Identifying the right content manager to lead and manage the deployment of a content management system (CMS) is a challenge for many organizations. For advice on finding the right person for the job, I talked with Tony Byrne, founder and managing editor of CMSWatch, an independent source of information and analysis about Web content management. Byrne also provides CMS consulting and training to enterprises and government agencies.

In this article, Byrne explains the role of the content manager; illustrates the difference between implementing and running a content project; and offers tips on choosing the appropriate content manager for your organization.

Leadership models
TechRepublic: How are organizations leading their content management initiatives today?
Some successful sites use the “executive producer” model, where one person directly oversees the Web technologists, editorial team, and designers. But as organizations move away from having separate New Media groups, the executive producer approach is getting replaced by a more matrix-based structure, where engineering, editorial, and creative teams all report up through separate chains but collaborate on Web content.
A version of the matrix-based approach is to use a “newsroom” model. In this scenario, a capable managing editor [has] enough online editorial experience to manage the Web publishing traffic and enough tech-savvy to interface successfully with the IT team on process issues and system enhancements. It’s interesting to see that manufacturing and other brick-and-mortar firms are beginning to use this kind of “newsroom” model as they realize that—in part—they have become 24/7 electronic publishing operations as well.

Divide and conquer
TechRepublic: CMS projects typically involve two distinct phases: rolling out the CMS and then managing the daily content workflow. Should the same person lead both phases?
I recommend that organizations draw a distinction between the right person to lead a new CMS initiative—the CMS leader—and the right person who will manage the content on a daily basis—the content manager—after your Web content management process has been automated.
The CMS leader must be technically, politically, and financially attuned, and be able to win the hearts and minds of the upper management. He or she must be able to lead—in a collegial way—the team of stakeholders that is charged with implementing the CMS. Once the CMS leader has successfully delivered the project, the content manager then takes over the reins. The content manager must be an excellent editor, possess deep marketing skills, have deep subject-matter expertise, and be able to interact closely with people who own and create the content.

The right stuff
TechRepublic: Can you describe the makings of a great content manager?
Byrne: When I spot someone who cares deeply that the company is getting out the right information, at the right time, and in the right way, I know I’m looking at someone with the potential to successfully manage the content management process. Here are some key qualities that all great content managers should possess:

  • The ability to facilitate change: A CMS often changes the way people work. While an organization should be able to publish more, faster, and better with the same number of people, the mix of skills needed to publish Web content will change. The key is to build cohesive content teams out of individuals with diverse skills and conflicting backgrounds. The good news is that a CMS lets you trade manual “process” work for value-added “content” work, [which] should improve the quality and quantity of the information you are publishing. The bad news is that change hasn’t changed, even in the Internet Economy: All organizations, big and small, are still resistant to change. Rolling out the CMS will be the easy part. The hard part will be getting people to change their old ways and start embracing the CMS as the smart way to create, manage, and publish content. The great content manager knows to be a leader and, more importantly, knows how to manage up as well as down.
  • Knowing what is good content (and what’s not): Good content drives everything else. A CMS doesn’t automatically know what good content is. Only a talented content manager with years of solid editorial experience can do that.
  • A clear focus on the customer: A CMS is first and foremost a strategic issue. Technology enables content management, but it is business and marketing strategy that drives it: It’s about the readers, after all. A great content manager must know the company’s offerings and its customers and other constituents—like its partners—very well. Information only becomes content when it is consumed. The whole purpose of publishing is to be meaningful to other people. The superstructure upon which any CMS is built contains your taxonomies and information architecture. Those have to make sense to your customers foremost.
  • Deep technology skills: You want to see at least enough aptitude and confidence in this area to ask questions and keep asking questions until he or she is sure how the system works and where the architecture is headed in the coming year. The worst thing a content manager can do is to get intimidated by the technology such that he or she disengages completely from the engineering side of things and loses control of critical processes to the point where content quality ultimately suffers. A great content manager knows how to translate the overarching CMS vision into a set of functional specifications that will enable the team of database administrators, technical architects, programmers, and Web developers and designers to build and implement the whole thing.

Keep in mind that great content managers don’t have to make use of all these skills all the time. As you begin building a CMS, the most important skill is the ability to facilitate change. As an organization starts getting into new rhythms of publishing, customer focus and deep technology skills begin to become more important.

CMS series epilogue
This article is the final installment in my CMS series, which has focused on providing guidance on how to prepare your organization for a CMS implementation.

To put what you’ve learned so far in context, I leave you with these quick reviews. They should serve as reminders of what’s ultimately critical with a CMS deployment, so turn to them to stay on track when and if your CMS project hits rough seas.

  • Strategy: Always concentrate and structure your deployment based on your overall CMS strategy. With any CMS implementation, you must put business needs first, while also considering what solution is best for your organization, people, and processes.
  • Business justification: Sometimes, it’s just plain impossible to quantify how much money a CMS will make or save your organization. How do you put a price tag on that warm, fuzzy feeling your readers get when they find the right content at the right time? Still, someone has to pay for that expensive CMS. So do your ROI math carefully and use it to speak to your business execs in the only language they really understand: numbers.
  • Requirements: Carefully define your basic content and technical requirements, because you really want to ensure that the CMS solution you build exactly meets your business needs, is within budget, and is what you require to execute your online content strategy.
  • The content manager: A great content manager can often make the difference between a finely tuned content pipeline and your worst project-implementation nightmare (and an expensive one too). Look for someone who can build consensus quickly and can pull together all the conflicting ideologies and business needs toward a common goal. All voices should be well represented, and no one should be allowed to shout louder.

We’ve only just begun the long CMS journey, so please stay tuned to CIO Republic for future tips and guidance on how to make a CMS work.

CMS series: Part 5/finale

This is the final part in a five-article series on implementing a content management system. Click on the links below if you’re interested in catching up on the previous installments:
“CMS strategy: Don’t put the cart before the horse”
“Consider these factors when determining ROI on a CMS”
“Defining CMS content requirements”
“Defining CMS technical requirements”