Why picking a CMS isn't a check-list job

I’ve just been in email conversation with someone involved in a CMS development for a city council, and I inadvertently ranted at them about CMS procurement processes ( sorry :) ). Anyway, who am I if I don’t share my rants with the world? Oh, and I am generalising wildly, I know!

We’ve spoken to quite a few councils recently and done work for a few more, and the biggest CMS (Content Management System) problem I’ve seen people struggle with is the lack of access to, and understanding of, their platform - either because they are using a vendor that doesn’t give them low-level access to the CMS config (including templates and the like) or because it doesn’t fit within the skill-sets of the team they have (Java when the team is .Net).

It just means it takes longer to make small changes, and costs you every step of the way. I’ve seen examples where even the smallest change has had to go back to the CMS vendor, and then go through the internal processes of that company before arriving back at the client.

When you put CMSs next to each other they all do almost exactly the same thing, and any slight advantage one may have over another is nothing compared to the cost and time of integrating and developing in a system where you have limited knowledge and access.

Recently I helped a large council go through a full CMS procurement process, they started with the traditional “does it do spell checking and have WYSIWYG editing” checklist (couple of hundred points), but we shifted that and instead framed it around:
Does it play to our skills (development/design)?

  • How does it sit with our infrastructure (i.e. what are our ICT Support teams good at)?
  • How compatible is it with our Line of Business applications (not, “Can you buy a plug-in?” but, “What’s the likelihood we can write code to get from a-b?”)?
  • How will it work with our editing model (i.e. multiple teams/workflow/etc)?
  • What’s the total cost of ownership (not just purchase!)?
    The problem with the 100 point list is you can get the near perfect CMS and fail it because it’s bold button doesn’t look quite right. By focusing on five or six key areas of importance to the business you are much more likely to get something good, that will actually work for you beyond a single CMS deployment.

After all, it’s a long-term investment in your time, even if it’s free at the point of entry.