CMS Pitfalls

Everybody wants a content management system, but there’s little agreement about what a CMS is or what it should do. Even knowledgeable people often find themselves struggling for an answer before giving up and defining a CMS by example.

The problem is that we know we want better websites, and we know technology should help, but how.

Jeffery Veen offers some sage advice to those who would ignore the non-technical facets of the problem:

Over and over I’ve heard the same complaint about [CMS implementations], “Turns out, after all the budget and time we spent, we really didn’t need a content management system at all. We just needed some editors.”

That is, software can’t build good websites. The web lives on text, well written text, and that has to be at the center of any CMS project. Veen’s suggestion that companies put more editorial staff on the job may seem at odds with my own recommendations that companies encourage blogging and distributed authorship, but I see them as complementary. Every site needs strong leadership, editors, not web designers, should be driving that.

Still, organizations go looking for software solutions to the problem. Big name commercial solutions in this space include Vignette, Broadvision, nCompass, Interwoven, and Open Market Content Server, but all of these six-digit price-tag CMSs appear to suffer a gap between buyer’s expectations and actual product functionality, according to Shorewalker.

Among other salient quotes from Jupiter Resarch reports on CMSs, the Shorewalker story offers this:

Today, more than 60 percent of companies that have deployed Web content management solutions still find themselves manually updating their sites…

That’s a huge risk for a product with such a high price tag, but where Shorewalker’s story rings my bell is here:

[T]he real cost isn’t in the box of software. It’s in the cheques you write to the people who install, adapt and maintain the software.

Remember, the cost of any software product is be broken into three categories: acquisition, integration, and maintenance. Some product categories have relatively low integration costs, but CMS are too immature and our needs are too diverse to be among them. And this is why home-grown and open-source CMS solutions are worth a good look: you may have to invest more on integration, but the result will probably be better than with a commercial product, and the total investment will most likely be lower because it eliminates the acquisition costs.