Pssst, wanna buy a CMS?

by Carmine Porco — With hundreds of potential vendors to select from, selecting the right Content Management Solution (CMS) requires due diligence.

“We have outgrown our CMS and are desperately in need of a new more robust method for keeping our site competitive”, says John Smith, Internet Development Manager for a large U.S. regional industry association. (We have changed John’s real name to remain anonymous, as the present CMS vendor is not aware of the association’s most recent search for a new CMS).

With the plethora of Content Management Solution (CMS) vendors in, and entering, the market, the search for a new or second-generation solution can be a daunting task. “Although we have a good feel for the CMS landscape, we did not want to select a CMS that did not meet our particular needs,” adds Smith.

Selecting a CMS vendor in today’s landscape can be an overwhelming task. Many vendors, old and new, are more than willing to show you their wares through online flash demos, brochures and web sites.  All of them seem to have great features and functionality. Some vendors boast of their extraordinarily powerful and flexible workflow and approval capabilities, one-to-one personalization, ERP/CRM integration, virtual repositories, robust search capabilities and the like. But are all these bells and whistles going to meet your needs?

Understanding your company’s requirements is paramount before any vendor selection is even considered. Failure to develop an integrated plan that accounts for an organization’s business, stakeholder and user requirements can ensure failure.

One prominent financial services firm purchased a content management system for $1.5M. The solution limited the number of publishers, the number of pages published and stored and offered no same day publishing. Even worse, the company that supported the product went bankrupt, leaving the client with no technical assistance. One year after implementation, the CMS was scrapped.

In a similar position, the organization has not only outgrown their CMS but system support is either non-existent or expensive. Worse yet, the product is no longer sold, leaving the organization to fend for itself.

When choosing a CMS or any software product, functional user and stakeholder requirements must be clearly defined. A structured methodology needs to be invoked to not only ensure that the proper vendor is chosen, but that the product has a productive lifespan.

Stanford-based Gartner estimates that one third of IT projects in small to mid-sized companies exceed budgets and schedules by almost 100%.  This represents a lot of wasted time and money due to ‘scope creep’.

Scope creep happens when the scope or deliverables of a project change during the project implementation, mainly because of weak planning that doesn’t fully account for the business requirements of the organization.

A thorough assessment and overall plan, along with documenting the needs of the organization and securing the necessary buy-in from multiple stakeholders and business managers will greatly reduce if not eliminate scope creep. An assessment serves two primary purposes:

  1. Identifies the needs and requirements of users, for the purpose of answering those needs; and
  2. Identifies stakeholder needs and requirements (and addresses the issue of ‘politics’ by engaging everyone who has a stake.)

Many will cringe at the idea of trying to document an organization’s business requirements for content management even though it need not be a difficult exercise. However, execution is critical. While an external consultant can surely help with such a delicate exercise, especially where there are politics at play, there are a number of tools or steps that should be applied:

  • Talk to users

    : Understand what the user wants and needs, and give them a voice at the table and an opportunity to be heard.

  • User survey

    : Allow the end user community feedback mechanisms to have their voices heard.

  • Conduct focus groups

    : Focus groups allow you to reiterate requirements that were gathered in the preceding steps and to fine-tune your plans.

  • Detail the requirements

    : Document all the requirements in order to compare and contrast potential vendors.

  • Create a short list

    : Make a short list of vendors based on your major criteria such as technology, price range, major functionality, etc.

  • Interview vendors

    : Meet with the short list of vendors to ensure they are still a viable solution and try to weed-out the weak ones.

  • Conduct an RFP

    : Build and distribute a request for proposal (RFP) to the short list of vendors and have them compete and ‘earn’ your business.

  • Score vendors

    : Score the vendors based on your detailed requirements in your documentation (Prescient Digital Media utilizes a highly detailed and comprehensive CMS Evaluation Matrix to score each of the requirements which usually number well over 100).

  • Meet as many people you can

    : Meet with the company’s employees. Talk to the developers, the support team, the account manager, executives, everyone you can to get a feeling for how the company operates. Don’t forget about the soft stuff. Don’t underestimate the value of pressing the flesh. After all, you will be working closely with the vendor, so you had better like them. Finally, meet with and talk to some of the vendor’s clients – if they don’t offer client references for you to talk to then back away.

When building detailed requirements for your CMS consider some of the major criteria:

  • Vendor Information

  • Site Administration

  • Managing Content (User Interface)

  • Template Creation and Management

  • Web Site Deployment

  • CMS Implementation Process

  • Custom Application Development

  • Hardware/Software

  • Training

  • Service and Support

  • Costs

Ultimately, most organizations are principally concerned with how the CMS manages content (

Managing Content

) – the tool’s actual publishing functionality and process, and how your employees will use the system. As such, the most important sub-criteria include:

  • Web-based Interface

  • User-friendly Editor

  • Integration with Microsoft Office/Adobe/Macromedia

  • Accessibility Guidelines

  • Links and Link Checking

  • Navigation and Usability

  • Application Speed

  • Metadata, Taxonomy, Indexing and Search

  • Extranet Capabilities

  • Personalization

  • Image and Multimedia File Library

  • Page Preview

  • Expiration of Content

  • Page History, Version, Archive and Restore Controls

At the risk of over-simplifying an organization’s requirements, the above list is just a sample of the types of criteria one should consider when venturing down the CMS purchase road. Do not underestimate the value of planning ahead, interviewing users/stakeholders, creating and scoring requirements and meeting potential vendors.

“Without proper due diligence early in the process, we would run the risk of making the same mistake we did the first time,” says Smith. “We have seen many vendors who would probably be a good fit, however, we want the best fit solution that meets our specific requirements.”

A new service offering from Prescient,

CMS Blueprint

assists a company in choosing the proper CMS vendor and end solution. It includes our proven methodology for gathering requirements, a robust CMS Evaluation Matrix, an overview of the present CMS vendor landscape, an RFP template and more.

To engage Prescient for help in selecting the best CMS for your organization, please see our

CMS Blueprint

service or

contact us


A Senior Internet Business Consultant and a regular writer and speaker,

Carmine Porco

is the Vice-President of Prescient Digital Media. For more information on Prescient’s CMS Blueprint service, or for a free copy of the white paper “Finding ROI”, please contact us.