Choosing the Right Content Management System (CMS)
WHICH CMS IS RIGHT FOR ME?
Recently I came across an article that has a heading of “Content Management Trends… Growing upward, outward and onward…”. The reason cited was that CMS implementation reduces the authoring and design cost considerably. In addition to reducing the cost it improves usability and facilitates faster implementations.
The important question for the technology solution providers is how to identify the most appropriate product or tool or component for a given problem? Out of the end number of products available in the market which one is made for a given business problem? There is no definitive answer but certain guidelines can be set so that selection exercise is headed into the right direction. Following sections talk about some of the high impact parameters that would serve as a good start. The list of the items discusses were gleaned from the real life architecture assessment and solution development exercises and were used for evaluating the competing CMS products against the specific customer needs. Ask these questions; see if it is relevant to the application under consideration and if so how the CMS products being considered address them. At the end of the exercise you will have a fair idea of what any specific CMS product has to offer and the results can be fine tuned through next level of analysis before zeroing down to a product.
Note: The document has used the term CMS but for most of the cases the contents apply to both the CMS and WMS in general.
A CMS product is a tool and not everyone usages a tool for exactly the same purpose. When there are multiple contenders to choose from, a choice that is strong on the critical business requirements makes more sense. Everyone will use a CMS as a document repository but one may have to deal with a huge volume of data that doesn’t changes frequently and approval workflow process whereas the other may not have that big data volume but managing documents will be an everyday activity and that with stringent and complex approval process. Some organization may need to have strong collaboration features where other might not need it. Setting the business objectives very clearly will kick off the evaluation process in the right direction.
Who are going to use the system is pertinent to any application and a CMS is no different. In the case of the CMS though a prime concern is that even the content providers could be counted as users because they need to operate it for managing the contents, their involvement being more than an administrator involved with managing a traditional web application. Often times these users are not technically conversant and a very complicated User Interface (UI) may confuse them. In many cases organizations do have a technical support team assisting the content providers, but if that is not the case proposed CMS must have an easy and intuitive interface. Another aspect that needs to be considered would be the total number of users accessing the system and how many of them would be accessing its simultaneously.
As we have discussed before, a CMS will serve as repository, but next important question would be what is in store for the repository. Apart from the volume of data other points that need attention would be the type documents, their retention period, access levels and so on. The requirement high on repository font should look for the CMS that facilitates easy maintenance of documents libraries and automate the archival process.
Again like repository search is going to be a must have functionality, but not all the scenarios will necessitate similar search capabilities. Questions regarding the scope of search have to be answered before a suitable recommendation can be made. For some cases search means searching the document and library names where as other may need to tag the document with specific metadata and expand the search to that. For the complex scenarios search may include scanning inside the document and the image libraries and creating indexes that can be searched efficiently. Often such complex scenarios will demand implementing a separate search engine apart from the CMS tool. For such cases the recommended CMS and the search engine must be compatible with each other.
CMS products now provide facilities for enhancing their capabilities by not only enhancing their existing features but also adding new ones. Taking it even further transactional pages could be added to the CMS solution. If that is the case, those additional functions should be analyzed and cross checked whether the proposed CMS could meet those needs.
IT is no more about just collecting data and analyzing them, but on second though it is, because it serves as base for the intelligent decision making. Most of the CMS products do have inbuilt analytics but those features could not be sufficient for many cases. There are tools available for Web Analytics and the recommendations should ensure that their compatibility with the CMS.
DEVELOPMENT PLATFORM INTEGRATION
In the age of Cloud and Federated corporate environments standalone applications are the relics of the past. Most of the times the recommended CMS product has to live within a preexisting environment and befriend its existing components like database, middleware, security systems etc. All this might need not only configuring the CMS solution appropriately but also enhancing the existing features. It is important to take a note of the technology stack and development platform used by the organization and its compatibility with the recommendations.
The world is moving towards smart handheld devices and computing is being mobile centric. Supporting the mobile devices is now a necessity rather a nice to have feature for any product. So the CMS under evaluation needs to consider the mobile centric requirements and their availability with the suggested CMS.
Not all the CMS solutions have same kind of support as far as hosting over the cloud is concerned. If the proposed application is being considered for cloud hosting it’s could specific strengths should get revalidated. Apart from that there are CMS solutions that are cloud specific. If such solutions are being considered the overall feature list of the CMS should be revisited for accessing its viability as a recommendation.
Barring the corporate Intranet environments supporting multiple browsers will be must have requirement. Even the corporate networks are now allowed to be accessed over VPN or secure Internet channels, where users can’t be forced to have a specific browser. See which browsers are supported by the CMS and whether that is sufficient in meeting the requirements or not.
INTEGRATION WITH SECURITY SYSTEMS
Security is not only one of the essential requirements but also one of the most challenging one. Most of the CMS products provide some or the other kind of inbuilt user authentication mechanism. But in any corporate environment there will be some kind of standard security framework already in place. CMS suggested will be expected to get integrated with it. Other important questions that need to be asked are who are the users- internal to the business, external to the business or both? It is common place to setup federated environments where there the access is not open to the entire world but users from the partner businesses can access. Moreover the type of security required is not the same for all the types of applications. A CMS housing the financial reports for a business will need a different level of security than a technical blog site might need. Apart from that there might be privacy, compliance and government regulations related requirements to be adhered to.
Although a CMS solution might not be integrated or dependent on other systems like most of the business solutions but at the same time they are not supposed to work in isolation either. Just for example it could be very possible that quarterly reports generated by a batch process are uploaded into documents libraries though some automated process or the search results from a documents library are actually displayed in a different web application. In some cases there might be other Document/Content/Web Content Management Systems that can’t be discarded and the new CMS must coexist with them. The evaluation process needs to consider all the requirements and see that all the pieces of the puzzle fit together seamlessly. Most of the standard products in the market allow integration through Web Services. The proposed CMS should facilitate service based integration both as a provider and as consumer.
Products need specific infrastructure (including hardware, software and network environments) for their deployment and that is true for a CMS as well. If the business is already having a data center it should be accessed whether it will support the proposed CMS solution or not. If the infrastructure needs to be upgraded the customer’s willingness for the same should be checked. As the organizations are moving towards service based deployment models (Infrastructure as a Service-IAAS) where a third party provided infrastructure is used for the deployment, if the service provided has any limitations it needs to be taken into consideration.
NON FUNCTIONAL REQUIREMENTS
Non Functional Requirements are as important as functional ones and any recommendation needs to give them the due consideration to have it effective. Requirements surrounding performance, usability and maintainability etc. should be matched with the feature provided by the products under evaluation.
Last but not the least, even the best of recommendations doesn’t have any significance if it doesn’t fits within the financial boundaries set for the project by the customer. Objective of the evaluation exercise shouldn’t be to find the best, rather the best for the customer stated requirements at the lowest possible cost.
CONSIDERING OPEN SOURCE OPTIONS
Apart from licensed CMS products there are a lot many open source CMS products available and some of them are good. Although there is no harm in considering them for the implementation if it fits the customer needs, a few word of caution before zeroing down to them:
Open Source CMS products although don’t have any licensing cost their support is a paid service. If your application will undergo frequent changes or the acceptable downtime window is too low it is not a good option.
If a lot of customization is required to fit to the requirements it is often better to look for the alternatives that provide the same functionality as a product feature.In general if unavailability of the CMS has any significant business impact alternatives should be considered.
As we have seen there are a lot many points to be pondered and considerations to be made before taking the big decision. There could be scenarios where executing a Proof of Concept (POC) becomes inevitable. POC would be the need of the hour if one or more of the following are true:
- The requirements are too complex
- Usability is a very important aspect
- There are heavy integration requirements
- The recommended product is new or not widely used
- There is not much practical expertise available in-house
- The risk involved with failure is simply too high
The evaluation process can take a note of the market rating provided by the research firms (e.g., Gartner etc.) as well. It provides a good indication of the capabilities of a product but can’t ensure suitability.
CMS implementations are cost, effort and time intensive task and considering their role in the IT Eco System of any business enterprise their selection should be given the attention it demands. The list mentioned above can be extended depending upon specific customer needs and cross checked against the competing products under evaluation to ensure that the recommended solution is the right one and customer gets the best value out of its investments.