Four Seasons and a CMS

It's a midsummer's day, and I've just come back from a celebration. One of my clients invited me to the launch of his company's new intranet, at which the CEO said some nice words about me. Pity he had forgotten my name and just referred to me as "our consultant." It was just over a year ago that I had the first meeting with "Gerry," the intranet manager for a charity located just south of London. With a number of regional offices all around the U.K., the intranet was the main information platform but had run in to the usual problems of using FrontPage to generate static pages. Gerry had been to one of my Nielsen Norman workshops on CMS selection and had persuaded the charity that 2005 would be a good time to relaunch the intranet.

My first meeting of the Intranet Steering Group (ISG) took place in early July, and I was given the project timetable, which showed a launch in time for the Christmas party. I explained that this was being far too optimistic and suggested that either the date be pushed back into 2006 or that Gerry find a new job. He took it well, though I'm not sure his manager did. The charity did have an outline intranet strategy, and we started work on developing a statement of requirements for the CMS. The first thing that became obvious was that although the ISG had undertaken a good review of what staff wanted on the intranet, they had not thought through how staff would add content. The main justification in this business's case had been that all staff would be able to be intranet publishers; no one had really thought about the implications.

It was not until the autumn that work started on a statement of requirements to send out to CMS vendors. The ISG decided that they would write it and then I could review it. The first draft ran 120 pages and had around 70 mandatory requirements. I explained that any CMS vendor getting an SoR of this length for a project that would be worth about $100K of software sales would probably bin it. I suggested that they start again with a 50-page target length. The final version was the seventh draft and was not ready for distribution until early October. Winter was approaching.

Certainly there was a cold winter chill among the ISG when they received vendor responses in early November. The variation in approaches was quite wide, though it was clear that some vendors had used a standard boiler-plate proposal with just a nod in the direction of the client. Even so, working through 12 responses to get the short list down to four took several weeks of review and follow-up.

The next challenge was to arrange for short-list vendors to give presentations to the ISG. Everyone understood that it was important that the members of the review panel be the same for all four presentations, but, taking into account that we have two weeks off at Christmas in the U.K., the result was that the meetings could not take place until January. These proved to be very interesting. Even though we had set out quite a detailed timetable for the three-hour slots, virtually all the vendors ignored it. At the end of the two days we felt that we had more questions than answers, and it was not until early February that we could select a preferred vendor and ask for a firm quote. This is when the true costs of a CMS emerged, as training and professional services started to be quantified. The total costs looked to be over $200K, only just within budget.

Then of course the legal eagles had to look at the contract, which was not signed until early March. However, everyone was ready to spring into action, so the work on developing the templates and training content publishers could begin. Through good fortune and a lot of overtime, the beta version went live in late May. Then came usability testing for both the site design and the content publishers, and some changes had to be made. In the end, we just managed to get the intranet up and running in mid-June, almost a year to the day from when we started out. Still think you can implement a CMS in a few months? I'll give you Gerry's email address.