Mention the words “content management system” (CMS) and likely, the first thing that comes to mind is, “So, do we buy Vignette or BroadVision?” While you obviously need technology to implement a CMS, buying it is actually the easiest part of a CMS effort.

The hard part is deciding what problems you want a CMS to solve and whether you actually need one in the first place. In this article, we’ll show you why every successful CMS project begins with a solid business strategy.

CMS series: part 1

This is the first in a series of five articles focusing on implementing a content management system (CMS). The second installment will speak to quantifying the ROI of a CMS effort. The final three articles will discuss planning for a CMS, content and its importance in a CMS project, and why teamwork is the key to a successful CMS implementation.

Think strategy first
The first step is determining whether you actually need a CMS. CMS software isn’t cheap, and there are, of course, the additional costs of installing, configuring, and maintaining the system.

According to Bob Boiko, president of Metatorial Services Inc., a content management solutions consultancy, an enterprise needs a CMS when it has so much content and so many contributors that it can no longer manually organize, create, and publish the content in an efficient manner. Boiko recommends investigating the issues, worries, and horror stories the organization has experienced concerning its current content situation. “If you don’t hear a lot of woe, you should question the need for a CMS,” he advised.

People and processes matter
A CMS is essentially a business strategy because it touches each department and cuts across the political, cultural, and organizational fabric of a company. A big key to success is involving users early on in the process to ensure that the CMS solution addresses their needs.

“CMS projects necessarily affect and involve the whole organization,” said Ashley Friedlein, an e-business consultant. ”CMS is about people and processes, not technology. It’s about the way people work, the way work is handled through the organization. The results will directly impact the customers’ perception of the organization, so make sure you have a board-level project sponsor and involve the right people from all the affected departments,” added Friedlein, who is the author of Web Project Management: Delivering Successful Commercial Web Sites (Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2000).

Once you assess the users’ needs, the next step is evaluating whether the organization already has a well-developed and articulated process for creating and delivering content, Friedlein said. A CMS can only automate and manage existing processes; CMSs cannot create processes nor fix inferior ones.

“The worst thing you can do is to Web-enable a bad process,” said Friedlein. “As a client once put it: ‘There’s no point in putting lipstick on a bulldog,’” he added.

Think strategy first because content deserves respect
Online content is quickly transforming into a critical business asset these days. Internet sites provide customers with rich, personalized interactions and experiences; extranets provide supply-chain partners with access to business knowledge; and intranets are now repositories for an organization’s collective data and wisdom.

So, like all other critical business assets, content management needs to be treated with the strategic respect that it deserves.

“Get the strategy right, because you can’t afford not to take CMS seriously,” said Friedlein. “It will become an essential part of your e-business infrastructure, but it will also cost a lot of money and will take up a significant amount of resources.”

In researching the appropriate CMS solution, you’ll need to answer several questions, such as “Are you creating a dynamic e-commerce site with advanced personalization, or are you creating a knowledge management intranet to manage 10 years of digitized regulatory documents, project deliverables, and customer information?”

What you need will determine whether you build a Web CMS or an enterprise-based CMS. A Web CMS is for delivering Web-based content, in the case of an e-commerce site or an online publication. An enterprise-based CMS is for managing a broad spectrum of digital content assets that have not been created for the Web, such as Word documents, spreadsheets, and databases.

A readiness assessment is needed
Boiko recommends conducting a readiness assessment. According to Boiko, “This is the best way to start a CMS project and to get a firm feel for what the organization has accomplished so far. Find out what has been done and what the current assumptions are.”

Questions to ask include:

  • What corporate mandates exist for a CMS?
  • What audiences will be served?
  • How well developed is the CMS approach?
  • What publications will be created and are they suitable to a CMS approach?
  • What content will be delivered? How much content is there, how will it be structured, and how will it be used?
  • What infrastructure will be needed under the CMS, and are there well-formed requirements or a variety of opinions about that infrastructure?

“If you do no more than ask yourself these questions, you will be ahead of most teams,” said Boiko, who is also the author of an upcoming book, Content Management Bible (Hungry Minds, 2001).

“If you go out and collect and organize opinions and documents on all of these subjects,” Boiko said, “you will have the start of a great project.”

Considering a CMS?

What’s your approach to finding the right CMS solution? Share your CMS story with your fellow TechRepublic members.