Does the Perfect CMS Exist?

The Question

CMS’s have been built to try to solve two problems:  give content managers the tools create content and to remove roadblocks to that process. Many implementations fail to accomplish that task.  There are always two stories that can be told when content management systems (CMS) are talked about and introduced.  These stories are told by two groups of people; Developers and Content Managers.

The Dream

Content Managers’ job is to communicate news and product updates on a regular basis to keep a business relevant.  They want to be able to keep up with market trends and respond to the next viral video or news story.  Their dream is to update their website and social media from a single point of entry without having to go through an IT process which tends to slow down response.  Tools should be easy to use and should not hinder the creative process.  A system that provides drag and drop control over the entire system that requires little to no technical knowledge is ideal.

IT’s job is to ensure stable systems so business can continue as usual.  Their dream is to keep the systems they control the same to help prevent bugs and breakages. In addition, marketing and communication content tends to fall on the low end of their priorities.  Thus, IT would like a CMS that allows Content Manager’s the ability to add content without the involvement of IT.  Theses content changes should be siloed enough that they won’t take down a system or cause bugs and keep Content Manager’s from needing to create projects to update the system on a regular basis.

Note*:  This is just my dream of a perfect CMS.  Other organizations may have a different dream and the questions that I mention later in this post may help you decide what your perfect dream is.

The Reality

Whatever the reason, the dream becomes a nightmare and Content Managers begin to abandon the CMS shortly after implementation.  Because the CMS is unusable in their eyes, they must make updates to social media and request IT to update the website for them because they do not have the requisite training or technical knowledge to accomplish the task.  I’ve spoken to many clients and I hear the same story every single time.

“We cannot use our CMS.  It’s too difficult to update and I don’t understand how it works.  We constantly have to ask IT for help.”

It becomes a big problem for IT too.  Most developers are frustrated with content management system because they are hard to modify and have poor documentation on making customizations.  The pace of change that content managers want content updated is too high and disrupts schedules.  Content managers put their “dev hat” on totally mess up a site. I’ve spoken to many IT departments and hear the same story every single time.

“We don’t have the expertise or the understanding to make the system work the way it should.  I could just write a website the way I want it to work.  We bought this CMS so content managers would leave us alone but they constantly need help instead. “

Finding the Solution

Sadly, there isn’t a perfect solution that solves all problems, which is why there are tons of content management systems available.  How do you choose the one that is right for you?  Here’s a list of questions that should honestly be answered by IT and Content Managers.

Content Managers

  • How often do you update frequently updated content? Is frequent monthly, weekly, daily?
  • How often are new pages created? Do these new pages require styling changes or do they fit predetermine templates well?
  • What is the likelihood of the team to change their workflow to incorporate CMS updates?

IT

  • How often are you required to updated the CMS for content managers?
  • How often are coding changes required to meet content managers’ needs?
  • When’s the last time you’ve updated the CMS software?
  • How many people on the team have worked with the technologies being used by the CMS?

By answering these questions honestly, it is possible to find a solution that will fit everyone’s needs.  The perfect CMS might be out there but it is a lot of hard work to setup and to train the people appropriately.

The Answer

Of course, the answer isn’t one answer but one of many.  In my mind, I see different content management system fitting the needs of different organizations.  These are the three types of systems I commonly see and a few of the players that either interest me, I’ve worked with, or have replaced when working for clients.

IT Centered CMS

These content management systems are sold to be developer friendly.  What this means is that entering content by the content manager is easier and has a pretty straight forward process but they have little decision of how that content look.  Developers are responsible for working with and displaying the content.   Most of these offerings are just offering a basic content entry system and API’s to gather that data.  Developers can then manipulate that data how they see fit.

When to Use

The first question I ask both groups is how often are Content Managers going to need to change up how the content is going to look from page to page.  Can IT be trusted with creating a look and feel that is consistent with the company’s brand?  Are Content Managers going to be constantly asking IT to do the change for them? If the answer is yes to either question, then this type might be appropriate to use.

Another reason to go with this type of CMS is when the website is used for specific marketing event and the site will eventually be thrown away.  In many advertising agencies, a website designed for an event like the Olympics might make use of a simple CMS and just throw the site away after a period.

Pros
  • Developers have full control of how the content displayed on a website because developers will be writing the website from scratch.
  • Workflow for making changes to content is consistent and has many eyes looking at the changes which can help prevent mistakes.
  • The technologies used will fit the business approved technology list for the company.
  • Finding developers proficient with the technologies used will likely be easier as they will fit what the company is looking for all the time.
Cons
  • Content Managers have little control of how content looks
  • IT may end up spending more time than they would like to create new pages for Content Managers
  • These systems tend to have less support and help systems to work through issues.
  • Developers tend to not like working on most out of box solutions.
  • While they work, neither group is happy with the situation and doesn’t meet “The Dream” discussed earlier in the post.

Content Manager Centered CMS

These content management systems are sold to be content manager friendly.  What this means is that entering content by the content manager is easier and has a pretty straight forward process but they have little decision of how that content look.  Developers are generally not responsible for working with and displaying the content because plugins and themes are widely available for the content managers to choose from.  These systems are designed to be used by content managers who do not want to involve IT in the process.

When to Use

The first question I ask both groups is how often are Content Managers going to need to change up how the content is going to look from page to page.  Can content managers be trusted with keeping the site up to date and maintain branding?   Will they require technical help when something goes wrong with the site?  Does the IT process take too long to stay fresh with market trends and the latest viral craze?

Pros
  • Content Managers have full, easy, control the content on the site and when content gets released.
  • IT typically is not involved with upgrades and maintenance of the site.
  • Usually a large market place for themes and plugins that are available for free or for a small onetime fee.
  • The most popular version of this type is free without a support contract.
  • These systems tend to be popular and have a large base of support and help.
Cons
  • Content Managers have little control of how content looks outside of the theme chosen.
  • IT usually does not have the required expertise to help with this type as it does not fit within usual skillsets for most organizations.
  • IT is usually unhappy with this situation because they cannot control most aspects of how the site is maintained and may be concerned of a security risk that might affect their customers.
  • While they work, neither group is happy with the situation and doesn’t meet “The Dream” discussed earlier in the post.

Balanced CMS

These content management systems are sold to be content manager friendly and developer friendly.  Content entry should be very easy by content managers and developers will have lots of control of how content is displayed.  Sounds like a pipe dream yet?  These systems tend to be very expensive and come with features that most organizations won’t use.  This is because they attempt to do everything a content manager/developer could want to do.

When to Use

I recommend using these systems when the other two don’t quite fit the needs of the organization.  When content managers need to be able to make fast frequent updates but also need to be able to change the look and feel of pages, consider using a CMS such as this.  If it is important for the organization to be able to maintain, upgrade, and secure the site, it makes sense for IT to go this direction as well.

Pros
  • Content Managers have full, easy, control the content on the site and when content gets released.
  • IT should only be required to help with new features but not with content updates.
  • Usually contain support contracts and decent sized development communities.
  • Fully customizable with some work.
  • When implemented correctly can do great things for all involved.
Cons
  • When implemented incorrectly (which is often) make it a pain for everyone involved
  • Very expensive which mean they are only feasible to mid-size and larger business.
  • When implemented incorrectly, IT is often in charge of making content updates for content managers because they are frustrated with the system.
  • Business should be dedicated to the CMS and spend time on training and making sure the CMS is worked on right
  • Developers tend to not like working on most out of box solutions.

What’s the REAL solution?

My thoughts on this is that the balanced CMS is the best way to go but like all off the shelf software, care and feeding must exist to make sure the system is meeting everyone needs.  IT needs to be responsible for maintaining it and make sure that content managers can do what they need to do.  Content Managers also should make sure that IT knows what is bothering them so it can be sorted out.

Watch Out For…

Not only is technical debt an issue due to improper maintenance and band-aiding on features without proper implementation, but there is also content debt where content managers need to make sure that content is updated and relevant.  Organizations need to be able to pick a solution and make a concerted effort to make it work through proper implementation and content maintenance.  If it not working, then make the effort to smooth that detail over and not just through a CMS away.

 

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