Want to Buy a CMS?

Selecting a CMS vendor in today’s landscape can be an overwhelming task. And 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 CMS for $1.5 million but 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.

Making the Decision

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.

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: it identifies the needs and requirements of users, for the purpose of answering those needs; and it identifies stakeholder needs and requirements (and addresses the issue of “politics” by engaging all the stakeholders).

Relieving the Pain

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.

Survey users: 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 short-list 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.

Meet as many people you can: Meet with the company’s employees. Talk to the developers, the support team, the account manager, and 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 Requirements
  • Training
  • Service, Support and Helpdesk
  • Costs (of course)
  • 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 road to a CMS purchase. Do not underestimate the value of planning ahead, interviewing users and stakeholders, creating and scoring requirements, and meeting potential vendors.

    A senior e-business consultant and a regular writer and speaker, Carmine Porco is the vice president of Prescient Digital Media, which assists companies in choosing the proper CMS vendor and solution. For more information, contact Carmine at [email protected].

    This abbreviated article appears courtesy of IntranetJournal.com. To see the complete article, click here.