Filed under: Content management
We’re just wrapping up a review of the content management system within an Australian government agency. Their story is typical:
Lifecycle of a CMS
Some years back, a CMS was purchased to manage the websites and intranet of this agency. This was a powerful and complex product, produced by a small vendor. The product was extensively tailored to match the organisation’s needs. Some years later, the vendor closed up shop, leaving a significant question mark over the future of the CMS (therefore triggering the review).
A key part of our brief was to look at how the CMS was being used, to assess the benefits being gained, and to compare the solution to current marketplace offerings. What we found was interesting, if not surprising.
The CMS in place offers a uniquely powerful way of capturing and managing content. It supports rich content reuse, and highly structured content. There is also an extensive development layer, facilitating further extensions in many different directions. In short, a powerful (if unusual) solution.
Yet when we looked at the websites and intranet, they were very typical. Pages upon pages of content, statically published. Very little content reuse, and only a handful of simple dynamic features and areas of integration with back-end systems. Authoring was also very straightforward, with a typical mix of centralised and decentralised publishing.
The gap between back-end complexity and front-end simplicity quickly became apparent. This has increased the amount of effort needed to create new sites, and to manage the CMS on an ongoing basis. In summary, a greater than average amount of work to publish very average sites.
So not for the first time, we’ve recommended simplifying the back-end management of the sites, and moving towards an out-of-the-box CMS solution. This should be highly usable for authors and site administrators, and require little or no custom development. In the process, many of the unused functionality in the current solution should be stripped out, moving the organisation back to a more typical product.
The bigger picture
Looking back at previous work, we’ve seen a pattern emerge, which can be summarised as:
Robertson’s rule of CMS usage: Over time, CMS usage will head towards the middle of the road.
Or to put it another way:
Typical business needs will be met in typical ways, regardless of the CMS technology available.
Organisations often buy powerful CMS solutions, with an eye towards meeting future (unknown) needs. The assumption is that the CMS will be used in increasingly rich ways over time, fully making use of all the features the product has to offer. There are also ambitions to use the very powerful functionality evangelised by vendors and consultants alike.
Instead, we see that organisations often settle into fairly typical patterns, regardless of the technology being used. This is the 80/20 rule in practice: a core set of common functionality meets the majority of business needs.
As a result
This means that organisations can often benefit by purchasing comparatively simple CMS solutions that “gets the job done”, allowing the focus to be placed on the sites themselves. The replacement of an existing CMS also provides an ideal opportunity to consolidate and simplify, based on the real-world experiences to that point.
This also means that CMS vendors benefit from continuing to build an understanding of how their products are used in typical environments, and tailoring their out-of-the-box experience to match this. This is a journey that the mid-market vendors have been on for some time, but the bigger products have been slow to recognise.
So, what are your thoughts or experiences?