Questions you MUST Ask when choosing a Content Management System (CMS)

Content Management Systems have changed spectacularly over the years. What was once a high-end luxury is now available widely and is used on low budget websites. There are now thousands of CMS solutions on the market. Some are out of the box commercial solutions but many more are available as Open Source CMS software. They do many of the same things in slightly different ways and the possibilities are almost endless.

Nonetheless many of the issues around choosing a CMS remain as they ever were. Even though the initial sums of money involved may be significantly less than they once were the significance of the decision should not be underestimated. These are some of the things you should be thinking about when you choose a CMS.

Does the CMS help meet your business goals?

Is your business operating online? If not now will your business be operating online in the near future? What contribution to the business is expected or intended to be generated through the website or is the web likely to remain simply an overhead – a virtual hole into which you pour real money? Will you website be a local, national or international presence for your organisation and will it operate in one or several languages? Will we be operating intranet and extranet sites from the same platform as the main website? Where does the web presence mesh with back-end solutions like Customer Relationship Management, accounts stick control (inventory) and billing?

Questions like these should dominate the thinking before you start to consider the features of your next CMS. It is not just about where you are today, CMS decisions tend to be long term – so it is about what your website will mean to your business over the foreseeable future?

What is the total cost of ownership?

Open Source software is the preferred choice of many organisations as a matter of policy, in particular in the UK Government and third sectors. Like most one size fits all policies this approach is a little one dimensional, not least because it is predicated upon the ‘FREE’ licence that Open Source software offers. What it fails to consider is the total cost of ownership – so whatever the policy may be it is important to consider what will be necessary to ensure the operation of the site.

At the very least you will want to think about:

  • The cost of website design
  • The cost of programming and implementing the initial solution.
  • The cost of plug-ins, add-ons and third party components required
  • The hosting arrangements and other necessary infrastructure
  • The requirement for support and its likely cost including the cost of upgrading
  • The cost of developing the initial solution and of future changes to the system
    (such as look-and-feel refreshes, how frequent they will need to be)
  • The call of the system on internal resources
  • The initial and on-going costs of training

It is always worth reminding oneself that there is no such thing as ‘free’ – everything costs something, somehow, somewhere.

What does the future of our website look like?

We’re not talking about colours and fonts here! You wouldn’t dream of developing your corporate IT without a strategy, you wouldn’t run your marketing or communications without strategies in place, so why on earth wouldn’t you have a clearly defined strategy for your website? If you do, then does the potential CMS mesh with that strategy? If you don’t then it’s time to get a strategy!

Does the CMS enable or limit the possibilities for eCommerce, digital and inbound marketing?

This is potentially complex and could have major implications for your strategy. The landscape of online business and marketing is changing. The nature of web content and its relation to search engines, sharing through social networks and the move toward mobile devices are on the face of it technical changes but more significant is the way they have altered and will continue to alter online consumer behaviour. People search, compare, recommend, discuss and review their purchases as never before. Both on-line reputation and the ability to be found matter increasingly. This change in behaviour is driving business toward ‘Inbound Marketing’ – capturing interest and building relationships with prospects and customers through you site by deploying and sharing engaging, useful content. This new frontier will be adopted by more and more firms andnot-for-profit businesses in the years ahead – whether the CMS will assist this process or make life more difficult is a factor to consider. The arguments are set out in an interesting polemic on how the marketing leading CMS WordPress shapes up (or doesn’t). WordPress evolved from the blogging world – which gave it some massive advantages as well as low initial cost as Open Source software. Whether it offers a future route for inbound marketing remains to be seem. At the very least this aspect of your next CMS is well worth considering.

How are we going to support the site?

Once you have established a web strategy you are in a better position to determine the support overhead that a CMS site will carry. The number of users and the level of control over their access and publications rights will be important as will the degree of central intervention over publication. The balance between in-house and specialist out of house support will depend upon the nature of your IT arrangements as well as the capacity and technical abilities of the in-house support desk. The cost of external support will depend upon the requirement for time/incidents and also the competitiveness of the market. Balance this against the availability of support for licenced solutions that carry a commercial fee. And watch the small print – if your contract is merely user support and you’re not covered for preventative maintenance and upgrading you could be in for some nasty surprises.

What is my level of dependency on the initial vendor?

Like so many areas of technology the wrong choices over a CMS solution can leave you dependent upon a single company. Even worse, you could be at the mercy of an individual freelancer who, feudal servitude having been inconveniently abolished by the time of the 3.5 inch floppy disk, may well disappear on a whim for an extended motorbike tour of Bolivia. Market leading software will normally carry with it a developed and competitive after market. This is certainly the case with both the Open Source and leaving commercial CMS solutions. However research suggests that bespoke or ‘home grown’ CMS solutions exist in as many as a third of CMS installations. Such approaches may offer initial advantages in functionality but can prove both unadaptable and unsupportable over the medium term.

The right CMS is a big decision. There is no magic bullet, but asking the right questions is a good start.Independent advice and web strategy development, as provided by Public Impact, can deliver a better decision and better value.

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