We recently had an opportunity to have a chat with Brian Kim, COO and Cofounder of Liferay, providers of one of the most popular open source Enterprise Content Management Systems / Portals on the market. Here is the interview.
Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
I’m the Chief Operating Officer and one of the cofounders of Liferay. I was born and raised in Chicago. Growing up, I always had expressed interest in computers, but unfortunately never had the opportunity to get more exposure to it. In fact, I didn’t get my first PC until senior year of high school. It wasn’t really until I was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago that I took the leap into programming. At Liferay, most of my time is now centered around the business and streamlining our internal operations, but I definitely still miss being a developer.
What is your opinion on the state of the CMS industry? How do you feel it has evolved over the past few years?
The CMS industry is continuing to evolve in unique and exciting ways. I am particularly intrigued by the number of applications that are beginning to evolve toward focusing on mobile content ahead of traditional web content. As content is reused for multiple purposes and for multiple platforms, it is becoming increasingly important to ensure that the right content is delivered to the right person at the right time. CMS platforms need to be intelligent enough to dynamically display content based on factors such as a user’s location, device and previous interactions with the system, while also taking into account the special behaviors of mobile users (i.e., the fact that users on their mobile devices have shorter attention spans).
What do you think is lacking in the industry at the moment? What needs to change?
The health of the CMS industry provides a multitude of choices for content managers, and with so many different CMS solutions available, application integration needs to be on the forefront of every vendor’s mind. Enterprise customers may have ten different CMS’s serving different user bases with different needs, but if these systems don’t integrate well, then it becomes increasingly difficult for this content to be used and repurposed by different systems. CMIS-compliance is a step forward and provides many opportunities for cross-platform integration, but developers and vendors need to get out of the mindset that their solution is the single “best” solution for a customer — odds are, it is a piece of a very large puzzle, and they need to make integration a priority.
You are involved in the CMIS initiative. What led to that involvement and what do you hope to see come from it?
Perhaps the most attractive aspect of CMIS was its ability to interoperate regardless of the underlying technologies, unlike JCR which only works with Java-based repositories. To put it another way, it was like WSRP for the Java portlet spec. We hope that CMIS can be useful for enterprises looking to unify their various repositories under one, unified interface — the portal.
Can you explain the concept behind CMIS and when you see it being used?
CMIS is a protocol that enables interoperability with content and document repositories. Liferay, having a built-in document repository, can act as a client to mount one or many CMIS-compliant repositories similar to how one would mount a network drive on an operating system. Through the portal, the user is thereby provided with a unified view of all the third-party repositories he or she may have the credentials to access.
Liferay has long been a very versatile company that has been able to stay on top of changing trends easily, why do you think this is? How have you managed to maintain this ability throughout the company’s growth?
In contrast to other commercial open source companies out there, Liferay was born as an open source project first. It wasn’t until years later that the company was created. What that means is that we have always taken our community very seriously, and as a result, they play a vital part in the growth and direction of our product. Furthermore, as a private company not having received funding, we have always had the liberty to focus on building great software, without having to worry about meeting quarterly targets. And of course, we have such avid lovers of technology all throughout our company who are always looking to find ways to incorporate them into our product.
For those who are confused about the concept of portals, can you explain in laymen’s terms what a portal is and how they fit in the market?
Portal software makes it easier to build a single website out of multiple sites or web-based services. Because portals bring together content and offer a single cohesive experience across departments or organizations within an enterprise, they “sit above” other products in the market, such as dedicated content management systems, records management, customer relationship management, HR, and other enterprise systems.
But more than just surfacing the same information from other applications into a central location, we are looking to help connect those different sources or different applications in such a way that would create more business value than using them independently. For instance, assume you had a CRM and a marketing automation tool that integrated into your portal. Being able to view data from each centrally within the portal is great, but what if the portal allowed you to make connections between the two that provided unique analytics otherwise unavailable by each independently? Then imagine that the business user could make those connections using a GUI tool without having to request someone to code that for them. This is where we envision the portal bringing even more value to an organization.
Technically, Liferay is a very adaptable solution that can be deployed into a large variety of environments. What is the ideal use case for Liferay and when do you think it should be the first tool to consider using?
We’re seeing Liferay become more and more strategic within organizations looking to standardize their development processes. For example, companies, sometimes as a the result of acquisitions, may have inherited many different technologies making reuse and integration difficult. The benefit is that by using Liferay as a base platform for development, applications built on Liferay, using standard SDKs and following specifications, can then be reused and even repurposed for other business units within the same organization. Likewise, information that may be spread across many different groups and applications can also be shared, tagged and categorized centrally within Liferay.
What type of creative and unique technical uses of Liferay have you seen? What are some of your favorites?
The Liferay community is doing so many amazing and innovative things that this could be a very long list, but I will keep it short. There has been a very large push by our customers to deliver specific content to specific roles based on different behaviors the user has exhibited on their system. By using Liferay’s auditing tools, rules engine and CMS and integrating it with their own systems, they are able to deliver relevant content from across the enterprise to their users. Additionally, they are utilizing our device recognition capabilities to ensure this content delivery happens regardless of the medium they are using.
Another very interesting use case of Liferay is by a book publisher that is creating a cross-platform publishing application. Content is entered using any one of their disparate systems. Liferay’s workflow engine will then put it through the appropriate approval processes for publishing to the web, but may include pushing specially marked content to other publication channels (books, magazines, etc.).
What can we expect to see from Liferay in the next release? Any new and exciting upcoming features or changes?
First of all, we’re making big changes to its look and feel by making sure that it works with Twitter Bootstrap. Not only will users be able to choose from a huge library of Bootstrap themes, but it will make the creation of custom themes even easier. Another cool feature is the ability to preview how your site would look on a different device (i.e. mobile, tablet, etc.) but all in your browser – no more having to find a specific device to test on. And finally, we took the time to enhance the functionality of all our applications, but especially our CMS, making management of content and sites all that much easier and streamlined for the regular user. There’s plenty more to talk about, but I’ll save some for the actual release.
How mobile capable is Liferay? What types of changes are coming down the pipeline to make it more mobile friendly?
Liferay has been designed to support unified web and mobile applications for quite awhile, and there are new features coming in Liferay Portal 6.2. Out of the box, developers have multiple options for how they wish to build their mobile sites. Developers can leverage responsive design and build their sites to look great no matter how large or small the user’s device is. But in some scenarios, developers need much more flexibility, and would like to have a much more customized experience for different types of devices. For instance, they may wish to have all tablets and smartphones go to a dedicated mobile site, or they may just wish to apply a different theme for different devices. That’s where our feature of Mobile Device Rules comes in. Using Mobile Device Rules, site administrators can configure different actions (changing the theme, redirecting to another site, changing the layout, etc), depending on different device types.
In the future, we’re building out tools to help developers and site administrators easily leverage Liferay to seemlessly connect users to their data, regardless of device. We’re also more tightly integrating the administration apps into using responsive design so they can be used from as many devices as possible.
Do you have any parting remarks you’d like to share?
With over 700,000 deployments worldwide, Liferay has helped to satisfy the business needs of our customers while growing a vibrant Liferay ecosystem. Our company has always strived to innovate and develop the best open source software with the participation from contributors worldwide. In recent years, we’re happy to say Liferay community members have had even more opportunities to contribute to the future of the project through our ideation engine, forum posts, blog articles, user groups, marketplace applications and special project teams. I hope I’ve given you a little more insight into our company as we aim to make a positive impact in the world through great software. Thanks for your interest in Liferay.
Want to learn more about Liferay? Check them out in the CMS directory – Liferay