Managing Costs in a WCM Project

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Investment in any enterprise technology is a big financial undertaking for most organizations, and web content management is no exception.

Very often web CMS selection and implementation projects start when a lot of money has already been spent on a content management system that is no longer working (or has never worked) for the organization and its business goals. It's not an easy stroll down memory lane when you have to convince the executive echelon you need more money, yet again, for a different CMS.

When internal resources are stretched or additional web content management (WCM) market expertise is needed, organizations can hire an outside consultant to help navigate the CMS seas, select the right product (not the best one, but the one that is the right fit), and act as a guide through the procurement and licensing negotiation processes.

This brings us to CMS licensing costs. These can be modest, or they can add up to millions of dollars, depending on which solution you're looking to buy. Your budget can start at $5,000; $20,000; $50,000; $100,000; or $250,000, just for the license. It is still a common misconception that open source WCM is free. You may not pay for the license, but you get what you pay for.

WCM licensing models vary greatly from vendor to vendor. Some are very complex, but others are quite simple. The majority of WCM vendors will offer myriad variants and options when the time comes to talk about the money. You should do due diligence to understand and normalize pricing, as it can be per CPU, server, domain, contributor, power user, content item, developer, optional module, year, or any combination of the aforementioned.

Like Shrek and Fiona or Mickey and Minnie, CMS licensing is always coupled with software maintenance and support. That amount is in addition to licensing and is usually in the neighborhood of 20% of your cost. It is paid yearly and provides access to support engineers, patches, upgrades should things stop working (and they will).

In terms of ongoing costs that will most likely accompany you in your WCM endeavor, you should consider and budget for the following ongoing investments: upgrades; enhancements; software installation; application customizations; integrations with existing systems; project management; content migration (and then the failed and redone content migration); testing; acceptance; deployment; custom documentation; and user training.

Once you get to the point of actually implementing the chosen CMS, consider an implementation partner or a system integrator (SI) who has experience with your platform of choice. More often than not, your internal expertise with the WCM might be slim. Reaching out for external help can increase the chances of your project's success, but choose carefully. Check references. Consider firing your SI as soon as you see signs of trouble, before millions go down the drain.
Alternatively, or sometimes in combination with an SI, you can partner with the vendor's professional services, which is traditionally the heart and body of all knowledge about a particular CMS. Make sure you establish clear mechanisms for hands-on training of your internal staff during the implementation, as well as documentation and knowledge transfer before the vendor's professional services staff members depart your premises.

Buying a CMS is only the beginning of your investment. Do you think you're done after spending all that time and money during the CMS selection process and sales demos? Far from it.

Often, it costs a lot more to actually implement the thing and make it useful to the organization. Think of all the implementation work: defining (the often nonexistent and ever-changing) business requirements; translating them into the CMS-of-your-choice language; building out your numerous websites; templating; programming; security; governance models; workflows; etc.

Don't fall victim to the "deploy and forget it" syndrome. A CMS is often an evergreen project. You get the most out of your CMS investment with continuous use, frequent training, updated documentation, development of new features and enhancements, and actively managing your website.

When selecting a CMS, think of it as buying a relationship, rather than just buying technology. It's like marriage. Have you examined the company's financials, viability, stability, road map, vision? Divorces are expensive; doing your homework before signing the dotted line is like a prenup. And never forget: Software is only a small part of your overall investment.