Industry Insights

Forrester Analyst Assesses When & Why to Upgrade Your CMS

Content management software vendors consistently report that anywhere between 15 – 55% of their current clients are behind more than a year on upgrading their CMS, and this can lead to challenges for all parties that are assisting an organization in advancing their web strategy and infrastructure. Just because your web-ecosystem may not be a problem today, doesn’t mean you will never face the challenges of falling behind. On the other hand, deciding when and how to upgrade your CMS is not a decision to be taken lightly and often begs the question, if you don’t keep current with version upgrades, are you saving money or thrown money away? 

The answer is a complex one that goes far beyond the common pain point of monetary cost, which is why I recently reached out to Forrester’s Senior Analyst Mark Grannan, to discuss why version upgrades are so important. 


If you’re not sure whether or not you should upgrade your content management software to the latest release, the best place to start is to look at things that might get in the way when you decide not to upgrade. Mark looks into this from two different perspectives; tactical and strategic. 

Tactical Perspective: As you may already know, you can’t simply skip over all the version releases and jump into the most recent upgrade. With this in mind, the more you fall behind, the more difficult it is to get away from the one you’re on. What happens when you stick with the current CMS software version? The answer to this question leads us to the strategic side of the story that Mark explains during my video interview with him.

Strategic Perspective: Missing out on opportunities to capitalize on new features and capabilities, such as the ability to do personalization through dynamic content is detrimental. Grannan believes that the cost of missing out on potential benefits could actually outweigh any hassles you may incur on a tactical level.

Arguably, the most common delay in upgrading to the latest version of ones CMS is the cost. As I stated in my opening paragraph, if you don’t upgrade will you save money or throw money away? Although the cost depends on how much integration and customization may need to be done, the decision should be made based on the organization's priority. However, coming to an agreement on the priority level can be harder than it sounds.

“It is amazing how political and emotional those conversations about who gets funding
and budget and when, can get between various groups”,
states Mark Grannan.


Therefore, as Mark mentions, at Forrester, the analysts often suggest their clients use the customer journey to make these priority judgment calls. The reason for this, is that the new features and capabilities that come with the new versions may address the customers’ pain points. Taking an outside-in approach does not only help organizations make priority judgment calls, but also takes a lot of emotion out of the internal discussions across departments. After all, web content management systems have an instrumental impact on almost every single touchpoint throughout a customer's journey.

Here's an excerpt, which was contained in the 2015 Forrester Research report, titled The Forrester Wave™: Web Content Management Systems, Q1 2015, that demonstrates WCM's vital role in digital experiences across a customer's journey: 

During my interview with Mark, asked him what the primary reasons were that he has personally encountered, that make organizations realize their need to re-platform their software. According to the seasoned Forrester analyst, the driving factor could be something as sophisticated as combining a CMS with things like micro services and APIs or something as simple as appointing a new member of the C-Suite who likes to work with a particular tool. Regardless, Mark stresses that it is directly connected to what the priority is within the organization, as some need personalization with dynamic content, while others are looking for the flexibility in terms of configuration and scalability with the cloud solutions, which is the most common factor. 

Another great pain point discussed was how organizations should pick their new web CMS if they are unhappy with certain aspects of their current solution or, simply, if they don’t have any platform in place. Mark spoke from experience and suggested starting with one key focus: to underline what the business is trying to accomplish and never lose sight of that throughout the process. What makes this point so impactful, is that chances are an organization can get dazzled with a dozen different motivating factors for upgrading and re-platforming, and in turn, they lose sight of their priority along the way. To avoid that, he strongly reassures his clients that firmly stating their goals is probably the best place to start.

The second most important factor he touched upon, is understanding the internal skill-sets and practitioner needs. That makes great sense because it’s the internal practitioners, content authors, and developers that will be living in the system day in and day out, so their skill-sets need to be smoothly transformed into this new environment for the sake of their productivity. 

The last factor, is doing your market research as the market is moving at a very fast pace. “Leverage your market research; leverage us [Forrester], leverage CMS-Connected. Leverage until you make sure that you are as fully informed as you can be,” states Mark Grannan. After all, you need to understand what your options are within the market, before getting convinced by CMS vendors. He also suggests the research considerations of features and track-record, a strategic roadmap, ecosystem and market presence.

Once you’re done with your market research, it is always sensible to narrow your focus, and short-lists are the best method. From there, it is recommended to run a proof-of-concept with the top-three in your short-list. 

You have made your decision and picked a CMS that should perfectly fit within your ecosystem. Now what? It’s time to implement the system. In this regard, Mark recommends finding a strategic partner that meshes well with your team and can bootstrap your team’s skillset. He speaks from experience when he emphasizes how critical the knowledge transference between the strategic partner team and your team is to the success of not only the implementation phase but also in an organizations’ ongoing operations. 

Another important task to complete during this transaction is a content audit. He used a great analogy of moving out your current home to explain the necessity of a content audit. The bottom line is to take this replacement as a chance to carefully sort through your content and understand what’s delicate, how to group things, which content is working, and which has become obsolete. Moreover, enabling content architecture and taxonomy helps you meet your local and global needs. 

Once you’re done with all the indulgence around the content and templates, it’s time to roll-out. At this point, Mark strongly suggests phased, slow, and steady roll-outs across countries, instead of attempting a “Big Bang” as a lot of things can go wrong and you could overwhelm. To do so, he suggests finding a guinea pig of users internally and a site to trial externally. Once you make sure the new system is working like a well-oiled machine and you don’t need the old system anymore, you can take the hands off the wheel of that retired system and gear up for the continuous deployment and continuous integration of the new one.

Laura Myers

Laura Myers

A digital business, marketing and social media enthusiast, Laura thrives on asking unique, insightful questions to ignite conversation. At an event or remotely, she enjoys any opportunity to connect with like-minded people in the industry.

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