By Luc Rademakers
WAN-IFRA is about to publish a report about what are some of the requirements for a modern CMS – also related to a publisher’s reader revenue strategy. One of the case studies featured in the report is from Mediahuis. Luc Rademakers, the author of the report, spoke with Mediahuis CIO Koen Vandaele earlier this year.
Mediahuis owns national and regional media brands in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg, including De Telegraaf, NRC, and Het Nieuwsblad. It also owns the Irish Independent. Since 2013 the Mediahuis group has grown rapidly through mergers and acquisitions.
Reduce costs, accelerate digital innovation
Mediahuis CIO Koen Vandaele says the group has two guiding principles: create economies of scale in order to reduce costs, and accelerate digital innovation.
“To that end we provide open group platforms, in both CMS and sales environments. With the many acquisitions over the past five years, we have inherited several CMS ecosystems,” he says, from almost all vendors active on the market. In addition, the company has developed systems and app solutions in-house.
Vandaele’s biggest challenge is to properly integrate that plethora of environments.
“We have countless paywalls, countless subscription shops, identity and access management systems, and it is untenable to keep them all operational. We are therefore moving towards one choice, one CMS. That is an evolution, not a revolution,” he says. A “greenfield” approach to building a new platform has been ruled out because day-to-day operations cannot be disrupted.
Bringing everything into one ecosystem
The company has begun a major project to introduce a completely new CMS, bringing the whole process, from content creation and management to publishing and distribution, into one new ecosystem.
Vandaele asks, “How far do you go in a CMS? With us, it’s from the journalist up to and including making content easy to search and find, editing it, enriching it with video, audio, podcast, metadata, including creating an open plan from where that content can be consumed.
“On the front end, we look at it differently,” he says. The company does not want to be tied to a single vendor but insists on having the freedom to present content any way it sees fit.
Formatting and design of websites and apps, including a certain degree of company-wide uniformity, is extremely important to branding and thus needs to be under the complete control of Mediahuis and its individual outlets, says Vandaele.
‘A uniform digital production process’
News-publishing workflow is evolving rapidly, away from the traditional print-first orientation and toward digital primacy.
“The whole process of how to deal with content is changing. We want a platform that very much facilitates that change, so a uniform digital production process is important,” he says.
As far as building the management platform is concerned, Vandaele says, “There are very good suppliers on the market, with a lot of experience.”
So Mediahuis is planning to purchase a system and is preparing a request for proposals. It will evaluate the proposals based on factors such as digital functionality, flexibility, digital-first orientation, and pricing/licensing models.
‘How does your paywall fit in?’
“It’s about an investment over 10 years, so we need some guarantees – but also an open ecosystem,” he says. “We are moving toward a headless CMS, with a strong ecosystem of content management, which provides a set of APIs that we can tap into to build the front end ourselves according to our own needs.”
Vandaele envisages the back end as running in the cloud but not being a cloud-native solution, while the front end is cloud-native.
Addressing his counterparts at other companies who are looking at CMSs, Vandaele urges, “Make sure you have your architecture in order. How do you want to work? What is your editorial process? How does your paywall fit in? And your asset management? How are you going to integrate with surrounding environments? Those are all questions that need to be answered.”