How to Choose the Best WCM System for Your Business
As the WCM market has grown and evolved, the available technologies have grown and evolved right along with it. Customer needs have been both inspired by and set the standard for every system on the market making it increasingly more difficult to choose the best fit for your business.
In recent years we have also observed a consolidation of capabilites for WCM platforms with many vendors that were solely in the content management game building onto their offering to become a more holistic Digital Experience platform, with multiple hosting options and even connectors to other technology vendors allowing for a best-of-breed approach if say, you have a digital marketing or ecommerce platform you aren't keen to part with.
The importance of this decision however, should not be underestimated because your WCM system is arguably the core of your digital business, housing and disseminating the digital content supporting all of your needs in terms of brand presence, digital marketing, ecommerce and basically the entire experience you want to provide your customers.
Earlier in the year, Venus Tamturk and I sat down together to discuss a few thoughts we had on how to select a CMS since her and I not only read a lot of the content out there but also engage in conversation with some of the brightest minds behind the innovation and capabilities of many platforms out there.
Determine Business Objectives
When someone starts the process of choosing a content management system they really should start first and foremost with their business objectives but where does an organization even begin that process?
Venus pointed out that if you begin by watching a ton of demos (which is common as a first stage of investigation with vendors) it is pointless if you don’t know what you’re looking for and she suggested you start with what you’re expecting of the system as it relates to your business goals. However, a common misstep Venus identifies at this stage is surveying your stakeholders for their list of requirements without first identifying the overall organization wide business objectives. The laundry list from your stakeholders could also create another unfortunate circumstance: “It sounds very productive and inclusive but it really isn’t, not entirely at least, what happens is organizations get paralyzed at this step. What I mean by getting paralyzed is getting frustrated with not making any forward progress but at the same time you don’t feel confident with what you have to move forward. The holdup is when you are asking for requirements from different departments, there is always conflicting features or conflicting requirements between cross-functionalities so a great way to get around that is to ask them to document their workflow instead of naming features.”
It’s also hugely important when an organization is determining business objectives to go by the immediate needs AND the needs moving into the future. No business should want to stay stagnant and some may even experience a huge tipping point so say, if you’re in the small business market and you have your sights set on the mid-market for example, do you want to do it with the system you choose this time around or the next? Also, what are your customer experience challenges going to be in the next year or two? Can the system you choose right now support that?
It's similar to when you were a kid and every item of clothing you received came with the phrase "you'll grow into it". It is the same with your CMS, you want it to grow with you and your ambitions to it can get your business where you want it to be in the next 2 to 5 years.
Finally, on that note, many platform providers are aware not every organization that purchases their product has the digital capacity to utilize all the wonderful features it has to offer. To alleviate this, many are paying special attention to ensuring their customers get the most out of their platform, with this being echoed in the partner community as well so don’t feel that you’re alone in growing into your new WCM system, if it feels like more than you need, there is a lot of help available to ensure you get your ROI.
Define and Survey Your Stakeholders
Before engaging your stakeholders in conversation about their requirements for the new WCM system, it’s key to start by defining who those stakeholders are within your team. I posed this question to Venus and she suggested to: “categorize them by their roles and responsibilities within the organization instead of naming the common departments of sales, marketing, IT. With that logic in mind you will probably end up having content publishers, content consumers, administrators and developers, all having a different skill set and they are all very important because they are the ones living in the system day in and day out so understand their needs and skill sets at the same time.”
When I think about the communication process, I know different teams or different people may just inherently be more vocal about their needs than others so that begs the question, should you talk to stakeholders collectively as a whole or do you think you should talk to each team individually? Venus brought up a way to do a little bit of both: “there are two phases: first phase maybe ask them about their current workflow and where they want to get, and then put them all together with a project manager or IT manager or whoever is taking on this project and see the big picture. Then invite them into the conversation and try to iron out all the conflicts, all the wrinkles between those cross functional departments.”
Once that is done, the next important consideration is to think about the digital appetite of each team. How much work can they do development wise or how much is your marketing team also a little bit of a technology team? Different platforms are geared towards varying internal skillsets of an organization so once you know the resources available within your team, it can help you find the best fit in alignment with that.
Narrow Down Your List
Understanding your internal resources is also a way to determine which type of content management system you choose in terms of headless, open source, cloud, on-premise etc. and, can offer clarity as you begin the process of narrowing down your list of options. In conjunction with this, a firm grasp on your budget will also be a great ally in this process.
Determine as close of an approximation as you can for each system you have in the running but never assume a sticker-price, work out implementation fees and know everything requires upgrades and maintenance, understand what that cost is as well as do you have what you need out of the box or will you have to purchase ‘extras’ to make it all work?
Strategy here can be similar to business objectives with evaluating your starting point and then giving it a 5 year plan. This is where you may find systems you thought were within your budget won’t be when it all shakes out and some you thought were out of your league are attainable for you to have. Along these same lines, one of the best pieces of advice I have heard in terms of making your monetary relationship with your content management system easier is to create a ‘Software Savings Account’ where every month you’re allocating funds that can be used for upgrades or maintenance down the road making them less of a financial burden.
A third filter for your list when you’re down to 3 or 4 can be to evaluate each vendor you could purchase from in terms of their organizational structure, thought leadership, ethos as a business and most importantly, their future outlook or what is often better known as their product roadmap. This is usually easy to find on a vendor’s website but it’s key for comparing your goals as a business against where they are taking the platform to ensure there is alignment. Nowadays many content management systems are more than just that, bringing in digital marketing, commerce or analytic capabilities to just name a few and if one is more important to you in terms of your own business structure in addition to content management, a vendor with proven success in that area would be a better choice to support you in those goals.
Venus also pointed out it is at this stage, and in reference to my point above, understanding the different phases of research you can do on your own and knowing how to best leverage them can be a game-changer: “This is called secondary research and in contrast to what the name implies it is the first thing you should do. What it is, is looking for all the online resources and trying to understand what the vendors are doing and where they are heading, not only the vendors but also third party media resources like CMS-Connected or market research reports by Gartner and Forrester. You don’t have to stick with them but you definitely need to check them out and see what they have to say. There is also another type called primary research which is going and asking around to your peers but you don’t have to be in the same country as them because now we have social media, we have technology available so there are LinkedIn groups, Facebook groups that you can leverage and if you don’t want to share your ideas, if you don’t want to discuss your business objectives publicly you can always message them or, we used to call people so you could try that out, it works still so you can understand what they have gone through and what are the things that worked out for them or what was the factor that set them up for either success or failure.”
Choose the Best Partner for Your Project
Okay, so you’ve laid out the business objectives, you’ve narrowed down your list, you've worked out your budget, looked at the different vendors and platforms, done your research and now you have your system and we've come to the importance of the partner phase.
Choosing your integration partner for your platform is such a big consideration I've even heard people say you could pick the best technology but if your partner doesn’t align with the technology, they don’t have good expertise in it or the workflow of their process doesn’t align with your business it can turn it into a disastrous project. Another great piece of advice I heard recently in the choice process is to look at what else a partner agency might have to offer. If content is really important to your business strategy but you could use a little help, does that partner agency have a really good expertise in helping you create your content strategy or you feel the same about perhaps an effective ecommerce strategy, that can be a really good way to determine which partner you should choose. Vendors will also have their laundry list of partners but you want to talk to people that have actually created websites with that partner, ideally using the platform of your choice and really touch on their experience.
Venus added great communication within will make you and your partner’s life a whole lot easier: “It’s not that you can communicate with everyone at the same level, so as I said in the beginning, outlining all the workflow of each stakeholder is going to help you communicate with your partner as well because now that they know how your work is going down and playing out, it’ll be easy for them to understand your requirements from them and definitely the importance of partner is such a huge consideration as you said, it can make or break it.”
The blessing and the curse of the WCM market is that you will rarely find it the same, the evolution in capabilities and systems can feel forever ongoing then an inflection point hits and change arrives all at once. Take personalization for example, some say it’s been discussed for nearly a decade but the technologies were being carefully developed within the major players in the space, like various storms out at sea and finally with enough momentum they made landfall and many offer it, now it’s just who is doing it the best or in other words, making it easiest for their customers to effectively execute.
The interesting divergence we’re seeing is some vendors have a more purposeful focus on offering a few key capabilities in their DXP with future work going into perfecting those and ensuring user adoption while others are putting R&D into continuously adding capabilities to never be left behind in 'what’s next and what’s new'.
“...50% of IT projects fail”
According to studies done by top industry analysts and consultancy firms… 50% of IT projects fail. Why? Improper planning and requirements. This is why having an ally you trust is key. If you have questions or would like to discuss your IT requirements and planning, feel free to reach out. As an objective media source we have a vast knowledge-base and network of software vendors and deployment partners, helping you along the path for ROI success.