Industry Insights

Is your CMS a Dead Horse?

Written by Marianne Kay

When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. When your content management system is no longer fit for purpose, the best strategy is to replace it. That’s the theory.
In practice, though, it’s not that simple.

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Validating the need

First of all, just how dead is your CMS, exactly? Many organisations are unhappy with certain aspects of their CMS, but does this mean they should seek a better solution?

Not always.

If the CMS product is officially discontinued, both in terms of sales and support, then – yes – that’s one clear case where a CMS replacement is truly unavoidable. It’s possible to get another few months or even years of use out of a discontinued product, but the official end-of-life date creates a real sense of urgency with regards to CMS replacement. Delaying migration to an alternative platform in this scenario increases the risk of the product becoming incompatible with other systems, and makes hiring reliable CMS developers more and more difficult over time.

But what if your CMS is a zombie? What if it’s no longer actively developed, not very well supported, but not officially ‘dead’? At what point does the CMS replacement become a worthwhile investment?

To validate the need for a CMS replacement:
  • review overall strategic business goals;
  • evaluate status quo;
  • explore departmental vs organisational needs;
  • evaluate readiness for change (technology alone doesn’t change things, people do);
  • engage with stakeholders;
  • ask yourself: what is the risk of doing nothing?
Sometimes we see organisations initiate costly, time-consuming CMS replacement projects for the wrong reasons. Behind every CMS replacement there is an individual, or a department, with its own agenda. These departmental needs are not always the same as the overarching organisational goals. In siloed organisations with loose management structure it is not unusual for departments to put their own needs first. Pragmatically, that’s all they can do (at least until the senior leadership tackles the silos problem).

To make sure that both departmental and organisational needs are fairly represented, engage an external, independent consultant that doesn’t have a vested one-sided interest in a particular department, and will serve the long-term needs of the organisation as a whole.

The cost of a CMS replacement

CMS replacement is an expensive undertaking. For some initial rough estimates document the scale and complexity of your digital presence, and ask your trusted agency for a quote. Consider impact of the new system on your resources, and identify skill gaps that will need to be filled should the CMS replacement go ahead.

When writing a business case, keep in mind that CMS replacement projects are rarely about realising efficiencies and cost savings. Moving your digital presence to the new system is like moving to a new office. The benefits are real, but they are complex and do not always lend themselves well to ROI calculations. A convincing business case will avoid technical jargon and will link the benefits of the new content management system to the business goals. For example, instead of claiming that “the new system will offer a capability to quickly deploy new content assets to staging and live servers,” rephrase this to use business language, i.e.: “The new system will offer a capability to quickly launch new products ahead of the competition.” This way you will be one step closer to getting support  from the senior management.
Be clear about the problems that the new content management system will not solve. Underlying issues such as lack of vision, skills shortages , and poor management practices will not disappear as a result of a CMS replacement and should be tackled separately.

A word about acquisitions

When a CMS vendor is acquired by another business, customers are often left wondering where the combined company, and the WCM product(s) are going. Acquisitions are common in the Web CMS space, and happen for a variety of reasons, yet very few CMS vendors have communicated the transition clearly to the customers. With limited information available directly from the CMS vendor, customers turn to analysts and service providers for advice.
If your CMS vendor has been acquired, the key is to make an informed, rational decision which takes into consideration your current requirements, vendor’s strategic plans, and your options in terms of implementation and maintenance of the solution going forward. There are a number of questions you need to ask your vendor, your service provider, as well as your own organisation internally, that will determine the outcome.


CMS replacement projects can happen for a number of reasons, such as:
  • The organization has outgrown its initial set of requirements and the system that was meeting those;
  • The CMS is no longer thriving/competitive;
  • Large, multi-brand organisations consolidate platforms following mergers or internal restructuring.
An acquisition of a CMS vendor can bring some of these issues to the surface and act as a trigger for a CMS evaluation, and in some cases, CMS replacement.
Validating the need for the technology replacement and differentiating between technology and people problems are essential first steps of any CMS replacement project.
Replacing a web content management system is a strategic investment. An independent, unbiased consultant can help to manage different stakeholders, and serve the interests of the organisation as a whole.

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Marianne Kay

Marianne is a Web Content Management Analyst at Digital Clarity Group. She helps large organisations to choose the right Content Management System and live happily ever after. Marianne offers guidance and advice in areas such as technology selection, digital agency selection, requirements gathering, RFP process and stakeholder management. She lives in Yorkshire in the UK, and is addicted to tennis.

Amy Martyn

Amy Martyn

Amy is the Marketing Manager for CMS-Connected. Bringing 8 years of marketing experience to the table, she has become adept to the day-to-day practicalities of online marketing from planning and implementing social strategies to managing various CRM and marketing automation systems, not to mention her involvement in broadcast production and TV commercials.

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