How to Select a CMS

There’s recently been a lot of discussion and considerable interest in content management systems. Buyers are starting to ask for these solutions from vendors with greater regularity and the buyers are clearly better informed than in the past. Still the issue that comes up again and again is, how do you know which content management system (CMS) is right for you?

Begin with a needs analysis. Define your business goals, prioritise them, and then assess what features or tools are needed to help you reach those goals. At a later point, once pricing research is under way, you can then assess the price of features relative to the priorities of the goals and come up with the basis of an intelligible cost-benefit analysis.

Start by examining the nature of your site. Is it a portal? A marketing exercise? An e-commerce site? These questions will set the outer boundaries for defining the type of system you need. A marketing site will demand far less from a system than a portal. Moreover, security, support, and data integrity issues will be dominant concerns for any firm involved in e-commerce.

Consider not only your short term needs but also your long term goals. Many of the systems that are in the market today are modular. This allows you the flexibility to start with only the features you need to meet your short term goals, then to expand the system as justification (or necessity) develops.

Accordingly, look at the modules offered by the vendor and make an assessment of whether the system will suit your planned future expansion. It is foolish to try to build it all at once as the cost will be high and the time line extended. It is better to start conservatively with a modular system that you can grow into.

When shopping for systems, it is best to approach the vendor with a shopping list of features that you require/desire. Mature systems will offer more modules, but make sure you demo the modules you are interested in, as implementations of similar functionalities tend to vary more than you might expect.

While many systems support basic modules, like membership tracking or online polls and surveys, there are other features which are harder to find and which may narrow your choices significantly if required. Key features you should be aware of include: multi-lingual support, archiving and roll back, and syndication. If your site requires one or more of these more advanced functions, you will find the number of choices left for your review has dwindled (and prices have crept up, too).

Another factor to consider is dependencies on other software packages. Some systems, like the Microsoft CMS, require you to license not only the CMS product, but a number of other related products which are required for the CMS to work properly. Make sure you check database requirements, server and OS requirements, and whether third party components are needed to create templates or maintain the site in the future. And of course, never forget those frequently shocking consulting fees that are often part and parcel of any major implementation. Add it all up and you will find that some systems which may initially appear to be attractively priced are, in fact, quite expensive.

One issue many companies fail to consider is how well the CMS can be tailored to fit the firm’s existing work flow. Most systems will give you some flexibility in assigning roles and permissions. Systems vary in complexity from offering only a set of pre-defined roles to completely customisable user systems. Permissions, editorial review, and scheduling are related concepts: Does your firm need to put content through a review and permissions phase and does your firm need to schedule start/stop days or pre-schedule content (load the content before the start date)? Look for a system that matches, or can be tailored to match, your existing structure and work flows, otherwise you will face challenges in modifying offline processes and training staff.

There’s no magic formula for finding the right CMS. The market is very fragmented and many systems use similar labels to provide widely disparate levels of functionality. It is essential that you be proactive about approaching vendors and go in the door knowing what you need _ put the burden on them to show that they can meet your needs. Have clear requirements and research best practices so that you are equipped to deal with this sometimes and often expensive buying decision.