigations (discussed in the navigation section) that can be included to in the style to allow users to easily navigate through the site. Content publishing is handled by Channel which is responsible for assembling the information and publishing it to the designated target.

Site Manager supports integration of content from external sources too like databases, website, RSS feed, Microsoft SharePoint and WebDAV. In such cased this information is retrieved from the external sources and assembled to create the final page and then published to the target system.

Content

All information in TerminalFour is managed using custom defined content types like blogs, news and events. These custom content types are collection of desired elements or fields that are grouped together to create a coarse grained content that standardizes the structure of information shared thorough the website. The structure as well as the presentation of these content types is handled though Content Templates.  . TerminalFour support several types of elements (fields) that form the structure of the Content like date, plain text, html and check box – these are combined to create a desired content type.  

Figure 4 Content Template defines the elements that form part of the content type

Content template also defines the presentation/formatting of the content – it governs how the content will be displayed in the browser when accessed by the site visitors. The content formatting is achieved using a combination of (X)HTML, CSS, XML, XSLT and T4 tags.

T4 tags serve as the place holder for content elements, element metadata, navigation object or medial files within the HTML code. At the time of publishing, Site Manager replaces these tags with the actual data and assembles the web page. Although working with T4 tags may sound complex and extra effort to understand these tags, TerminalFour provides an easy to use interface that creates these tags for you.

Figure 5 Content Template defines the presentation of the content type

An important feature to note is that a template can contain multiple formats for the content; which means the same content can be repurposed for different presentation needs.  E.g. the same News content can be formatted differently for output to web browser, mobile device as well as RSS Feeds.  The content created by these content templates are published by the channel only if content type used within the channel definition and style matches formatting in the template.

Figure 6 Content Template can define multiple formatting of a content type

Content template can only be created by users with Administrator and Power User roles. Each content template has a corresponding database table and each element(field) in the template maps to a column in these tables and are used to store associated content (and metadata). These database tables are automatically created by Site Manage at the time of template creation. Site Manager does not leverage any proprietary interface to access its database repository, rather accesses it uses JDBC to access the database. The data is thus easily accessible to any external application via JDBC.

 Site Manager allows you to retrieve data from external databases and RSS feeds via Data Objects; and information from external websites via Web Objects. These brokers fetch information from these configured sources each time the site is published and embeds the retrieved content within the HTML page before publishing it.

Content is Site Manager is versioned so every time there is a change in the content; it saved as a new version. Site Manager also allows you to compare different version of content, thus enabling content approves to review the changes before they approve the content.

eForm / xForm

eForm and xForm provides the interactive capability to your site – mean by which you can accept content from your site visitors as well as implement simple business process management. These are primarily Content Templates except that are available to site visitor as forms through which they can to submit content on the website. This content then goes through the predefined workflow. e.g. users can request information like product brochures, make blog entries and comments.

While eForm and xForm are essentially the same, they differ in their deployment. eForm require that the eForm servlet be installed on the CMS server and accessible to users submitting the form (not curtailed by your firewalls). When content is submitted using an eForm, the content is directly updated in the database and is thus immediately available in Site Manager.

xForm are used when the eForm servlet is not accessible. xForm are installed on the web server and the CMS server. xForm accepts the data submitted via a web form and store it as XML on the web server. This XML is then downloaded from the web server to the Site Manager server where it is parsed as content. This results in a delay before the content actually available in Site Manager.

Reuse and Transformation

In Site Manager, a piece of content is uniquely associated with a content template and a site section in which it was created. Thus content created in one section or sub-section can’t be used in another section. However if you’d like to reuse content, the only true options you have is to mirror content. Mirroring can be used to create multiple references to a content item in different sections of your site structure however the click heavy interface makes this a tedious task especially if you have a large website. While TerminalFour claims that content reuse is possible via Related Content navigation and duplication of a content item, I would not really call it content reuse. 

Figure 7 Content reuse possible through content mirroring

Site Manager however allows for transformation of content for different output channels i.e. same content can be formatted differently like HTML, XML, CSV, RSS and mobile output.

Development & Designing Capabilities

While TerminalFour does provide sample assets that can help you get started, for the most part you would need to create your website from scratch. Site creation in Site Manager is a configuration and development (mostly HTML/CSS) heavy. You will need to gain good understanding of the tool before you can get started. In most cases customers end up working with TerminalFour professional services. That said Site Manager is an open system that will seldom ties you down.

Scripts, API

TerminalFour Site Manager exposes an elaborate set of Java and Web Services API that can be leveraged by java developers to extend TerminalFour as well as integrate it with external application. Contrary to it conservative and outdated product documentation, TerminalFour APIs has been well documented.  

Templating

Styles and Content Templates together define the overall presentation of your website. While Styles control the overall layout and appearance the website, Content Templates define the presentation of individual content types. TerminalFour allows you to assign different Style to each subsection or microsites. A style consists of a header, footer, navigation (menus and breadcrumbs) and the page styling.  Each page consists of one or more Content types and the presentation of each content type is controlled by their Content Template.

Do remember that Site Manager does not validate the code within tool, so you might want to test the same using tools like Dreamweaver before entering you code in Site Manager.

Figure 8 Style defines the overall layout and the presentation of your website.

Site Structure

Site Manager offers a pretty flexible tree like site structure that is easy to create and manage. The Site structure ‘Root’ comprises of sections and sub sections each of which can be defined as an independent website or a micro site.

Figure 9 Site Manager's site structure, sections with the house icon represent independent site

Figure 10 Configuration options available for a section

Navigation

Site Manager offers a good set of 25 predefined navigation object like breadcrumbs, site map, pagination, link menu, related content and top stories that you can model your site navigation around.

Figure 11 Site Manager Navigation options

 

Workflow

Site Manager provides an easy to use interface (required no coding, just configuration) to create simple as well as complex workflows that would typically suffices the need of most higher education customers.  It supports multiple levels of workflow, branching out to other workflow, triggers and notification. Workflows can be assigned both to sections as well as templates.

Figure 12 Relatively complex workflows can be created using Site Manager

Contributor Experience

TerminalFour Site Manager provides a single web based interface for all its users – all activities like sever configuration, site development and content contributions can be performed through this web interface. The user interface does not set very high standards when it comes to look and feel, ease of use and navigation - it has a ‘Fit to Purpose’ look & feel; an information architecture that does take a while to sink-in. Site Manager’s thin client does not make use of Ajax features and is thus quite ‘Click Heavy’. While it is defiantly not the best in the class, it does serve the purpose pretty well. Most TerminalFour users come from a background where have been either doing the job manually or have been using other primitive solutions. And given that TerminalFour doesn’t require any additional client install, users are pretty satisfied with what they get.

Site manager users can also use ‘Direct Edit’ to manage content in the site. Direct Edit it the in-context editing tool that allows user to manage (add, modify, delete and approve) content as well as site structure while in preview mode. This feature is especially useful for content approvers - they can review the content as well as its presentation as it would appear in production and make on the spot corrections.

Figure 13 Direct Edit feature allows content to be updated directly in the preview mode

Site Manager has been localised for English and Welsh out of box; French, Spanish and German are also supported, with is rather limited.

Roles & Privileges

Site Manager offers Administrator, Power User, Moderator and Contributors roles for managing the website.

Dashboard

Site Manager version 7.0 introduced widgets that users can add / remove from their dashboard. While TerminalFour claims this allows for content personalization, there’s very little that you can do with the existing widgets as of today. Site Manager offers a few widgets that are available to site contributor roles to view system and content related information like items pending for approval and number of users logged in into the system. Fortunately you can create your own custom widgets too but then there is no documentation on how to do so. 

Figure 14 Site Manager’s dashboard

Publishing

TerminalFour supports both static site generation as well as dynamic site generations however do note that site generation is not the same site publishing. TerminalFour only supports Static site publishing. TerminalFour claims that ‘Site Manger Live’ allows for dynamic content publishing, I have not been able to validate the same or have seen any documentation around it. So do as for a demo if this is a requirement for you.

 In Site Manager, content can be contributed by user like content authors, moderators; content can also be aggregated from external information sources like databases, website and applications. Information from these external systems is accessed using means like JDBC, RSS feeds, URL and web services. Site Manager retrieves this information before publishing the site, merges it with the exiting content to dynamically generate the website. These static website pages are publishes by the Channel to the target destination – typically a folder on the local server.

In Site Manager, Channel is responsible for publishing the site content. It assembles content and directs it to the actual website or alternative output as defined. A channel can also publish the same content in multiple output formats like RSS, XML, CVS or Mobile.

 

You can then use the Transfer Manager to transfer content from the local directory a remote directory on the target server via FTP, FTPS and SCP. This Java servlet based tool is an intelligent utility that only transfers that have been modified since the last upload.

Microsites

Microsites refer to small focused websites that have a specific focus area within the overall theme of the website. In case of higher education, it could mean each department having their own website as part of the university website. These microsites typically act as independent sites that can have their own look and feel, delegated management, and publishing schedules while they continue to be a part of the larger website.

In Site Manager Microsites are created using sections and channel. While sections defines the structure, content and scope of the microsite; channel allows it to be published independent of the rest of the site. Site Manager supports both virtual as well as traditional microsite what TerminalFour calls Symbolic Microsites (http://www.sanjeevg.com/blog) and Fully Formed Microsites (http://blog.sanjeevg.com).

Multilingual Sites

One of the scenarios that TerminalFour targets are multilingual site management – for this Site Manager provides a limited set of features. Site Manager is Unicode compliant thus can support any languages Hindi, Arabic, Chinese and Japanese. Site Manager support from multilingual site comes primarily from its content versioning and workflow capabilities. TerminalFour claims that Version control system can monitor and detect changes in one language that are not reflected in corresponding language, while workflow can trigger notifications to the corresponding translators to content updates.

Reporting

Site Manager can be configured to generate the required ‘amount’ and ‘type’ of system information. You can log from error messages to warning messages till verbose system information that can be used for debugging Site Manager. You can also select the type of evens that Site Manager captures like system access, information updates, scheduled tasks, system events and system errors.

Site Manager offers reporting capabilities to not only review the system health like audit trail and error reports, but also offers reporting capabilities that can evaluate the reach and usage of your websites. The system offers reporting capabilities like accessibility report, broken links, and SEO report; and web analytics like reports - navigation statistics.

Integration

TerminalFour claims that Site Manager can exchange information with external systems like Liferay and Microsoft SharePoint. This is achieved through publishing Site Manager content as RSS feeds that can be consumed and exposed by the external application and vice versa. Alternatively you can also exchange information stored in databases using JBDC; connect to repositories using WebDAV; or exposer web pages using iFrame. That said TerminalFour does not provide any native / secure means of integration with external systems.

Vendor Services

After having established itself in Higher education in Ireland and the UK and Europe, TerminalFour has been leveraging its success to get a strong hold in the North American higher education. as a result it has managed to increase its North American revenue share to 38%.

TerminalFour claims itself to be the largest commercial WCM vendor with over 1300 website implementation–this self-proclamation claim that can’t be validated. This claim seems to be purely based on the #of websites and microsites included. With about 90+ wins (and about 80 implementation live) in the higher education alone and given that each higher education implementation has several microsites, the #s may not be unrealistic.

TerminalFour specifically targets large website, intranet websites, several microsites and multilingual implementation. TerminalFour also targets website migration projects and claims to generate about 50% of its revenue from such projects.

Support

Most TerminalFour customers I’ve spoken to are happy campers, they like the product and are well stratified with the satisfied. As per some the response from the support services has been a mixed bag with a few incidence of slow response, but they’ve not had major any complaint and are happy for the most part.

Professional Services

While some (and specially TerminalFour) may disagree with me, Site Manager does involves a learning curve – not very steep thought. To an extent I would attribute this to lack of detailed documentation, a click heavy interface and some non-industry standard terminologies. So it is would be advisable to get some help from TerminalFour professional services or their partner network. And to help customer get over these initial hiccups, TerminalFour offers SureStart implementation package starting at $6000.

Documentation

TerminalFour documentation is available only to licensed users through the TerminalFour Extranet. The documentation is typically out dated and is behind schedule by about one or two releases. The documentation offers help if you want to understand the basic site creation steps and site management processes. It however fails to cover Site Manager’s concepts and advanced features in details. That said it also does offer a good collections of step by step guides called “How To” and well documented APIs.

Licensing and Cost

Site Manager pricing is based on the # of pages in your site instead of the traditional server / CPU based pricing. Starting at $15000 (+ about 25% of support cost and an additional professional services cost) for 0-7499 pages is quite aggressively priced for smaller website requirements. But then if you have a really large website the pricing can get steep, but I’m sure there’s always room for negotiations.  Do note that unlike most vendors TerminalFour is upfront about its pricing and even publishes it on their website.

Community Support

Contrary to expectation, while you will find a few active TerminalFour Site Manager users in higher education communities, there aren’t any active (at least in English) Site Manager communities or blogs. And surprisingly TerminalFour by themselves also doesn’t provide a forum / community for Site Manager users to interact and collaborate. They however have listing in Extranet where users can list themselves.

That said TerminalFour promotes customer participation in Site Manager roadmap by proactively inviting feedback and suggestions regarding new features that should be introduced in the tool.

Other Features / Services

TerminalFour claims to have developed automated migration scripts CMS systems like Open Text / RedDot Version 5+, Serena Collage, OmniUpdate, Alterian / Immediacy, Vignette and Percussion; along with other XML and database bulk loading application. While these can significantly reduce your migration time, these only seem to be available to the TerminalFour Professional Services which means additional cost.

TerminalFour claims that Site Manager can exchange information with external systems like Liferay and Microsoft SharePoint. This is achieved through publishing Site Manager content as RSS feeds that can be consumed and exposed by the external application and vice versa. Alternatively you can also exchange information stored in databases using JBDC; connect to repositories using WebDAV; or exposer web pages using iFrame. That said TerminalFour does not provide any native / secure means of integration with external systems.

 

 

Summary

Feature

Site Manager

Operation System

  • Windows, Linux, Solaris

Application Server

  • Microsoft IIS, Apache/Tomcat, JBoss, IBM WebSphere, Oracle Weblogic, Oracle Application Server

Supported Browsers

  • Internet Explorer 6+, Firefox 2+

Database

  • Oracle 8i, 9i, 10g & 11g, MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server 2000, 2005 & 2008, Postgres Enterprise DB

Languages Supported

  • English, Welsh, French, German and Spanish

Strengths

  • Content Templates provides a simple means to create custom content types.
  • It is quite straightforward to create ad-hoc and complex workflows.
  • Site Manager supports Microsite and multilingual site
  • Content transformation capabilities allow publishing of the same content to multiple formats.
  • Direct edit – ability to modify content directly in the preview mode.
  • Attractive pricing for small to medium websites

Weaknesses

  • Starting with Site Manager involves a learning curve – it typically mandates getting external support from vendor or vendor partners.
  • Site Manager offers limited content reusability
  • you are bound by the default roles offered by the system
  • Click heavy interface can slow you down
  • Documentation is insufficient and out of date for the most part.
  • Tool requires extensive knowledge of HTML and CSS
  • Lacks out of box integration with external systems
  • Not suited for interactive and collaborative websites
  • Steep pricing for very large websites
  • TerminalFour communities are virtually non-existent.

Competition

  • Hannon Hill

Vertical Strength

  • Higher Education, Public Sector/ Government

Target Audience

  • Information sharing (non-interactive) websites
  • Websites requiring multilingual support and several microsite

License

  • A rather unique page based licensing model, starting at $15000 for up to 7499 pages

Standards Supported

  • WebDAV, Web Services, HTML5

Conclusion

Site Manager is a strong contender in the higher education and Public Sector sector which primarily information sharing though large website, several microsites and multilingual websites. For similar requirements, it is sure to make it to your shortlist.