OUTSIDE THE BOX
Six Things to Know Before Choosing a New Web CMS
by Marianne Kay
Note: This article appears in the May 2021 print edition of Information Today under the title "How to Choose the Best Web CMS."
Web content is a business asset. It’s how your organization comes across to the world: to everyone who ever engaged with your brand and to anyone who ever will. With more and more customers choosing digital channels as their preferred form of engagement, the value of web content cannot be underestimated.
A web content management system (aka web CMS) is a software platform that allows companies to store, manage, and publish large volumes of web content with relative ease. It’s essentially a house where your web content lives. The system itself doesn’t create quality content—web editors do. However, suboptimal platforms can cause all kinds of problems that prevent web content from performing to its full potential. Selecting and implementing a web CMS in a large organization is a complex and expensive undertaking. Similar to buying a house, choosing a new web CMS—the home for your content—requires careful consideration and a lot of effort. Investing in a new platform simply won’t happen unless there’s convincing evidence that it is the right thing to do.
HOW TO TELL WHEN YOU NEED A NEW PLATFORM
Given that organizations routinely blame technology for all kinds of problems, how can you differentiate between day-to-day frustrations and serious underlying issues that warrant a thorough review? Here are some common signs that can help senior leadership recognize that an upgrade to a better web CMS is overdue:
- Customer experience of your web estate looks and feels out-of-date—While the design and front-end code are somewhat separate to the underlying web CMS, these layers of technology are more connected than it might appear at first glance. For example, a web CMS that makes it hard to embed video and audio content or insert interactive design elements will slow down the production of engaging content and will contribute to an underwhelming customer experience.
- Content editors’ user interface is clunky—Or worse still, a significant portion of content editing can only be done by web developers with niche technical skills. Content editing should not be hard; it should be intuitive, user-friendly, and entirely manageable without the involvement of the IT department.
- Difficulty recruiting or retaining talent—Good web developers and web editors prefer to work with innovative, cutting-edge solutions. If you are struggling to recruit people with previous development experience for your chosen web CMS, chances are that this platform isn’t seen by web editors and web developers as a helpful line in their CVs or a helpful step in their careers.
- Road map of the web CMS product (whether it’s owned by a commercial vendor or an open source community) no longer aligns with your business strategy—Mergers and acquisitions in the web CMS space can significantly impact the vendor’s positioning and priorities. Major version releases of open source web CMSs can introduce new complexity and new direction. These events should trigger a review of the web CMS because it may no longer align with your own business objectives.
- Scaling up is problematic—It is causing slow loading speed, storage issues, and/or security concerns arising from too many overlapping plugins and customizations.
TIPS FOR CHOOSING A PLATFORM
If your organization decides to go ahead with a web CMS review, you may need to select a new, better system. Here are a few tips for web CMS selection and implementation:
- Validate the need and assess readiness for change. Resist building a business case for the new web CMS that makes the platform the scapegoat of all organizational problems. Technology, people, and processes are inextricably linked, so if your organization isn’t ready to improve in other areas at the same time, investing in technology may not deliver the expected benefits.
- Narrow down your options by using filters that help to shortlist suitable solutions—for example, technology stack, industry-specific or idiosyncratic requirements, scale and size of the organization, and level of security required. Verticals such as news and media, healthcare, higher education, and financial services have very distinct business requirements that can only be met by web CMS solutions and open source communities that understand them well and build the necessary industry-specific features into their own road maps.
- Consider the implementation team carefully. Implementing a new web CMS for the first time is best done by developers with significant previous experience with the platform in question. The success of your investment in the new web CMS depends as much on the implementation team as it does on the product.
- Having volumes of contentis an ever-growing concern for many organizations, and it needs addressing before you shift all of the content to a new home. More content doesn’t always result in better outcomes or better engagement, so if there are no processes in place to take care of old content, you need to introduce new digital governance policies before the content migration takes place, not after.
- Headless CMSis a type of web CMS in which content production is completely separated from the presentation layer. If your organization is mature enough to embrace this concept, it can be a good long-term investment in future-proofing your web content.
- Where in the cloud are you? More and more organizations are moving their platforms away from on-premise infrastructure to cloud-based (also called cloud-hosted) and cloud-native. Cloud-based solutions are products that were originally developed as on-premise products, and then transferred to the cloud (Acquia’s Cloud Drupal platform, for example). Cloud-native web CMSs are designed from the ground up for the cloud and benefit from innovative infrastructure, agility, high availability, and built-in security.
The crisis we’re in today has affected organizations around the world in two major ways. First, all businesses had to review their priorities and strategic goals in the context of far-reaching changes in a number of industries. Second, the need for digital excellence came into sharp focus, and the pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital products by 7 years, according to a recent McKinsey & Co. survey (mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/how-covid-19-has-pushed-companies-over-the-technology-tipping-point-and-transformed-business-forever#). Recognizing the need to review your web CMS in light of these new circumstances is essential in today’s age of digital transformation.