I love lists, who doesn’t? Wikipedia has a great number of them and I recently compared their list of word processing software to their list of content management software. While these lists aren’t nearly as entertaining as the list of Eiffel Tower replicas or the list of people with reduplicated names, they do demonstrate an interesting piece of information. The number of CMS solutions is nearly triple that of word processing tools. How is someone supposed to choose between them?
An Abundance of Options
Word processing is everywhere. People from all walks of life and all professions find countless uses for it. Content Management on the other hand has a much narrower audience. If you don’t operate a website, you would never touch one. Whether you’re a lawyer, a contractor, a novelist, manager, or any other profession you’ll find that most common word processing solutions can adequately satisfy your needs. The same cannot be said for Content Management Systems. Many CMS platforms target very specific and quite different needs and markets. Not only is there no “best” CMS, there are many that are objectively the wrong choice for some businesses.
I believe the main driver for this divergent community is that there are three different groups dictating CMS implementations and each one has different goals. The combination of all the different goals for each of the different groups is why there are so many choices. The fact that only one of three groups often has a say in the choice of CMS for your organization is why so many organizations have a poor relationship with their solution. This decision making method needs to be improved upon if you want to find the right solution for your organization.
Finding the Right Fit
I think of it like purchasing a home. A wise family member will think about the needs of all the family members when house hunting. A less wise individual will think about only their needs. The same can be said for a business in the market for a CMS. It has to meet the needs of everyone, not just the person browsing the listings. For a start, let’s focus on knowing what to look for. In order to this we must define the various groups that rely on your CMS and what they desire.
Generally, the first team to touch your CMS will be the development team. It is made up of programmers, designers, quality assurance testers and the like. This team will build and deploy your CMS before any other group gets to touch it. This means they are the first to experience your platform and have a powerful influence on shaping the experience the other teams will encounter. So what does the dev team want?
- Technology Familiarity: If your dev team has a group of Java programmers don’t ask them to implement a PHP solution like WordPress. Yes, they’re professionals who could probably wing it in an emergency, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to get you the best result or that they will appreciate you for asking them to do it.
- Appropriate Design tools: Sometimes websites are designed modularly, like Lego blocks that you mix and match to build pages. Other times a site is created with very specific templates tied to very specific page types. Make sure your framework of choice supports the appropriate type of controls that your team is used to working with. Doing otherwise will compromise the creative vision and leave you with an implementation that doesn’t match the creative concepts.
- Community and support: Whether you go with open source or proprietary software your dev team needs a solid foundation to build off of. If the solution you’re eyeballing hasn’t been updated in months or isn’t backed by a reliable organization for the future, then it’s going to create headaches as your dev team not only has to build your custom solution but must also solve the problems of the framework itself.
The next team to get involved is the content team. This team is made of content creators, designers and other day-to-day users that will be constantly adding value to your solution. This team is the reason you need a CMS at all. Your web presence shouldn’t be static but if there are too many barriers for the content team then it will be. So what do content team members want?
- A workflow that matches how they work: Some organizations have one person or a small group creating and publishing all their content. Others have different teams responsible for different parts of the site or even levels of approval where one group writes but another publishes. Regardless of which one you are be sure the solution you choose can conform to your business process.
- Media management: Whether you have a team of artists working around the clock, a digital asset management system filled with resources, or just a scanner and the napkins you drew on last night you need to make sure that the CMS you’re working with can support any and all of the media you need to use. Media content is just as, if not more, important than written content and its neglect can lead to a dated and bland web experience.
Last, but definitely not least, are the business owners. These are the managers, marketing executives, directors, sales personnel, etc. that drive the business. Often maligned by the other two teams because this group tends to remain aloof from the daily operations of a site but instead focuses on the “big picture.” It is important to remember that, in most cases, you’re building and maintaining a web presence to drive your business’ goals, not just to have a cool site. So what does this team want?
- Metrics: Terms like return on investment and cost benefit analysis are driving factors for business owners. They need to be able to justify the expense of building and maintaining a site and they need to be able to prove it with numbers. Be sure you know the key performance indicators your business is looking for in a website and make sure the CMS you choose can supply them.
- Cost: A number I always use when car shopping is total cost of ownership, it lets you know not just what it costs right now, but also what it will cost over the next few years. We should think about CMS solutions the same way. Licenses costs are just one piece of this. The hardware and hosting requirements can vary from solution to solution. Perhaps most overlooked is the human cost. Obscure or esoteric solutions may provide unique advantages as a programmer but how expensive will it be to find someone to help out with your binary lambda calculus based CMS? Keep total cost of ownership in mind when picking a solution or you may face a day when the business can no longer justify the cost of maintaining the solution.
- Accountability: To paraphrase a common expression “stuff happens.” When it does, who will solve it? Is there an SLA for your SaaS CMS recommendation? A guaranteed response time for security patches or support tickets? Not all CMS even offer these services, sometimes when your solution is FOSS-based the answer to these all these questions is “your dev team.” Regardless of the answers, be sure you know them. Speak frankly and openly about accountability or else don’t be surprised when all fingers point to you as the recommender.
Getting Buy In
Regardless of which group you fall into, it is imperative to understand the needs of those in the others. Any solution that doesn’t have the support of all three teams has an extremely bumpy road ahead. Don’t be afraid of delving into the forums of your top choices and asking questions.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help from the experts. Liquid has years of experience with a myriad of CMS implementations. Even if you don’t need our designers, developers, authors or business analysts to help build your solution, please don’t hesitate to reach out and talk to us about the right solution for you. No one wants to spend years saddled to a solution that isn’t right for them.
About Jon Bailer
A technical lead at Liquid Interactive. Jon has over a decade of experience implementing custom technology solutions for a wide variety of clients.