By Roland Benedetti published April 20, 2012

Thinking of Changing Your CMS? Consider These Tips First

Can you answer “yes” to any of these statements?

  • You are considering changing content management systems.
  • Your current system doesn’t meet your needs.
  • You are stuck with a legacy CMS solution that refuses to evolve.
  • You are not engaging visitors with your content.

Whatever the reasons you have for looking farther afield, here is some guidance for embarking on a search for a new CMS.

Don’t get distracted by the bells and whistles

There is a wide range of content management software out there, from boxed solutions that are ready to go (but are usually barely extensible) to more flexible platform options. There are pure web engagement front-end platforms, and more document management-oriented software. With so many options, it is tempting to dive into the feature list of each product, starting with a long and detailed analysis of all the functionalities and making your choice based on whichever product looks the coolest. In the end though, you may not focus on your own specific needs and end up choosing the wrong product.

You want to avoid a haphazard decision-making process like that at all costs. Instead, you need to start your search by clearly identifying your needs and system requirements. I am frequently astounded to find that people are evaluating content management technology when they aren’t able to say one word about what they want to do with it!

Before considering a purchase, it’s vital to ask yourself what business challenges you hope to overcome with a new CMS — when you get behind the wheel of a car, you should know your destination before you hit the gas pedal. And just like a road trip — where you might need to travel straight ahead through the flat Nevada desert or on twisty roads in the Rocky Mountains — finding a CMS that suits your needs can take you along one path among many choices.

In the best case, once you know your particular set of needs, you might find a technology that fits straight out of the box. But if not, you’ll have to plan for some customizations. Don’t panic, though. Some systems are designed for just that purpose.

Once you’ve defined your needs, do your research

Once you know what you are looking for, then it’s time to look at the systems on offer. You can easily get lost analyzing the features of all the available products. The stereotypical feature-driven RFP is another occasion for losing sight of the forest for the trees. You’re better off assessing the system you choose by testing it, building small prototypes, or asking the technology provider to implement a proof of concept. Even as a prototype or with simple access to a demo, you can evaluate the system with real users and developers.

Additionally, keep in mind you aren’t just choosing technology, but also the people making, selling, and servicing the solution, as well as the whole community that revolves around it. From the sales representative to the support engineer, from the executive to R&D, make sure the fit is what is best for your business.

For instance, some vendors might offer very procedural and organized technical support, with different support lines and service-level agreements (SLAs). Others might offer a much simpler support organization that is flat and based on friendliness, simplicity, and availability. Depending on your business and technical capabilities, one or the other may be a better match for you. You should also find out how their sales and support teams are structured, as some will have the sales team as the gateway to the vendor team, whereas others will allow direct access to customer relations. Some may be flexible, others more strict. Once again, we are not so much concerned about the technology itself here, but with the fit of the CMS company with the culture and personality of your organization.

Don’t overestimate the migration phase

As a last piece of advice to guide you, don’t under or overestimate the migration phase when moving from one system to the other. By this, I mean to say that push-button migration doesn’t exist. There is always work to be done, changes to be managed, and unplanned issues to resolve.

You should plan cautiously, yet also not overestimate or be scared of the process. Even first-generation content management systems can provide decent technical access to content and document. It is extremely rare that you will be blocked.

Consider content migration to be a sub-component of your complete CMS decision. Consider utilizing a professional for this process because, aside from skill set, a professional’s experience with migration will help avoid common pitfalls — such as not properly backing up information — and can account for potential, unforeseen issues that might pop up if you did it yourself.

Treat both the system and the process side with equal importance, but don’t forget to include your users and involve them in the process, as well. They should be the first to take up the migration project. In the end, it is they who will make or break your project.

Remember to ask yourself these questions

I’d recommend any technology decision-makers ask themselves the following questions before looking for a potential CMS vendor or system:

  • What are the main drivers for changing the current system, and are they really impacting my efficiency?
  • What are the main opportunities a new content management system would bring to my business?
  • Do I know what my needs will be in 6 month, 2 years, or 5 years?
  • How does the answer to the previous question impact my decision?

Please don’t hesitate to reach out or comment if you have a recipe for success to share with us!

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Author: Roland Benedetti

>Roland Benedetti is an IT professional with over 14 years of experience in the fields of content management and information management for leading software vendors, integrators, media and e-business companies. With a mix of technical, functional and management skills, Roland focuses primarily on innovation in IT, which often implies Open Source development models. Roland is currently working full time for Nuxeo, a software company providing a full enterprise content management platform, open source, for any kind of content-driven application. You can follow him on Twitter @rolandbenedetti.

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  • Brendan Cournoyer

    I’ve been through more than a few content migrations, and it’s always some type of fresh hell. OFten times, you don’t know the problems with your current CMS until you’re already running it. One big thing to keep in mind (and that some overlook) is the critical role redirects play in a migration. If you’re URLs change as a result, EVERYTHING needs to change, and thus everything needs a redirect. Making sure this is planned properly and won’t have too much of a negative effect of site speed and performance is an important consideration.

  • Colleen Ross

    Roland, thanks for this post. As the marketing director for a software development company that counts a CMS among its products, it’s often difficult for me and our sales team to convey the potential importance of things like organizational expertise in the face of our less experienced (and usually cheaper) competition. And I agree that strict adherence to the RFP policy can often distract from the real meat of the problem. It’s refreshing to hear similar thoughts!

    • Roland Benedetti

      Thanks Colleen! 

  • Ian Truscott

    Excellent post Roland, I like the questions you end with –  the first is absolutely whether buying a new CMS is really the answer to an organizations content marketing and web engagement challenges. 
    When I was with Gilbane (as an analyst) I once wrote about it here: Throwing The Vendor Baby Out With The Implementation Bath Water?.

    • Roland Benedetti

      Thanks Ian,
      I remember reading this article from you indeed, very interesting as well!


  • Shelli Sandrew

    Thoughtful article. Migration is an important consideration especially if the client doesn’t want or need a redesign. We here at Blue LAN Group migrate clients all the time who are unhappy with their existing CMS using their existing designs and content for a nominal flat fee.

  • Chris Peer

    Good article. I often see companies change CMS platforms for reasons that are often not going to provide a return on investment. Mapping out your website’s goals and developing a strong marketing and content plan will help those looking for a change to reach their goals.

    • Roland Benedetti

      I totally agree, if we talk about launching/managing a website, having a marketing and content plan must come first! Technology will not solve these questions…

    • Chris O’Shaughnessy

      Totally agree.  ROI and total cost of ownership need to be considered when choosing a CMS.  From licensing to implementation to annual maintenance fees.  There are so many CMS tools available today, both open source and commercial, that can meet your needs and reach your goals.  The key is to know what you need and then get the most bang for the buck! 

  • decibel_places

    Drupal has been found to meet most medium complex to Enterprise needs, as well as for smaller organizations with some tech savvy.

  • Rita Dawson

    “The stereotypical feature-driven RFP is another occasion for losing sight of the forest for the trees” – Very true! I find this to be a  common with many bloggers. I think overestimation to a rare and being scared of the process to be common. The fear of getting blocked is something that everyone has indeed. Thanks for the informative share that I enjoyed reading.

  • Skweekah

    Choosing a CMS and migrating/repopulating need not be a big deal. Focus on the task at hand and stay focussed. You will get there in the end.

  • Marco Daniel

    Much appreciated! Completely agree that the idea of migration across CMS platforms could naturally scare many folks as it daunting, time-consuming and hair pulling process that the majority of users don’t know about. Luckily, there are dozens of online converters (like CMS2CMS service) which anyone may use to get the job done automatedly. Despite the fact that they are commercial – they are reasonably priced (in my migratio case it was $39).