Choosing a CMS: Use the Right Tool for the Job
Challenge: I have a new tree.
Goal: Plant the tree.
Desired outcomes: Blossoms in the spring; shade in the summer; fruit in the fall.
Tool of choice: A hammer?
No worries. The claw side of the hammer can be used to start digging the hole. And if I attach a broad, flattened piece of sharp-edged metal to the striker side of the hammer, I can dig an even bigger hole. Of course, I might have to lengthen the handle a bit to get the right depth, so I’ll need to get a pole and some wire to attach it to the existing handle. Sometimes, the wire will flex, causing the lengthened handle to wobble and bend a bit, which interferes with the accuracy of my digging and slows me down, but if I add more wire and wrap it around both handles very tightly eleventy-seven times, the whole thing might hold. Y’know, if the blade doesn’t bend.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Why doesn’t she just use a shovel? It’s made for digging! Now she has a cobbled-together mess that’s going to require constant fixing, and it might not even work in the end.”
Well-defined needs make for better-fitting solutions
As more of our clients are seeing the value of using a content management system, or CMS, to serve up their digital and print content, we are sometimes asked to make do with hammers where a shovel might be more effective — or vice-versa. Budgets, schedules, and technical environments all play into our clients’ CMS selection process — and rightfully so. That’s reality. But all of those considerations can also be affected either by not scaling the desired outcomes to the tool or the tool to the desired outcomes.
Here are a few important considerations for evaluating both the project and the tool:
Content complexity. How complex is your content? Is it contained in a single site? Across multiple, interrelated sites? In print as well as digital media? Are there significant chunks or kinds of content that must — or can — be reused across digital properties or print collateral? Do you have documents, video, audio, or other media you wish to publish through your CMS? Do you have social media content you want to manage through your CMS?
Responsive design. Will your users want to engage with your content across multiple contexts, using different devices? Do you want a CMS that will support responsive design or adaptive content? Does it add its own CSS code, requiring code editing to get the right look-and-feel? How does it handle JSP? HTML5? Web fonts?
Workflow needs. How does your current content go to publication? Who creates it? Who approves it — and at what stages of its editorial journey? Can any of the process be handled through the CMS?
Ease of use. Who will be entering, editing, and approving your content? Who will be maintaining your CMS? What level of skill do these users have — or need to acquire — with the system — or with technology in general?
Integration with other systems. Do you have a customer relationship management tool (CRM) with which the CMS will need to integrate or share data? Email systems? Other business-critical — or even merely important — systems that will affect the publication, distribution, or success metrics for the content?
The amount of customization required to get the job done right. If your CMS of choice requires significant customization — especially work-arounds — to achieve basic functionality, you might want to keep looking. Extensive customization results in potential risk, and that risk is rarely worth the effort. You would be better off looking for a CMS that more closely fits your needs than you would be trying to bend, wire, and duct-tape a solution together.
Vendor service agreements. Your CMS vendor is an important partner in implementing your system. What kinds, levels, and duration of support do they offer? At what cost? Will they assist you with cut-over planning? System testing? Data migration? Do they offer training? Will they provide on-site support? How much? How often?
Not even the right hammer makes everything a nail
In addition to thinking about what you do want your content management system to handle, you’ll need to think about what you don’t want it to handle. If you aren’t intentional about what goes into your CMS — and what stays out of it — you’ll end up with a system resembling the digital content equivalent of a junk drawer. A few questions to ask yourself:
- Should your CMS be your system of record for auditing purposes, or are there other places where legacy or expired content can be stored?
- Must rich-media content, such as videos, be stored in the CMS, or would it make more sense to create a YouTube or Vimeo channel?
- Would you benefit from using a document management system or other repository for printable content, such as PDFs of brochures?
Asking yourself — and your business stakeholders — questions such as these can save time, expense, and frustration.
So can selecting the right CMS for your needs.
SOUND OFF: What challenges have you experienced with selecting the right CMS? What do you know now that you wish you knew then?