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Choosing the Right Content Management System


The first content management systems (CMS) was essentially a website which looked like a digital brochure. As digital technology started to become more interesting, the next generation CMS added functionality to add video, interactive multimedia, and, eventually, the social media revolution, along with the rise of mobile devices and tablets.

Then, suddenly, the game changed. Digital became as much about business as it had been about communications, social interaction, or technological innovation. Industry after industry was upended by digital technology and the reinvention of business models: music, software, TV, video, travel, retailing, telephone, news, fItness, taxis. And business disruption still continues, through wearable technology, virtual reality, what has become known as the Internet of Things.

This new business model has created whole new industries, with names like Uber, Apple, FitBit, Airbnb, Pandora, Nest, and Amazon.

In todays business environment, an organization's CMS is essential for creating:

  • Revenue
  • Brand awareness
  • Consumer engagement and longevity

Let's take a look at what your business needs to ensure that its CMS is ready for success.

The Challenges You Face

Depending on the industry you're in, your organization is either working to catch up with the changes, or you're trying to create a new innovation. Or both. To keep competitive in this marketplace which is constantly changing, you need to assess if the CMS your are using can handle the job.

Some challenges many organizations currently face with their current CMS are:

  • They have too many different ones.
  • Their CMS may be lacking the functionality needed to accomplish their key business goals.
  • If they have more than one, the CMS may not be capable of sharing content or data with each other.
  • They may not integrate with other vital systems, including CRM, commerce, and marketing systems.
  • They may not meet some or all of today's stringent security standards.
  • They may not be easy to maintain or update.
  • The file formats may be proprietary, making content repurposing and syndication difficult.
  • They may require IT intervention every time content needs updates.
  • if you have more than one CMS, they may be built on different technologies, requiring a team with many different skills - or many teams with different skills.
  • Their current CMS is not cloud-based.

If you can say yes to several of these points, then it is probably time to consider upgrading to a more relevant CMS for today's marketplace. You should be looking to upgrade to a CMS that provides a flexible platform that achieves your company's business goals.

Your ideal CMS will:

  •  Be a cloud-based system so that your organization doesn't have to invest its resources in managing IT infrastructure.
  •  Host all your digital content on a single cloud-based system, with a single administration dashboard.
  •  Allow individualized design for each of your sites, even though they are all controlled through a single interface.
  •  Share content and data to all sites and devices, without having to constantly repeat the content.
  •  Incorporate responsive design.
  •  Be easy to maintain and upgrade.
  •  Allow content creators to maintain the site without the help of the IT department.
  •  Utilize a small set of core technologies.
  •  Store content in an open source format.
  •  Integrate easily with other existing systems, such as CRM, commerce, or marketing.
  •  Deliver functionality updates rapidly as new technologies and platforms emerge.
  • Allow teams to work together using a single platform, with common work ows that enable sharing and teamwork.

Your CMS Must Easily Build, Deliver, and Optimize

A CMS must be able to provide the tools that totally engage with the public.  They should include easy content creation tools, as well as easy tools to administer the work flows, work groups, and security of a site. It must deliver the metrics and analytics that show your digital success. The CMS must offer the options to create great digital experiences, the tools to create and manage a marketing campaign, and the capability for providing a multilingual, global experience, if needed.

"Great Content is King"

That's the common wisdom, but what does it mean? Great content includes:

  • Value: Solid, unbiased information that provides value.
  • Engagement: The presentation of your content must be engaging or entertaining if appropriate.
  • Convenience: If consumers start reading or viewing something on their smartphone, they'll want to pick up right where they left off if they choose to switch to using their tablet. And, of course, everything needs to be intuitive and easy to use.
  • Sharing: People want to share their experience and the great content they encounter - from great technical documents, to recipes, to cute cat photos, fantasy sports, video games, or 'second screen' experiences.

That is what the consumer expects today. Their standards are high, and exacting. And they have only limited time to spend, and so choose carefully how to spend their online time.

Nobody wants to 'be sold.' The Pitch is dead. Instead, consumers want to be informed, educated, entertained, and be able to share all of that easily with their own community of friends and business acquaintances.

Putting Things in Context

The capabilities of the new CMSs have advanced rapidly, but the expectations of the consumer have advanced along at a similar pace. For example, thanks to Amazon and others, personalization has become a necessity for state-of-the-art digital experiences.

But personalization has to be in context. Knowing that someone purchased a backpack, but not knowing who they purchased it for makes it difficult to market to them well in the future.

Your CMS needs to supply the tools and solutions to help you achieve this personalized experience in context, then it may not provide a digital experience that meets the expectations of your prospective customers.

Today, even the brick-and-mortar experience must evolve into a digital experience. Stores are working to integrate the digital with the live experience. For instance, Princess Cruises has followed the lead of stores like Apple and Burberry by incorporating a digital experience into their live experience. Princess Cruises used the open source CMS Drupal to connect the crew with the passengers to fully enable an onboard ship experience.  Using a digital layer of information and interaction, they can plan your shipboard time, connect you with other passengers, and find the events and venues that will make your cruise most enjoyable.  This is something you can do from your smartphone, or through digital signage throughout their 18-ship fleet.

The need for a powerful CMS software to support great content is not limited to a few industries. Music and entertainment companies, sports leagues, consumer goods, automakers, brewers, high tech giants, publishers, and governments are all moving onto new and powerful platforms to serve their huge global audiences and meet consumers' evolving expectations.

Consumer goods companies like Johnson & Johnson are enhancing their ability to manage all their product sites and marketing campaigns on a single system with a single dashboard, all while able to add new sites quickly and easily. Another example is music giant Warner Music, which has hundreds of artists on a single platform. Even though all the sites are on one platform, they can appear unique and customized for the artist. And each can sustain the traffic spikes that occur when a new song catches the imagination of the public.

Local, state, and national governments - from San Francisco's BART and New York's MTA to the State of Georgia, to the government of Australia - all are empowering their citizens to participate directly, using open source CMS technology.  Even runs on open source Drupal.

Of course, your CMS must be able to present its great digital experience in multiple languages to serve a global audience, and integrate with any required marketing and CRM systems to get your message out. You might eventually have dozens, or even hundreds, of sites and campaigns, so being able to add a new site or launch a new campaign quickly and easily,  and managing it all from a central dashboard is vital to executing your strategy efficiently and tracking the results.

Selecting a CMS Vendor

Choosing the right CMS vendor is no easy task, but by planning carefully and asking the right questions, you'll find the right one for your business. Next, let's take a look at some of the key differences between types of CMS systems that will help you decide which would work best for you.

CMSs come in a couple flavors:

Monolithic Suites: Legacy CMS systems are proprietary and have usually taken an all-in-one approach. They attempt to assemble all the functionality an organization might need in a single system. In today's world, it is less likely that one system can provide everything needed. Also, adding new functionality is usually a slow process that requires months, sometimes years, of development and the time and investment of a system upgrade to take advantage of that new functionality. That slow pace of change will leave you in the dust in this highly competitive marketplace.

Integrated Digital Experiences: A CMS built on open-source technology offers open architecture. This allows the best solution (and new technologies) to be rapidly and easily integrated into the CMS. This open architecture provides an ideal environment for constant innovation.You don't have to re-engineer the entire system. Creating a new Drupal module, or revising an existing module, may be all that is required to add that new functionality. This means a change can be made in days or weeks instead of months or years. Integration to new systems is also simple, due to the open architecture of the open source platform. Being cloud-based, a CMS can offer a wide array of advantages such as shifting the burden of infrastructure support to the vendor, freeing up your organization to do what it does best, and providing a robust, secure global reach for your brand.

What are the Key Factors to Consider?

When your organization begins the process of selecting a new CMS, understanding what is important in making the choice can help ensure a successful outcome.

Some of the key factors to be considered during the process include:

  • Will the CMS provide the development tools to let you enable your organization to constantly innovate and adapt to the rapidly changing digital environment?
  • Can the CMS handle a large spikes in traffic, so that your best day doesn't become a nightmare?
  • Every organization has different requirements. What problems are you trying to solve? Document your specific requirements for a new CMS.
  • What are the licensing requirements for the software? Is it proprietary or open source? There are some huge differences in costs and resource allocation due to licensing factors.
  •  Are you going to host the CMS in-house or are you looking for a cloud-hosted solution? What is the cost, maintenance/updating, and staffing benefits to each approach? ?

Evaluate usability, not perceptions.

The CMS selection process usually takes 3 to 6 months, although this timeframe can vary. You should involve the right personal early in the process. Who in the organization needs to take part in assessing CMS systems? You should assemble those who can evaluate objectively based on the usability of the CMS, rather than how neat it looks.

In addition to department heads and key project managers, consider including:

  • Developers, architects
  • Designers
  • Marketing team and content creators
  • Analytics, metrics experts?
  • Agency partners
  • Other key staff within your organization

You may also consider working with analysts, such as Forrester, Gartner, Digital Clarity Group, and others. They can add perspective to the selection process.

Be sure to download trial installations and evaluate them using consistent criteria. Engage your partners in the process as well. Their expertise and knowledge of your business will add further perspective.

See If Your CMS Can Handle Success

Before you decide on a CMS, you need to do your homework. The answers to the following questions will provide you with the information needed to determine if a vendor can meet your requirements.

  1. Is it easy to use? Or is IT necessary to get things done?
    When selecting a CMS, make sure your content creators can quickly make changes to a page, as well as add new functionality, assets, and forms without relying on the IT department. A solution that can progress with your organization without having to go through the IT department is vital.
  2. Is your CMS easily upgraded?
    Technology moves too fast to be locked into a platform that can?t keep pace with the ever-changing needs of your customers. Your CMS should be open and extensible, allowing your technical team to develop new capabilities without waiting for the software vendor. There is no way to know what the next Big Thing will be. Your CMS has to integrate into whatever you need quickly? The top open source CMS platforms usually innovate faster due to the large developer communities behind them.
  3. Does your CMS work well with others?
    Due to the explosion of the Internet and digital devices, most marketing now takes place online. Every organization uses a different blend of marketing systems and platforms from a set of different vendors. These can include CRM, marketing automation, analytics, BI (business intelligence), commerce, or even Big data systems. Check with different vendors to determine how they integrate and whether APIs or modules already exist to work with your current platforms and those new one appearing every day.
  4. Does your CMS work with social media?
    Today's digital experience combines content, community, and commerce. To be truly connected to the consumer requires a digital experience that is not only integrated to all the current social media platforms, and that can easily be extended to what is coming in the future. Ask your prospective vendors to see if they integrate with platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and what their commitment is for connecting to the new platforms that will spring up tomorrow. And how quickly will new integrations to new social media platforms be available based on their past performance.
  5. How quickly can you get your site online?
    How difficult is it to migrate your content? CMS implementations take weeks, months, and even years, depending upon your requirements and the CMS you select. Making the wrong CMS choice can be a huge setback for your company if you start missing deadline after deadline. To prevent this, you should ask possible vendors to help you run a proof-of-concept where you download, install, and use the CMS. You can then understand the technical complexity of each of the systems against real-world scenarios. Examine what is involved in migrating your old content to the new system. Is the content format proprietary or open?
  6. Does your CMS work across devices?
    Does it easily do mobile and tablets? People today seamlessly consume information across devices that include smartphones, tablets, computers, wearables, virtual reality, and devices no one has thought of yet. So, mobile agility, responsiveness, and design is vital. For campaigns to be successful, the user experience has to be consistently satisfying and connected across all platforms. Your CMS must support responsive mobile design out of the box and it should create a seamless customer journey across all channels and all devices.
  7. How easy is customization?
    While most CMSs provide 80 percent of an organization's desired functionality out of the box, the remaining 20 percent is very important to the success of the company. Many projects fail because it takes too long to create custom coding to achieve the organization's objectives. Does the CMS need to change the core product, or can you add functionality with the use of new modules and plugins? With the need to quickly change directions in today's marketplace to remain competitive, today's CMSs need to serve a platform with a framework that can be easily and rapidly added to, within tight parameters that assure functional success and security. Check with your prospective vendors to see how their system meets the requirements for rapid and continuous change.
  8. What's the total cost of ownership?
    CMS project costs can be grouped into four areas: software license, support fees, implementation, and hosting. The software license cost varies wildly between vendors, from the free open source CMS products to ones that cost in the millions for some proprietary vendors. The support cost is generally a fraction of the software license cost and is often sold as an annual subscription. The implementation costs vary on the complexity of your project and can be 3 to 5 times the cost of the software license. Lastly, the hosting costs vary on the size and availability requirements of your site. You should budget the total CMS project cost over a 3 to 4 year period.
  9. Is there a strong community to help?
    If you have problems, concerns, or want to know if there are resources available, a strong developer community base is very important. Often, customers feel lost and frustrated because there is no where to go for education and support for day-to-day operations. Having a strong developer community to help with these needs is crucial when deciding which CMS vendor to select. Support can be provided by the internal support team of the vendor and the quality of the vendor support team is crucial to your future success. How broad is their knowledge and support? What experience have they had with sites like the one you are planning? Can they handle the challenges you are likely to face growing your business? If the CMS is built on open source technology, the vendor support team can be supplemented by the a global group of technology contributors. Although they cannot replace the vendor's internal team of experts, they can help deliver rapid and robust functional advancements through crowdsourced development. This type of open contribution has helped advance many open source technologies rapidly, and help create great advances in technology that would not be possible otherwise.
  10. What support is there after you go live?
    Because your web presence is your storefront to the world, your site(s) always needs to be available. Hosting is usually an afterthought and is often take for granted, but it one of the most important parts of the puzzle. It needs to be a high-performance platform that will grow with your business, is reliable and secure, and has 24/7 support (make sure it is US based). Security is a challenge that never stops, so ask your prospective hosting company how they keep on top of today's and tomorrow's attacks. Also, does your vendor have the experience and expertise for large deployments, significant traffic spikes, and managing hosting among multiple geographic locations.

There are currently three major open source platforms: Drupal, Joomla and Wordpress. Drupal is more technically oriented, used by many major corporations and government entities, and has a huge developer base to help support it. It can be learned by anyone with enough time at or there are major vendors like those at to provide design and support for enterprise level requirements.