Choosing the Right CMS Solution: A Few Pointers

Choosing the right content management system to meet your needs is critical, but if you don't know what it is you are trying to automate, even the best vendor's solution will come up short.
Deciding on a content management system (CMS) to help your organization streamline business processes and aid in compliance efforts can be a mind-boggling job. And while looking at CMS vendors would seem the good first step, there's a little more to it than perusing a few brochures and talking to a couple of sales folks. Here are a few tips from the experts that may help.

Before any informed decision can be made regarding which solution will work best, you will have to decide just what it is your organization is looking to accomplish, when and why.

What business processes will end up automated by the new CMS? Are those processes well-defined so when you do automate them, they work as they do today? What about the processes that don't work so well today? Will the CMS system simply automate poorly thought-out work flow procedures, making them even more difficult to deal with?

"Oftentimes automating a bad process still leads to a bad process," said Whitney Tidmarsh, vice president and general manager of Documentum's EDM/ECM business unit.

What does your internal IT infrastructure look like? Will the CMS system have to pull information from 72 data bases in 14 locations or will you set up a data warehouse of some sort to control the flow of information? If so, will the current network handle the new bandwidth demands? Will there be any new bandwidth demands? What platforms and architectures within your organization will require support? Etc., etc., etc.

Inside Out

The questions are many and all are important to have at least some semblance of an answer for before you start looking at vendors. So, really the first step is to perform IT infrastructure and business process audits. These will tell you if the infrastructure is up to the task and help you define just what business processes should be included for automation by the new CMS solution.

If you don't know how your current business processes really work, then you won't be able to decide which vendor provides the best solution to meet your needs, said John Mancini, president of the Association of Information and Imaging Management.

"It's the homework aspect of doing this thing right that is really one of the most important things that people need to look at," he said. "Understand what you are dealing with is not simple. It's as complicated as the processes that exist within your organization are complicated."

The next step is to realize that an enterprise-wide, one-size-fits-all roll-out probably will fail, said Steve Dalal, founder of Web content management firm EM3. Not so much because the technology doesn't work, but because the engineering folks will need and want different functionality than the marketing department and the human resources folks probably won't be happy with what marketing wants and so on. The trick is to identify each group's particular needs and then roll out solutions, which can all be from the same vendor, tailored for each group's particular needs.

"Don't try to solve all the problems with a single system because, eventually, it's going to cost too much and it's not going to serve anyone's needs very well," he said. "We've seen that fail over and over again."

Choosing the Vendor(s)

Once the department-by-department or division-by-division roll-outs are complete, then its time to look at tying them all together in an enterprise-wide CM system. And this is where vendor selection becomes critical, said Dalal.

You don't want to buy solutions from 14 different proprietary providers and try to tie them all together through custom coding or APIs. What you want to look for is a vendor(s) to meet the specific needs in each division or department or project.

If each of these solutions comes from the same vendor, well and good. But if you are going to use different vendors to put together your ECM (enterprise content management) system, then, at the very least, you'll want to ensure interoperability through the use of open standards, XML and Web services, said Mark Hale, vice president of Field Marketing for ECM vendor Interwoven.

In this way, you can also "future proof" your ECM solution for easier management and integration with new applications and functionality down-the-road, he said. Discounting the importance of open standards and Web services-based solutions could lead to the purchase of products that quickly becomes outdated. And, at $500,000 and up for an ECM package, that could be an expensive mistake.

Last but certainly not least is the people factor. Are you installing an ECM to aid your knowledge workers as they sift through reams of corporate data? If so, make sure the solution you choose allows for expanded search parameters. If compliance is driving your decision-making process, then make sure the package you select has strong version controls and authentication and tracking procedures that capture not only the final versions of documents but also as much of the associated work that went into those documents as possible, like email strings.


More importantly, perhaps, than a particular functionality or platform support or even open standards, is usability. Will your people actually use the system once it's in place? To find out, said Dalal, see if you can get a vendor to provide you with a demo of the solution or, at least, a place to go and try it on before you subject your people to it. This is an extremely important question because, without user buy-in, you can probably say goodbye to a sizeable portion of the ROI you were hoping to get.

If it's necessary to get buy-in from the board for expanding the CM system in the future, then start small, said Documentum's Tidmarsh. Look first for the places in the company where CMS will have the most dramatic effect and return ROI fastest. If you're successful in these areas, convincing top brass to expand the system into less obvious areas will be easier, she said.

"It's really important for companies to prioritize on which content initiatives are going to take priority and which ones will drive the rest of the adoption curve," she said. "What's going to give me the most visibility, the biggest win and the largest pay back within the company?"

The bottom line is a CMS solution can be as complicated to implement as your business. It is all about the automating of business processes and capturing as much data about those processes as possible. So, while choosing the right vendor is important to a successful implementation, it is critical to understand why you are even looking in the first place. Without this knowledge, any vendor will do because you won't know the difference.

"It's not going to be a good investment if a company just says 'I think I need a CMS so lets go buy one and we'll figure out what we're going to do with it later'," said Tidmarsh.

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