It’s the People and Processes

One of the mantras in the CM profession that is right up there with "Separate the content from the presentation" is the hard rule, "It's never the technology, it's the people and processes." In his CMS Report, EContent contributing editor Tony Byrne goes so far as to define a content management system (CMS) as the "set of business and categorization rules and editorial processes applied to content by people and organizations to align online publishing efforts with business objectives."

Most of the rest of us think of a CMS as software that helps people implement their processes, especially processes that involve digital content. But there is good reason to think of the software itself as involving three groups of very important people and processes.

For starters, the developers and vendors of software are teams of people who may or may not care about your content management problems. They simply may be out to make their fortunes or "scratch an itch," as the open-source developers like to describe their motivations. When you buy a tool as complex as a CMS, you are in a real sense also buying the people who created it, to the extent that they are willing to insure that their tool does its job for you.

In particular, it is important to determine what kind of support will be available from the tool creators. Do they return phone calls or answer emails promptly? Sadly, small vendors may not care much about their users beyond the original sale of a product (or perhaps they do not have the resources to devote to support). Open-source developers may simply lack the hours to talk to their users, who they see as always asking the same boring newbie questions. They are just too busy doing the critical work of improving their code.

So you may have to settle for a second group for your support: consultants who say they are knowledgeable about content management software. You must realize, however, that they are really in the business of selling you their time and in the very difficult position of having to learn two complicated things to be of genuine help to you. First, they have to really understand how content management tools work. Then they have to understand how your business works. Without understanding both fully, they can't possibly know whether the CMS technology actually can help with your content objectives.

If your organization is frank enough to admit that it might not always be able to articulate the fine details of its own business processes, then the arrogance of some consultants who claim to be aligning your business strategy with a new content strategy may become obvious. This is of course not true of all consultants. If they at least do know their CMS tools well, they will do good work and, more importantly, can train the third group of people who make up your single most important content management asset, your employees.

Take, the Web face of the Boston Globe. When they decided to migrate the biggest Web site in New England to the open-source CMS Zope, they called on the commercial Zope Corporation's large professional services consulting team to help them. Six Zope consultants joined six employees full-time for the 18-month migration and launch process. That was plenty of time for a meaningful technical knowledge transfer into the heads of employees.

Not every organization is as committed to the significant human capital investment needed to make its employees proficient with content-management technology. One large nonprofit organization actually ordered the cessation of CMS training because its employees who learned HTML found that their newly acquired Web skills got them higher-paying jobs elsewhere. The organization shortsightedly went back to a Webmaster bottleneck scenario, rather than instituting a continuing education program for their newly hired content contributors.

As many companies learned the hard way in the dot-bomb era, the best content management systems on the planet cannot create valuable content—that's always done by smart people. It's a complex process from the original idea to the last word on the page. Money spent on technology may be wasted without a comparable expenditure in training the users.

Whether you are migrating a large existing Web site or selecting your very first content management system, keep these important people in mind. Whether they are the vendors and developers, professional service consultants, or—at the end of the day—your own employees, they all need to marry your new technology to your existing content creative processes.

Tools do not make the craftsperson nor the craft. People do.