Q&A with Tjeerd Brenninkmeijer, Co-Founder of Hippo

Tue 20 December 2011 By hfassio

Tjeerd Brenninkmeijer   ECM, WCM, EWCM...the acronyms related to Content Management are growing just as quickly as the technology designed to provide business solutions for your organization. Following an introduction on the topic of Web Content Management during the Lightning Talk session at Nuxeo World 2011, we've taken a few moments to sit down with Tjeerd Brenninkmeijer, CMO and Co-Founder of Hippo, and delve further into how the worlds of Enterprise Content Management and Web Content Management co-exist.

CG: We’ve been talking a lot about Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and content technology and as you know, ECM has evolved quite a bit. Recent reports form Gartner, Forester and IDC are totally in line with a move to a more platform approach, where the focus becomes developing content-centric applications and arming developers with a solid foundation rather than providing boxed turn-key solutions to business users. As Hippo is not totally part of this ECM family, but still closely related, how to do you see this move?

I really see a difference between ECM and what I refer to as EWCM (Enterprise Web Content Management). As I shared during my talk at Nuxeo World, I believe these worlds are separate - but must work well together. ECM is more focused on the internal governance of content within the organization. This includes facilitating collaboration processes, workflow, security, compliance and leveraging enterprise re-use of content among teams. This typically requires a singular platform which serves as the definitive way for the organization to manage content as an asset. But, the very thing that makes an ECM system work effectively, makes it entirely inappropriate for managing Web content. In today’s world, Web content needs to be dynamic, fast, flexible, re-usable and social. Web content addresses the ‘outside world’, which is made up of customers, resellers, partners and all of the various organizations that must work together to reach a goal. This could involve providing information to customers, selling a product...all sorts of things. So, it’s much more beneficial to use an ECM to manage the more internal, governance and compliance process, and an EWCM system that is outward facing for the variety and complexity of digital channels. These are the channels that are simultaneously being handled by different individuals—business owners, marketers, sales, communications, customers etc... This is where having an enterprise web environment that you can build upon becomes critical, which is what Hippo CMS is.

When you have an outward facing platform, you must have a system that can keep pace with the way users interact with online data. The online sector carries with it enormous momentum for change. You have all these new devices opening up, offering different ways to consume content: Amazon just released the Kindle Fire, there’s the iPad, smart phones, and screens displaying content are everywhere—in glasses/lenses, cars, augmented reality—so there’s all these new and different devices to present your content on and it’s constantly growing. This is the challenge for which Hippo CMS is the solution, an enterprise Web content management system that is capable of presenting data in the context of the user. To do that you must have a content store and have context to adapt that content to match the behavior of the customer, such as trying to convert a customer or help them better by looking at their behavior on your website, understanding where they’re coming from...this whole esoteric thing of personalization is a huge part of EWCM.

The final aspect one has to consider when looking at ECM vs. EWCM, is in regards to future growth. Organizations need to determine whether they can upgrade these systems and stay within the same system for the next 5-10 years. With the online sector moving so rapidly, looking this far into the future can be a real challenge, but a web focused platform is better equipped to do this, as it provides you the flexibility to upgrade and grow (and to do so quickly).

CG: Hippo has made the choice of using Java as the technology for its WCM products. Today there are plenty of new languages and frameworks emerging, such as Ruby on Rails, Django, Scala... There are some who criticize the Java EE stack as old, slow, not agile and very heavy. What is your opinion on this, especially in regards to the way the user interfaces with content?

The best way to judge software is by determining whether it solves a business problem. I really like the object-oriented components of Java, but I think the real value is in having open APIs that follow the standards associated with these such as JSR 170, CMIS or in the future WEMI. We’ve done more and more in the last 2 years with the REST interface and that’s the real strength of Hippo. It allows content to be stored in a media-neutral format and retrieved using REST so the language being used in the delivery tier could be Java or could be .net or could be something else entirely. Frankly, Java is always good as it’s capable of running on various software stacks.

We see a lot of clients using their preferred programming language like PHP, Ruby, JSB, or Freemarker to customize their front end web presence and just using a Hippo CMS back end. This is another place that Java has strength - in that if you’re an enterprise and need to build something that is scalable. For example if you need to deliver tens of millions of pageviews per month - like Hippo did with Incisive Media - or publishing thousands of documents monthly as our client FindLaw does - then Java can serve as a very scalable, and solid solution.

So, in my mind, it’s less about the underlying programming language and more about how you’re retrieving the data. The flexibility and speed that I talked about earlier are rarely on the back-end. They are mostly on the display side. For instance, I’m not concerned with what language Twitter or Facebook is written in, as long as it has an open API that I can work with and it’s stable (so I can rely on it) then in most cases this is the most important factor. Then, even if they were to switch programming languages, it wouldn’t be an issue.

CG: Hippo is providing its solutions as Open Source software. Lately we’ve heard some buzz that Open Source is becoming less and less of a differentiator, at least from a business perspective. How do you feel this will impact your model? In short, what is the value for Hippo to be Open Source and the value for its users and customers?

Actually, being Open Source has always been less a differentiator. It’s a factor, yes, but the bottom line is that Open Source addresses a specific business need that organizations require - and we’re in the business of producing a great product that addresses specific business needs. Again, getting back to the software value proposition—it’s about software that solves problems. The real advantage I see with open source (and this is something that usually comes later in the sales process) is that because of its very nature, it allows us to outpace our competition by pure virtue of the methodology associated with it. Essentially, open source keeps innovation going. Open source has a close relationship with open standards. This combination means no lock-down and no lock-in.

CG: Have you had clients who are resistant to Open Source? How do you try to win them over if this is their first experience?

Normally, we don’t have to win them over. They’re often looking at our solution independent of whether we are a proprietary solution or open source. The value is the solution, a proven track record, and a solid community and commitment to the industry. Hippo has won numerous awards and has been around for over 12 years. For EWCM, this is significant and we’ve learned a lot in this time.

CG: Hippo is part of this big family of Web Content Management providers, so do we need to call you WEM, WCM or CMS today?

Each year we’ve evolved significantly. The funny thing is that now we see new terminology emerging: some call it web experience management, web engagement management, but we’ve always been in the web content management space. We incorporate these other components, of course, but the big difference is that being in the online space for content management is much different from typical ECM where you’re dealing with legacy paper processes, record management, document management, etc. WCM is much more focused on managing multiple channels, optimizing the quality of content for business purposes - and of course delivering the best experiences online. This is why Hippo focuses on the “empower you audience” message. Our goal is that your audience / your clients should prefer working with organisations which are running on Hippo CMS.

CG: There’s a lot on the Hippo site that refers to content in a context, can you elaborate on what this means?

Well, it’s about how web content is really evolving. For us, the most crucial aspect of a contextual system is that the audience enjoys how they engage with your organization. That means, context is crucial. If someone is using your brand on a mobile device, it means by default you’re adding different elements to their experience versus when they are sitting behind a computer. Your phone has GPS, your phone has a camera, these are components that can now impact the user experience and add or influence the content that you’re viewing or the interaction with your company. More and more companies now have to maintain content in a social ecosystem like Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter. It’s less about looking at a static web site, it’s about developing a content platform that has the ability to dynamically engage your audience.

At Hippo, we also take this a step further and we open up the API, so that developers can build applications on top of your content. You then build a web environment that accesses your content store based on how your audience prefers to interact with that data. It allows you to empower your audience to engage with you on their terms, but to do this properly you have to have context. We see a lot of importance in metadata, adding a lot of extra data to your content so that more can be extracted from the context and then used later in a smarter way.

CG: Like Nuxeo, as well as other vendors whether they are open source or not (for instance, Adobe, formerly Day Software being a good example of a closed source vendor contributing to open source software) you are actively working with the Apache foundation. How can you sum-up the experience of relying and contributing to FOSS open source projects as a software vendor. Is it a lot of work? What is the value compared to the investment? Can you provide a little summary on your experience in this regard? (links to nuxeo and apache to be added)

We’ve been with the Apache Software Foundation almost from the beginning, which is why we have a lot of people playing an active role in this regard. I think currently we have about 11 people who are Apache committers and we really try to donate as much as possible. The Apache Foundation is a great environment to grow and also maintain your projects because you directly benefit from the collective knowledge of an audience tuned into the open source community. Our customers benefit as well, because they know that working with Hippo means that they are working with software that is measured by stringent standards and they can see equality in the metrics. We just started a new project called Apache Rave and we’re really excited to see how this grows and the value it can bring to our users. In short, it’s been well worth the effort. I think if you’re an open source company, it’s the only way to go—being open source means you have to participate in the open source software community.

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Category: Industry Insight
Tagged: Content Management, Hippo