How do you know if it’s time for a new CMS?

Perhaps your firm has merged with another, and you need to merge online properties as well. Previously I urged you to avoid consolidation for its own sake, but if you have two different content management systems publishing the same type of Web site, you likely will want to rally around just one platform.

Similarly, a change in your business model may require very different functionality. Shifting from products to services (or vice versa) could mean a very different Web publishing effort. Or perhaps you’re significantly changing your distribution model, from B-to-C to B-to-B. You are likely to need very different CMS services as well.

Rationalizing the status quo

When it comes time to make a switch, some of your colleagues may push back. Some will have good reasons for staying with your current vendor, but others may make excuses that you should work to overcome. Some unconvincing justifications for your incumbent platform include:

  • “Our developers know the tool really well”—that’s a good thing, but what about the business, for whom the tool is supposed to serve?
  • “It’s cheap”—but what is it costing you in terms of lost opportunities and productivity?
  • “Our requirements are too specialized ... we’ll never find the right alternative”—except you’re not as unique as you think.
  • “We’ve invested so much in the current platform”—but are you willing to throw good money after bad?
  • “The next release/patch/customization cycle will solve our problems”—the third time you hear this, you’ll know it’s time to go.

What you should do

Change is hard. What can you do to prepare? Where possible, disconnect your Web CMS system name from the vendor brand. In other words, don’t call it our “Vignette” platform. Name it “[Your Company] Publisher” or something like that, and work to rebrand the contributor interface (assuming the platform lets you—not all do). That helps get your colleagues thinking about the application rather than the software, and makes for more dispassionate decision-making when it comes time to assess continuing the vendor relationship.

More importantly, make sure that your governance policies have your enterprise continuously reviewing your Web publishing systems. Conducting regular assessments of your Web CMS helps you avoid waking up one morning to discover your Web platform has fallen three years behind.

Continuous evaluation allows you to undertake continuous evolution, the little changes that can extend the life of your platform. In the Web world, gradual reforms are much better than triennial platform revolutions—even if sometimes you do have to overthrow the current regime.

To prepare for the day when you need a change, try to stay on top of the marketplace. At the Real Story Group (formerly CMS Watch), we track 46 Web CMS vendors on an ongoing basis (see Figure 2 on Page 18, KMWorld July/August 2010 or downlod PDF).

On the one hand, the overall marketplace doesn’t change much: A few vendors disappear, while others rise to global prominence. On the other hand, the differences among the individual suppliers, tools and open source platforms widen with each passing year, as they increasingly specialize in a maturing marketplace.

So, your choices today are likely to be quite different from when you licensed your current Web CMS several years ago. In the end, it’s easy to blame your vendor when things go wrong in your content management system, and indeed, I see some organizations go through CMS products the way Elizabeth Taylor goes through husbands.

Just remember that maybe the problem is you, and not your platform. Carefully evaluate your implementation and your processes. The good news is, if it’s time to switch, a vibrant marketplace awaits you.   

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