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The right and wrong reasons to invest in a new CMS

Choosing and implementing a new CMS is hard, hard enough that we wrote a book about it. That’s why it’s important to be confident you’re doing it for the right reasons.

Welcome to the first in our 6-part series about choosing the right content management system for your organization (and for your customers). Check back soon for our next post in the series, "Building the business case for a new CMS."

The old adage “Nothing lasts forever” has (ironically) lasted well into the digital age. It’s especially true for websites—depending on your competitive situation, the average lifespan of a website design is now about two to three years. Even if you redesign and rewrite your website regularly, the underlying content management system usually only supports current functionality for about five years.

A CMS can certainly last longer. Many businesses run the same CMS implementation long past end of life. However, the five-year mark is generally where signs of age begin to show. The market moves on, your business evolves—maybe acquires or is acquired—content changes, new disciplines emerge, and audience expectations change.

The decision to move on isn’t always clear at first. You’ve got to pay attention to the warning signs!

A CMS doesn't suddenly collapse after five years, it ages incrementally. Some functions continue to work well, while others begin to fail or are no longer supported. Deficiencies appear one by one as your content ambitions gradually expand past the edges of what the current system can support.

That is why it’s important to stay vigilant. Here are four common warning signs that are a good indication it’s time to start looking for a new CMS, and some common complaints you can safely ignore.

1. “We can’t do that with our CMS”

As time goes on, it becomes harder to be objective about the limitations of your CMS. The longer you use a CMS, the more its specific way of doing things becomes synonymous become synonymous with the way you work.

However, it’s also likely that toward the end of its five-year lifespan, you’ll start to hear grumblings around available functionality and technical constraints. This could be limitations on the scope of specific campaigns or restrictions around the available integrations with other customer experience and analytics platforms.

It’s really important to get to the root of the real issue here. Is this truly a CMS functionality question? And if it is, could it be resolved with some development workarounds?

You need to disentangle your content operation processes from the limitations of the old system. In some scenarios, the original implementation was aimed at requirements from that point in time and requirements may have changed since then. Are you sure you’re being held back by the CMS? How could things be improved without a full rip-and-replace implementation?

If you are absolutely sure it’s the CMS holding you back, then it is valuable to spend some time defining exactly why that is, and what additional capabilities you need from the new solution.

2. “Integrations require too much development effort”

Integrations and extensibility are critical to the longevity of your content management system. Your CMS should operate as part of a wider customer experience management operation and be extensible enough to connect its data and logic with other apps.

This is always going to be a balance between what the vendor supports and the custom tweaks your development team or implementation partner makes.

However, the responsibility shouldn’t fall squarely on you. Your CMS needs to grow with your business. If your current vendor doesn’t update the platform in response to changing market conditions, or if it doesn’t deliver the flexibility and extensibility you need to grow, you’re better off moving sooner rather than later.

Your next CMS should offer good integration with a broad variety of key customer experience platforms, like CRM solutions, analytics platforms, and e-commerce systems.

3. “Our CMS is too hard for editors to use”

Your CMS should be intuitive to use. Usability is a perfectly acceptable key requirement if you’re already looking to upgrade for other reasons.

However, replacing your current CMS purely because your content team doesn’t know how to use it effectively may not be the most efficient approach to solving that problem. It’s always, always more cost effective to invest in upskilling your content team than it is to implement a new CMS based on its accessibility.

There are also ways to enhance many CMS systems to optimize workflow for authors. Current limitations may be caused by a change in the work process that was not originally considered during implementation. A review of the implementation and possibilities for optimization might allow for a better author experience.

4. “Our marketing systems need to help us deliver faster and with fewer resources”

This is a double-edged sword. With careful planning, new CMS implementations can deliver more time and cost efficiencies, but it’s not a given. If you buy a new system without investigating why your current marketing systems are running inefficiently, you’ll probably carry the causes with you.

Your CMS might not even be the cause. For example, you may manage customer experiences using a lot of dispersed and poorly integrated systems. The only way a CMS can address that inherent inefficiency is by actively providing better integrations—or better yet, consolidating those dispersed systems through integrated features.

Choosing an open-source CMS is also a popular cost-saving suggestion. Upfront costs can be lower, and there are fewer baked-in extras like support (though you will likely find you miss some of these down the line).

Open-source CMS systems have other drawbacks. For one, you’re often at the mercy of the community for both support and development. If they become inactive a year after deployment, you’re in trouble. Similarly, it’s often hard to find consistently good implementation partners for an open source CMS—some might be great, but that isn’t always the case.

On the other hand, closed source CMS systems may be offering you more than you need right now as part of their higher price. It is always beneficial to take a look at what type of options you have for being able to start off smaller and then grow to the level that you need.

One final consideration

For every warning sign that your CMS might be nearing its end of life, there’s also an important, overriding, elephant-in-the-room consideration that’s important to acknowledge:

  • Implementing a new CMS can be a challenging process that takes anywhere between three and 12 months. Acknowledging that your current solution is failing you begins a long, difficult change-management process.

The good news is that it’s usually worth the pain. A new CMS can completely reinvent the value your content operation delivers. Having clearly defined reasons for making the switch reduces the time to when you will realize value, improves business buy-in, and makes the return on investment clearer.

Looking for more warning signs of an aging CMS? Check out “The definitive guide to choosing a content management system” today. Let me know what you think about it!

Jason St-Cyr is a technical evangelist at Sitecore. Find him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter @AgileStCyr

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