10 Do’s and Don’ts for Implementing a CMS
Implementing a new content management system (CMS) or Web content management system (WMS) is, to say the least, a daunting task. Integrating past content and anticipating future needs—all while trying to meet the requirements of present constituents—leaves the process riddled with potential for missteps. It’s no wonder experts in CMS/WMS implementation stress the need for adequate preparation.
“The idea is [that] you’d better know what you are doing before you are doing it,” says Randy Woods, executive vice president of Ontario-based vendor Non Linear Creations. “It sounds blindingly obvious, but 90 percent of the time it just doesn’t happen.”
Basically, all companies—publishers included—must not embark on a project until they are sure they understand the process they are trying to imbed, Wood says. He calls the effort “information architecture”—a means to determine who the system is for and what you are trying to accomplish with it.
To reach this understanding, Patrick Becker, senior vice president of business development at CMS provider Woodwing, stresses the importance of a pre-site evaluation.
“It needs to be done well in advance of any scheduled installation,” Becker says. “The first thing you are going to do is look at a few main areas—personnel, hardware, infrastructure, process and content. Until I’ve looked at those areas, I can’t tell you [how implementation should proceed].”
Becker says no conversation about specifics should be undertaken before this preparation. Failing to thoroughly understand goals and parameters can lead to huge, costly mistakes, as with a company cited by Woods that purchased a CMS solution after a year and a half procurement process, only to discover it did not comply with corporate IT standards and could not be used.
Such a scenario highlights a second major point: Make sure all stakeholders are involved in the planning and implementation process from the outset.
“For CMS implementation, you must get buy-in or acceptance not only from management, but from IT and end users,” Becker says. “Management has a budget. IT wants a certain performance out of the system, and users want certain feature sets. A project manager really helps to negotiate, to manage the common ground between the feature set, the budget and performance.”
Cincinnati-based enthusiast publisher F+W Media (formerly F+W Publications) knew exactly what it wanted to accomplish going into a recent major CMS revamp. Possessing many years of valuable content and user communities eager to access information in new ways, the company identified its first priority as monetization. “The initial goal is to create a repository that will be the catalyst for the development of new revenue-generating products,” says John Lerner, executive vice president of e-media. “Once that is in place, we will use the CMS to streamline our workflow process as well, but new revenue streams are first and foremost on our minds.”
Lerner describes implementation as a collaborative effort involving e-media, IT, production and leaders from the communities F+W serves—the sort of detailed, comprehensive planning, inclusive of all stakeholders, that lies at the heart of Publishing Executive’s list of do’s and don’ts:
DO try to find common ground among stakeholders.
Understand what people want, and work to smooth out any potential conflicts, Woods says.
“[Editorial] might want things that will let them make changes quickly and easily, and that they can understand intuitively, and IT wants something that is not going to break every month and a half so they don’t have to spend all of their time fixing a product,” he says. “They’re not necessarily conflicting things, but both sides of the puzzle have to be taken into account.”
Finding common ground need not mean compromising overall goals in order to please one constituency, notes Joe Ferrick, vice president of Web development at NewBay Media. An ongoing Web site redesign at his company has sometimes involved “steering [editors] in the direction they should go,” he says, with the goal of encouraging a more Web-centric approach.
DON’T neglect functionality.
While implementing a CMS/WMS that does not work with corporate IT standards is a nightmare, so is the opposite—allowing IT to adopt a system that does not meet the needs of the company simply because it functions well for them.
“That’s probably 90 percent of the failures,” Woods says. “IT plunges ahead and adopts a content management solution, or adopts something open source they know, but it doesn’t meet the needs of the organization, and when it’s deployed no one uses it.”
F+W discovered quickly that thinking backward from ideal workflow scenarios made sense. “We needed to understand how this process could eventually be integrated into our production workflow,” Lerner says, while at the same time ensuring IT could support the initiative.
DO involve people early in the process.
Many content management systems fail because they are presented as a surprise to those employees who use them every day, Woods says.
“The CMS could be easier [than what was used before], but unless you do some change management, these people just won’t adopt,” Woods says. “There are two groups: There are the people who are desperate to use it because they are frustrated they can’t publish, but there’s always a group of laggards for whom this feels like an imposition. It’s a new task they have to add to their job, and you get pushback.
“If you involve people early and ask their opinion, they tend to be more open to participating when the time comes,” he notes.
Change management is critical, especially for organizations that have been in the publishing business a long time, agrees David Crouy, marketing director at Montreal-based WMS provider nStein.
Using his company’s product as an example, he notes that if editors are not primed to understand the value of text mining, tagging tools and SEO, there will be resistance to adding these elements to the system’s day-to-day functionality—even though it is absolutely critical that editors, as the content experts, be fully engaged and on board.
Crouy reports that client Hearst Corp. did 50 demos throughout its organization to demonstrate a new system and ensure the support of editorial staff.
“There must be internal management of expectations,” he says. “You need to empower users and make sure everybody understands why we are changing.”
While building in familiarity with a new system is a good thing, don’t overestimate the extent to which various players want to be involved in planning, Ferrick says. “We’ve kind of taken the ball and to some groups we say, ‘Here’s your new site, here’s how it works.’ They might work on three different magazines and five different sites, and don’t have the time to get into the whole design aspect of it,” he says.
The key is to know when and how to engage each constituent in the course of the build-out, Ferrick says. The time to involve editors may be when the discussion turns to editorial direction, and how designs and tools can best serve that function, at which point excitement, rather than trepidation, can be created around a major redesign.
DON’T underestimate the time needed.
“I think there’s a perception, not in the IT group, but among business users, that you buy a system that meets your needs and press a button and your Web site magically gets imported into this solution. That doesn’t happen,” Woods says.
Depending on the extent of a Web presence, it can take from three months to a year and a half to deploy a new CMS solution, he says.
Woods identifies three areas in which deployment timelines tend to get off track: making decisions on graphic design elements, writing new Web site content, and migrating content from an existing Web site.
Different content management solutions require different timelines. An out-of-the-box solution may take less time to set up initially, but require an extended “tinkering” phase.
“We kind of look at it as the Levittown approach,” Ferrick says, referring to the famous planned suburban postwar communities in Pennsylvania and Long Island. “Back in 1945, every house looked the same. … If you look at it now, it’s just totally morphed into whatever people wanted to do with their house over the years. So, we have some sites that will probably be more video-centric; others will be more news heavy, posting a ton of content, breaking news, that kind of stuff. A year from now our sites won’t look exactly the same.”
DO budget twice as much training as you think you will need.
Becker stresses the importance of training—both initial and follow-up—as a key component of any successful CMS deployment, and recommends doubling any initial figure you may have set aside for the task. Comprehensive training helps ensure smooth transitions in the wake of staff turnover and full use of a product’s capabilities over time.
“It’s not uncommon to go back to a [company] a year after an installation is launched, and find that one of their problems that needs to be addressed is a feature within the software that has simply been forgotten,” he says. “No one has gone back to the documentation or made a phone call. What they do is just live with it. It’s crazy.”
Crouy recommends making sure IT is fully able to manage and maintain the system.
“They do not want to be dependent [on a service provider],” he says. “Give them the tools they need that allow them to own that solution.”
DON’T neglect existing content.
Spend time examining how existing content should be migrated into a new system, Becker says. With so much effort put into creating new digital assets, a company should not neglect the potential for monetizing existing content—a fact that requires, like so much else with CMS installation, some advanced planning in order to avoid added expenses and delays.
“During the migration process, we have to tag all of that old content so that it synchs with the new content,” he says. “It doesn’t do you any good to have a bunch of images and articles with all the new stuff having one set of metadata and the old set having none or limited.”
Integrating existing content was central to F+W’s mission. “At F+W, we have years of extremely valuable content that has not been available digitally to date,” Lerner says. “By developing a content repository, we are now able to parse the content and deliver it to our communities in multiple formats. We create DVDs, PDFs, and online subscription services of current and archived content by theme and/or date.”
Providing rich, audience-friendly contextualization—by subject, date, source of content, tone of article or other categories—is essential to seamless integration of new and existing content, Crouy says.
DO seize the chance to reorganize how you want readers to interact with content.
Take the opportunity to overturn print-centric thinking, advises Ferrick, by changing the way information is organized and presented on Web sites. “You don’t want to lose the content, but you don’t want to make the old content the focus,” he says. “You definitely want to use any kind of new site or new CMS as a stepping off point for a new direction.”
Setting up a site like a table of contents in a print magazine or presenting content as if it were adjunct to a print edition is “missing a golden opportunity to organize it more for a site visitor compared to a magazine reader,” he says. “Now is the chance to totally reorganize these navigations.”
To make such a transition easier, Ferrick recommends building out in stages for people used to the old site, rather than risk overwhelming users by introducing many new features and designs all at once.
DON’T choose a vendor too quickly.
F+W talked to many companies before settling on a solutions provider. “We needed to find a digitization partner with whom we felt comfortable,” Lerner says.
“It’s a mature market, so there are a lot of solutions to meet your needs,” Woods says. “Take time to compare them, because simply selecting the most common or the most popular CMS might not be the right choice for you.”
Woods believes it’s wrong to overlook newer companies: Younger CMS/WMS providers sometimes have better technology because they do not have legacy code problems. On the other hand, it’s critical to make sure a vendor is either certified or has experience implementing a particular product.
“We went with a company based on price, and while they are now much more educated, we kind of paid for their learning process,” Ferrick says.
DO plan for the need to integrate future platforms.
Crouy recommends an open-source CMS, for those who can afford it, because content platforms can quickly evolve. “The Web is changing rapidly, and you never know what will be happening tomorrow,” he says. “You need to be able to plug yourself into new social-media applications, or your platform will have a hard time evolving based on what comes up next.
“Competitiveness depends on trends,” he says. “If everybody is using Digg and you cannot integrate it, you will lose a lot of [consumer] interest.”
David Renard of research firm MediaIdeas agrees that open source is the way to go. To ensure smooth workflow integration down the road as CMSs/WMSs continue to evolve, he believes it is essential to adopt an XML-based solution. “It’s the [standard platform] concept you must look forward to rather than particular products that are on the market today,” he says.
As a baseline heading into the future, Renard believes the industry needs to have a universal content standard. “Even though [CMSs/WMSs] might have a hard time talking to each other now … if they have the same concept of what content is, then at some point you can bring them together.”
DON’T lose focus on what matters most—ROI.
Don’t let the reason you set out on this path in the first place become lost in a sea of technical and workflow considerations. The point of any CMS is to bring in revenue.
“We needed to have a revenue model from the get-go ensuring that we would show a positive ROI,” Lerner says. To that end, F+W involved consumers in the implementation process, tailoring platforms to their needs while at the same time building in capabilities, such as enhanced content licensing, designed to reach new audiences.