Select a CMS in 15 Steps

Sep 07, 2004

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Here are 15 suggested steps to research enterprise CMS options. Some are expensive and some require plenty of reading and study so, while you may not have the budget, time, or inclination to complete them, you should know what you skipped. If you are part of a large organization that hires consultants to complete some or all of these steps, insist that they document how they covered each step and return the results to you.

Step 1. Organize Your Content
The staff that manages your content must inventory and structure it; content must be categorized and labeled, arranged for navigation, and perhaps indexed and abstracted to support searching. If you don't know the content workflow beforehand, a CMS is more likely to be a problem than a system for managing content.

Step 2. Search the Web
This is the least expensive step and the most powerful. Once you learn what is out there, you will use it over and over in the steps below; The CMS Review Web site attempts to list all the valuable places on the Web with information about content management.

Step 3. Read Books and Articles
Articles are free; books range from $20 to roughly $100. Even if you bought them all, it would be a tiny investment compared to most consulting fees and the license fees for any proprietary CMS. If you do not have the time to read them, consider assigning trusted colleagues to read them and be your advisors.

Step 4. Hire Vendor-Neutral Consultants
For a few thousand dollars you can hire industry experts like Bob Boiko, Tony Byrne, Gerry McGovern, James Robertson, or Ann Rockley to provide a day-long seminar for your organization's CM team. If you have completed Step 3, this will be twice as valuable because you will understand the jargon better.

Step 5. Look to Magazines
Magazines can help narrow the range of vendors because strong companies purchase advertising and articles will cover recent trends. Annual subscriptions range from $50 to $100 or more, but consider buying single issues of them all to see who is advertising or featured prominently.

Step 6. Purchase Industry Analyst Reports
Ranging from a few hundred to thousands of dollars, industry analyst reports assess company viability and technology trends that highlight newer CM techniques and CMS tools that implement them. Know that some analysts may have strategic relationships with large CMS vendors, professional service agencies, and information technology consultants.

Step 7. Attend Trade Shows
No single CM trade show is a must for all industry players, but they provide a chance to talk to companies and see demonstrations of their latest products and speakers often provide an overview of the technology. Costs are usually several hundred dollars, and if you travel you could spend thousands of dollars for a three-day show.

Step 8. Approach Vendors
Directly approaching vendors costs only time. Vendors may want to send a sales engineering team, but remember that this adds to the products' cost; if a team closes one sale in ten then your purchase must recover the cost of the nine failures. Try to postpone sales calls until after Step 11 or 12.

Step 9. Use Vendor-Specific Consultants
Once you have an idea of possible vendors, use consultants who know those products very well. Vendors may suggest them or you can find them on the CMS mailing lists. Reputable consulting firms with experience installing more than one product can guide you, but be aware that they may earn significant fees or commissions from the vendors. Hourly and daily consultant rates vary greatly, and some may expect the bulk of their fees to come from the installation, training, and rollout phase as they work alongside the vendor to launch your system.

Step 10. Compile a Needs Analysis/Specifications Document and Request for Proposals
Your consultant will have been through this and can prepare your custom version. Chapter 16 of Bob Boiko's Content Management Bible ($35) is a checklist you can use to assemble your own specifications, and there are requirement checklists in the appendices of books by Ann Rockley and JoAnn Hackos. Boiko's CMS Planner ($300) and James Robertson's Requirements Toolkit ($375) provide tools and templates to work through the process. The CMS Review Features List is another resource.

Step 11. Check Out Demonstration Systems
Whether a canned online demo or an interactive "sandbox" (where you upload your own content for testing), these are free opportunities to learn the interface and toolset you may live with for years. Get the people managing your content to test drive the system.

Step 12. First Cut
Limit the number of possible systems to two to five.

Step 13. Prototype Sites with Your Content
Vendors who make the cut will probably agree to build a prototype site with some of your content running. For a high-end system vendors may require payment, but if you are looking at seven-figure license fees these charges may be justified. Too many companies have invested millions in a CMS that went unused once content managers realized its limitations. If you can afford it, this step should include stress and performance testing to make sure it can handle your traffic levels.

Step 14. Assemble Timetables and Milestone Agreements
These will vary with your organization's size, the amount of content to be managed, whether it is a migration of existing content or a new build, etc. Because CMS failures can often be traced to unrealistic expectations of the time and energy needed for implementation, ask vendors and consultants for timetables from similar installations.

Step 15. Final Selection
You're nearly there! Remember that choosing the right CMS is impossible based on its (purported) features; it is right and the features are real only when your organization uses it daily. A CMS is 20% purchased software and hardware and 80% the process of people using it to implement your content management strategy.