While selecting the right content management system (CMS) is crucial for success, it is not sufficient. There is also much that needs to be done during the implementation to ensure that the initial project is successful, and the CMS is viable in the long-term.
Implementing a CMS is not easy. There are many aspects that must be addressed, and most of these are not related to the technology. Instead, they are focused on the people and process issues within the organisation.
This article outlines a structured approach to deploying a CMS, as well as providing a range of practical guidelines and tips that will assist the implementation team.
For most IT systems, implementation is relatively straightforward. Success is defined as ‘grudging acceptance’ by staff. That is, there are a manageable number of complaints, and sufficient staff usage to make it viable.
The criteria for a successful CMS deployment are much greater. A content management system requires active involvement from staff, including:
- authors creating content
- reviewers checking content
- end users reading the content
Without this active involvement, the CMS will become yet another disused application in the organisation.
Achieving this outcome is a considerable change management challenge, one that requires a range of activities to be addressed.
A successful deployment requires the active involvement of many staff
In the past, content management systems have been deployed like any other IT system. Initial installation and configuration of the system, followed by rapid ‘roll out’ throughout the organisation.
With minimal involvement of the authors and other stakeholders, the necessary changes in business processes are strongly resisted. In these cases, adoption is often patchy, with some areas taking up the CMS, and others completely ignoring it.
While the CMS may be implemented, the lack of real cultural change means that a ‘critical mass’ of usage is not obtained, and long-term viability is far from certain.
Most likely, the project will also have failed to address the real problems, such as a poorly structured or out-of-date site, that lead to the project being initiated in the first place.
Purpose of the CMS project
The purpose of the content management project is rarely to just install the CMS. Instead, the overall goals of the project are likely
- improve the design or structure of the intranet
- ensure the content is up-to-date and accurate
- improve the effectiveness of the site
- reduce duplication of content
- improve content management processes
While the CMS acts as an enabler for meeting these broader goals, it won’t actually solve them. Instead, people and process activities will meet these goals.
Addressing five key elements
Many content management projects become bogged down in the technical aspects of the deployment, such as the customisation of the CMS product.
In practice, however, a successful project must address a wide range of issues. Failing to address any one of these areas will significantly impact upon the effectiveness of the project as a whole.
Our experience has shown that there are five key elements that must be addressed in a content management project:
- change & communications
The following sections discuss each of these five key elements, and give some examples of activities that should be considered.
Note that the activities outlined are not a comprehensive or complete listing, and each organisation will require a unique mix of activities. Ensure that sufficient planning time is allocated early in the project to identify the activities required for successful deployment.
Deliver concrete business benefits in the deployment
In most organisations, the newly-obtained content management system will become a strategic IT resource.
For it to play this central role, sufficient effort must be allocated to defining the governance and management approaches surrounding the project.
Example activities include:
Define governance model
The ownership of both the content management system and the site itself must be resolved early in the project.
Suitable governance models should then be put in place to define how both strategic and tactical decisions will be made.
Deliver business benefits
The scope of the initial deployment must be designed so that it delivers concrete business benefits, beyond just replacing the underlying content management technology.
These ‘quick wins’ will build confidence in the CMS, and will demonstrate how the system can improve the effectiveness of the organisation.
Ensure ongoing resourcing
The initial implementation project will invariably be limited in time and resources, and often only the most critical activities will be completed by ‘go live’.
In many cases, little is then done with the CMS during the first year, as the focus is on migrating content and refining content management processes.
Only after this ‘housekeeping’ has been completed are the full capabilities of the CMS explored.
For this reason, ongoing resources and staff must be allocated to the content management system, to address the issues that end up ‘out of scope’ for the initial project.
This expectation must be set early in the project, to ensure that there is sufficient senior management recognition of this resourcing
Change management activities are crucial for success
Change & communications
If a decentralised authoring model is to be used with the content management system, extensive change management and internal communications will be required.
The goal of these activities is to ensure a long-lasting change in business practices and culture, to incorporate the use of the CMS as part of normal business activities.
In practice, a change of this magnitude will take much longer than the initial deployment project, which should primarily aim to overcome initial resistance to change and to lay the groundwork for future cultural change.
Example activities include:
Conduct frequent internal communication
Internal communication activities must be initiated at the very start of the content management project, when requirements are first being identified.
These communications must then continue throughout the project, into the initial implementation project, and through to ‘go live’.
Key stakeholders throughout the organisation, particularly the content authors, must be reached with these communications.
Consider involving the internal communications or public affairs team in the development of a suitable communications plan.
Create a project site
One effective way of conducting the required internal communications efforts is to establish a ‘project site’ on the intranet. This can then be used as the medium for publishing ongoing status reports, strategic documents, and other relevant information.
Simple weblog software may prove to be an easy way of meeting this need. This can be replaced by the CMS once it has been implemented.
Provide a human face
Experience in organisations has clearly shown that presenting a ‘human face’ is the most effective way of overcoming any resistance to change.
Possible approaches including:
- providing an ‘assistance line’ for new authors and editors
- conducting face-to-face training
- providing informal ongoing support
Provide face-to-face support for new authors
Involve the HR team
The successful deployment of the CMS will involve additional responsibilities being taken on by authors throughout the organisation.
The impact of these changes are best managed with the direct involvement and assistance of HR staff.
Include in job roles
It is generally agreed that it will only be possible ensure high quality content where there is official recognition of authoring
In the longer-term, this must include adding authoring to the position descriptions or job roles of relevant staff.
Improve the content when it is migrated into the CMS
While issues with the online content were the original drivers for the CMS project, it is easy to lose sight of this within the time and resource constraints of the deployment project.
Sufficient time must be set aside to ensure that the quality of the content is improved, and to put in place sustainable content authoring processes. (For more on this, see the earlier article Losing sight of the content in a CMS.)
Example activities include:
Improve content when migrated
As much as possible, only ‘good’ content should be migrated into the content management system. This will undoubtedly require the rewriting or updating of much of the site’s content.
If there is insufficient time to complete this during the initial deployment, further work must be scheduled to resume immediately after the ‘go live’ date.
Provide adequate author training
Depending on the complexity of the CMS product, authors may need to be provided with considerable training.
Even the simplest and easiest to use system will require some training, to ensure authors are effective in their work.
This is also an ideal opportunity to provide training in broader issues, such as ‘writing for the web’.
Establish an appropriate authoring model
If the site is to remain up-to-date after the initial launch, appropriate authoring models must be put in place.
While the goal may be to establish decentralised authoring, many organisations have found it valuable to start with initially centralised authoring, and then ‘stage’ the move to broader authoring involvement.
For more on the different authoring models, see the article Centralised or decentralised authoring?
Establish a community of practice
Best practice now strongly encourages the development of a community of practice amongst both authors and site administrators.
This group then takes on the shared responsibility for evolving the CMS and setting appropriate standards. This approach will be explored in more detail in a future article.
Design with an understanding of the CMS capabilities
In parallel with the implementation of the CMS software there will often be a project to redesign the site to be published.
Example activities include:
Develop site design and structure
The new site design and structure should be developed early in the project, if this was not done before the selection of the CMS.
One advantage of finalising the designs after the CMS has been chosen is that the design process can incorporate an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the chosen product.
The development of the new design is possibly the most important element of the project as a whole, and sufficient time and resources should be devoted to it.
Usability and information architecture
The project should include a range of usability and information architecture activities to ensure the new site design is both effective and usable.
These techniques can also be used to further refine the CMS itself, to make it easier for authors and editors to use.
The primary technology focus of the implementation project will be on the deployment of the CMS itself.
Depending on how ‘out of the box’ the CMS is, this may involve substantial work by the IT team, or more commonly nowadays, little more than a few days effort.
In either case, the technology aspect of the project must ensure that the CMS meets the business needs identified for the product.
In many ways, the technology side of the project is the simplest to address, and it should not be allowed to dominate the overall scope of the
Example activities include:
Build CMS expertise
A key goal of the initial implementation project should be to transfer knowledge from the vendor to suitable individuals within the
This will allow a greater degree of ‘self sufficiency’ within the web team, thereby facilitating ongoing changes.
For more on this, see the briefing Self-sufficiency in a CMS.
Transfer knowledge from the vendor to the web team
Search will often be a key component of the overall solution being delivered. For the search to be effective, more must be done than simply installing the search engine in its default configuration.
Additional activities will include:
- matching the search and result pages to the design of the site
- configuring the use of metadata
- refining the search engine ‘weightings’
- configuring other search settings
- testing the search engine on the real site data
- implementing search engine usage reports (for more on these, see the briefing Intranet search reports)
This article has outlined a general framework for identifying the activities that will be needed as part of the CMS implementation project.
Some examples have also been provided for each of the five categories listed. These are just a starting point for your planning, and many other activities unique to your organisation will be required.
Above all things, however, the focus must remain on the primary goal of the project, which will be to improve the site(s) that is published using the CMS. Deploying the CMS will assist with this, but much more will be needed if this broader goal is to be achieved.