It’s hard to beat the power of a website for communicating with your audience. This is especially true for organizations in the life sciences whose stories are often complicated, nuanced, broad, or all of these and more. Whether you are creating potentially life-saving therapies and connecting with patients and healthcare providers, supporting other life sciences groups with critical talents and services, or supplying the industry with large portfolios of instrumentation and consumables, your website has a unique ability to connect, inform, and empower your audience, and enable your organization to fulfill its core mission. A website is a necessity — that’s a given in today’s business world.
What’s harder to determine is how to build your website to maximize its potential for as long as possible. Depending on the nature, promise, and vision of the work being done by your organization, one of the most critical decisions you’ll have to make is determining the type of platform on which to build your website. In this regard, there are numerous choices — Wordpress, Pimcore, Drupal, Plytix, Joomla, and Akeneo, to name only a few — and the decision can be overwhelming.
At HDMZ, we’ve built hundreds of websites with many different web development platforms. When we begin to build a website, the first question we ask our partners isn’t, “What do you need from your website?” It’s, “What WILL you need from your website?” No one wants to build their website twice because they chose a web development platform that ultimately didn’t suit their long-term needs.
Several factors should go into the decision to determine which platform to work with, including site complexity, depth of functionality, and whether the site will focus more heavily on content management, complex e-commerce/user web portals, or both. As in all things, form follows function. For life sciences organizations, this typically defaults to a choice between using a content management system (CMS) versus a product information management (PIM) system as the foundation for your website.
A good example of this is WordPress (WP) versus Pimcore, two platforms HDMZ has used extensively, which serve well to illustrate the differences between a CMS and a PIM system, and when it’s appropriate to use each. Both Pimcore and WP are open-source, PHP-based web development platforms. WP is, by all accounts, the most popular CMS in the world, and its greatest strength is that popularity. Pre-existing experience with WP throughout many organizations bypasses the need for training and education. Supporting WP resources are abundantly available.
Pimcore, by contrast, is a PIM system that requires much more development expertise to apply and allows for large and/or complex custom websites and applications (including customer-focused e-commerce) that solve a multitude of needs in a single application. Here we contrast the two experiences for you.
When content is king, the CMS rules
The primary function of a CMS is content management, providing the tools and systems to enrich, publish and distribute content across diverse communications channels. Once a CMS-based website has been developed, the CMS enables any user to participate in the content management process without help from a developer, including content input, distribution across the site, and the development of additional functional web pages, as needed. Skill with programming languages, while useful, is not necessary to manage a CMS-based website.
For many life sciences organizations that need to deliver their mission, vision and science through great content across well-coordinated channels, the value of a CMS is obvious. And for these purposes, a CMS, such as WP, gets the job done – and done well. At HDMZ, we’ve used WP often to provide very powerful web experiences for groups such as Beaufort CRO, Emendo Therapeutics, and Azenta Life Sciences.
As a CMS, WP offers many advantages for website development:
- Extensive community and plugin support
- Strong content focus with easy-to-use editing tools
- A rapid development timeline
- Turnkey integration with third-party services
- Utility for internal teams that need to maintain their sites themselves
However, WP can become limited for large and/or complex websites. Plugins typically have very specific and prescribed functions and are not easily customized. This can make e-commerce, web portals, and complex site interactions difficult to develop. Organizations requiring patient or healthcare provider portals will quickly find WP too limiting for their needs. The same is true for groups with extensive product portfolios, or who need interactive customer service capabilities, such as instrumentation, reagents, and consumables companies.
Under these circumstances, it's best to look ahead at long-term business goals to determine whether a CMS-based website will have the ability to grow with your mission. Will you one day need complex web portals? Do you anticipate growth in your product portfolio, or perhaps future mergers and acquisitions that will require integration of organizations and their websites? Future-proofing your website for those eventualities by developing a PIM system instead of a CMS will pay dividends once it’s needed.
Conquering web complexity is the domain of the DXP/PIM
While it is highly versatile due to its extensive plugins and mass of community support, WP begins to falter under the weight of complex sites that require a high degree of customization. This is where Pimcore shines. It’s a favorite among developers, offering a highly customizable framework that provides a high degree of modularity that streamlines the development process tremendously while providing stringent sitewide consistency. That framework allows for the development of complex web components, going beyond simple web-stylings and content management (although Pimcore does have its own, powerful, embedded CMS), providing an open world of customizable functionality.
Pimcores offers many reasons to use it as a development platform:
- Web CMS is just part of what's included. Pimcore is a fully executed DXP (digital experience platform)
- Data-centric approach through MDM (master data management)
- Multichannel publishing, including data syndication
- Full DAM (digital asset management)
- Massive scaling across data, content (web pages) and assets (images and documents)
- Granular management of user and role permissions
Pimcore’s triple threat of document management, asset management and data management means it can handle any of your organization’s potential needs, whether at the time of development or in anticipation of future growth and new business directions. More importantly, this versatility can be accomplished at any scale.
A good example can be found with Tierra Biosciences, a life sciences company that provides researchers rapid access to a high diversity of custom proteins through a proprietary machine-learning artificial intelligence and automation protein synthesis platform. Tierra customers required a portal in which they could create their own unique products, essentially calling for a dynamically changing “catalog” with the possibility of infinite products with complex composition. Additionally, the check-out process required real-time validation, in which the platform screens for, and reports, potential manufacturing risks.
HDMZ created Tierra’s custom product configuration and ordering platform – called the Tierra Protein Portal – using Pimcore because of its extensive e-commerce module, excellent CMS, and data-centric order model. The fully functional e-commerce portal now facilitates the entire ordering and production process from start to finish.
The Tierra Protein Portal also closed the loop between the company’s e-commerce transaction providers, its financial accounting, and its production systems, so that the entire process could be conducted online. This enabled Tierra’s protein manufacturing capabilities to scale up and competitively enter the protein manufacturing market.
The right solution is forward-looking
Choosing the right platform on which to build your new website doesn’t need to be a complex decision. However, it does need to be holistic. How your website needs to function for your organization’s mission can’t be decided based on immediate business goals and needs alone. Done properly, the decision should also take into account future growth and the digital needs that are likely to emerge in time. Will a CMS-based site suffice for the long term, or is there complexity on the horizon that would require a more robust digital framework?
At HDMZ, we use the power and versatility of WP for less functionally complex sites that rely more heavily on a wide variety of content needs. This approach also empowers internal teams at those organizations to maintain the site with their own resources, providing some extra agility, especially to internal marketing teams.
Alternatively, we are great fans of, and prefer, Pimcore for complex custom websites and applications that connect to external resources and services. In this capacity, Pimcore can provide clients with the exact configuration they are looking for when there is no off-the-shelf solution. This is especially important the more interactive a website is expected to be with users, and the more e-commerce is involved.
In the end, the choice of web development platform should ensure that your website continues to adapt, and be as dynamic as your organization through every stage of growth.