The WCM Industry from the Front Lines

Mar 28, 2018

Article ImageRecently, EContent Magazine published an article titled “The State of Web Content Management 2018.” It was based on the input of industry analysts as well as some leading vendors. To complement that article, we thought it would be interesting to speak with practitioners who are working on the front lines, implementing WCM solutions on a daily basis. To ensure that we got a balanced view, we spoke with practitioners from a variety of geographies around the globe: Brian McKeiver of BizStream, based in the USA; Jonathan Healey of NetConstruct and Ben Rudman of MMT Digital, both based in the UK; and Elizabeth Gibbons of Zeroseven, headquartered in Australia.  

Picking the Right Solution

So, let’s begin with the basic question: In 2018, how do companies determine the right CMS solution for their business? Should they go open-source or commercial? Premise or cloud-based? There is a dizzying array of solutions already on the market, and new ones continue to emerge, particularly in the cloud space.

“It has less to do with the particular platform that you choose,” says Brian McKeiver of Michigan-based BizStream, “and more with how you plan to use the platform.” He continues, “Focus on your requirements, integration points, and preferred technology stack first, and think about the brand of CMS second.”

Jonathan Healey of the UK’s NetConstruct adds that one should look at additional factors such as scalability and support, while Ben Rudman of London’s MMT Digital points to the importance of the people who will actually be installing the solution hands-on. “One of the first things you should do,” he recommends, “is arrange meetings with the short list of implementation partners.”

Elizabeth Gibbons of Zeroseven in Australia has a slightly different take on this question. From her point of view, it was critical from the start to look past today and think about the client’s needs one year, three years, or five years down the road. In other words, pick a forward-looking solution. “The best CMS,” she says, “is the one that meets the client’s needs both in the present and the future.”  

Factoring Analyst and End-user Reviews into Your Decision

There’s certainly no shortage of WCM vendors in 2018. And there’s also no shortage of opinions as to which solutions are the most viable. They come in the form of analyst reviews as well as end-user commentary. So how much should these reviews influence your purchase decision?

“I would definitely put some stock into the opinions of analysts such as Gartner and user review platforms such as TrustRadius,” says McKeiver, “but I would put just as much stock in the implementers that actually install these platforms.” Rudman regarded these reviews as “part of the wider research” that companies need to do when searching for an appropriate CMS solution.

Perhaps Gibbons summed it up best: “There are a lot of considerations and specifics to every implementation. What might matter to one client could be completely irrelevant to another. Choosing the right CMS isn’t as easy as reading an Amazon review.”  

WCm Expert Headshots

Making the Right Connections

Companies often produce lengthy specifications describing capabilities the WCM system should have as well as what they expect it to do within the organization. These documents tend to be results focused, even though there’s a huge internal factor that needs to be taken into account as well: connectivity. What corporate systems is the WCM platform going to be connected to and exchanging data with?

“Your WCM solution needs to be viewed as part of an ecosystem that needs to be maintained over time,” says McKeiver. “That being said, you should ask about available connectors in your very first conversation with a CMS vendor.”

Rudman couldn’t agree more. “Integrations with other applications or data layers will be critical. Where the content management solution sits as part of your wider digital ecosystem will be essential to future proofing.”

“The assumption is that CMS is all about content and the end-user experience,” Gibbons says, “but it’s also about connectivity with your other corporate systems.” She points out, “We can make almost any third-party system talk to a specific CMS. It might not be easy, but it’s doable.”

Healey quantifies the problem this way: “It is unwise to expect that two disparate systems will integrate seamlessly without expending further development or configuration effort." 

Determining How Long – and How Much

So, it’s a given, even with today’s modern and highly automated solutions, that implementation is going to take a significant effort. Which begs the question: How long is this going to take, and how much is it likely to cost?

“Typically, medium to large website implementations can take between six and nine months,” says McKeiver. “Generally, those types of projects are in the six-figure range. Can it be done cheaper and faster? Sure. It all depends on the client’s requirements and the complexity of the build.”

“Every implementation is different,” says Gibbons. “The general rule for a budget is a 1:4 ratio, with implementation costs typically running about four times as much as the actual software licensing fees.”

“The time it takes to implement your chosen solution will depend upon the scale of your business objectives,” adds Rudman. “The key factor should be getting to market and testing the solution using a solid and proven approach such as build-measure-learn.”  

Choosing the Right Implementation Partner

The decision about which WCM platform to select is being made at the very top of today’s organizations. It’s a decision that typically involves both the CMO and the CTO. It’s a decision about marketing strategy, technology, and implementation. With regards to the latter, just how important is it that the implementation partner be local?

“In this day and age,” explains BizStream’s McKeiver, “being local is a very relative concept. I deal with clients all over North America multiple times a day. Does it matter that I am not within driving distance? Not in my experience. With HD quality video calls, Skype, Slack, and Microsoft Teams, being local is not all that important to delivering a successful CMS solution.”

Healey agrees. “Any business that considers itself truly digital has already put a stake in the ground that says ‘we can do business remotely.’ To insist on using a local solution provider seems counter-intuitive. There is no reason why the solution provider can’t be located anywhere in the world.”

“Whichever solution provider you choose, and wherever they are located, their mission is clear,” says Rudman. “They should be guiding the client on the best implementation and ensuring that they are future-proofing the solution for the client as much as possible.”  

Recovering from a Mistake

It may be the 21st century, and we may have more computer technology at our disposal than ever before, but at the end of the day, we’re still human. And we still make mistakes. So, what happens if, despite your best efforts, a WCM project starts to go off course?

“The worst possible response is to say nothing and do nothing,” advises McKeiver. “Most good vendors would want to know about the issue as quickly as possible and have a chance to react and correct any missteps.”

“The first step,” Healey says, “is to determine whether it’s a vendor problem or an agency problem or both. Depending upon how far down the line you are, it may be possible to swap out the vendor or the agency. Either way, backing out of a technology decision is likely to be costly, so plan your exit strategy well.”

“In our experience,” Rudman adds, “it’s very often not the technology that is at fault. Rather, it may be client expectations that may be changing or unclear. The best thing to do is stop, take a deep breath, and review.”

“Everyone has the best of intentions when they start a new project,” says Gibbons. “But sometimes the chosen solutions are simply not a good fit. That’s why doing a full examination of the options prior to payment is crucial. If you can’t switch the platform, you can always switch the solution partner, who may be able to help right the wrong that you’re experiencing.”

All in all, the WCM industry seems to be doing just fine in 2018. It continues to be populated not only by truly visionary vendors but also by resourceful solution providers who find ways to install and connect these systems and make sure that everything works. The latter, in fact, play a pivotal role in the WCM landscape of 2018.

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