Fear of Migration


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I don't know exactly how many content management systems are now installed in North America and Europe, but it must be in the thousands. Given the numbers, it is surprising how little research has been published about the factors that influence the CMS purchase decision and the issues that arise in implementation. Recently, two surveys have been undertaken, though both are of small and somewhat unrepresentative groups. Even so, the commonality between the outcomes of these surveys merits very close attention.

The first of the two surveys was undertaken by the Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture as a contribution to the AIfIA Leadership Seminar at the ASIS&T IA Summit, which took place in March 2003 (but after this column was written). Sixty-four members of AIfIA, the ia-cms list, and sigia-l completed the survey. There were several quantitative questions: The first asked about the problems that had been experienced when designing or implementing content management software. The top-ranked responses were the expense of commercial software (57%), too much customization required (54%), poor processes for migrating old content (51%), and the difficulty of evaluating vendors (48%).

The second question asked about problems that had been experienced other than those arising from CMS hardware and software. This time the four top-ranked problems were migrating old content (53%), training authors and editors (50%), determining requirements (47%), and structuring metadata (45%). The final question asked for suggestions for improvements to content management systems. Not surprisingly, this produced a wide range of answers, but the common theme was the requirement for better flexibility in creating customized solutions and better usability. The full results of the survey can be found at: http://aifia.org/pg/ the_problems_ with_cms.php.

In late February, the U.K. office of Stellent (www.stellent.com) ran an F1 Summit—so-called because it was held at the headquarters of the Williams F1 Grand Prix team—just outside London. Over 100 potential clients turned up for a remarkably low-key sales event in which, for once, a CMS vendor let happy clients do the selling, rather than hours of product hard sell.

All of the attendees were asked to complete a survey form, which again asked three questions. The first asked what the top priority was in selecting a CMS, and the overwhelming response was appropriate functionality. Some respondents were looking for a product roadmap, presumably to reduce the chance of product obsolescence, but only 7% were looking at total cost of ownership. This seems to be at odds with the AIfIA survey where cost was the top-ranked reason. The second question in the Stellent survey asked about the main barriers to a successful CMS deployment. Over 40% of the respondents said that establishing the business case was the main barrier, with the problems of getting com- mitment from business managers, obtaining budget, and getting users to buy into change as the next three barriers.

Finally, the survey asked about the most challenging issues for a successful content management implementation. As with the AIfIA survey, content migration was at the top of the list, with integration with the existing infrastructure. The full results of the survey should be on the press release section of the Stellent site by the time you read this column.

I became aware of migration issues upon reading a paper at the Intracom 2002 conference held in Montreal last year. One speaker reported that although the software for their intranet had been installed in April 2001, it took until August 2002 to migrate 200,000 pages of content into the new system. In a number of other cases, careful project planning was totally useless in the face of almost total ignorance about the scale of the migration issue. It is not just a question of taking one page design and converting it to a new design. The content and the design have to be migrated separately and on top of that new metadata may need to be applied. One company that is now offering content migration software is Marcat (www.marcat.com) based in Glasgow, Scotland.

Another critical issue is content cleansing. In the UK, the Department of Work and Pensions took the opportunity when installing a new CMS to undertake a major content cleansing operation, and managed to reduce over 860,000 files down to just over 500,000. Some of the business areas submitted 60% of their current files for deletion.

All too often, the focus in a CMS implementation is on how to add new content to an intranet using templates and workflow. However, users are only interested in a full integration of the new and the best of the old as part of a unified information architecture. A failure to identify and quantify the scale of the legacy content issues could well result in the migration of the intranet manager out of the organization.