With a growing supply of Content Management Systems (CMS) in the market, selecting the best content management system for your organization can be a costly and highly time-consuming effort. How can you sort through the products? How can you know which product best suits your organization’s unique needs? How can you validate that your organization makes the right decision for the long term?

The keys to answering these questions and selecting the best content management system lie within your approach – inventorying and gaining consensus on CMS requirements, prioritizing requirements, ranking solutions against common criteria, and comparing CMS application strengths and weaknesses against your organization’s requirements.

The Increased Supply of CMS Applications Has Made Buyers’ Lives More Complicated…

As technology has improved over recent years, the CMS application market has grown increasingly crowded, and as a result product differentiation has grown more opaque. Technology improvements and increased availability of technology and technology tools have lowered barriers for solution suppliers. Once dominated by on-premise and custom, home-grown solutions, the web content management landscape has matured.

Software as a service (SaaS) and open source CMS solutions have emerged, offering lower upfront costs than traditional systems and creating incentives for buyers to consider alternative solutions other than traditional packaged and custom developed, home-grown apps. Although buyers have a greater set of choices (now), their jobs for selecting the best CMS solution for their organization have grown exponentially more challenging.

Buyers find themselves overwhelmed with:

Spotlighting the solutions that are good fits from those that aren’t. Due to market maturation, many CMS solutions in the market possess highly similar features and functionality. With an increased supply, greater product homogenization, and increased competition in the CMS application market, how can you tell what the key differences are between different CMS apps that are suited for your type of business? Selecting the right product, without wasting time. Businesses can spend inordinate amounts of time researching, investigating, and determining which vendor solutions should be on their vendor shortlist. Simultaneously, not knowing how or where to begin inventorying requirements can elongate the selection process. Knowing that time is money, how can you avoid spending months on CMS selection? Protecting their organization against choosing the wrong solution. CMS buyers always face intense pressures from their leadership to make the right purchasing decisions for their technology investments. Add an unfavorable economic environment to the equation, and buyer trepidation amplifies. This can, in turn, lead buyers towards making CMS purchasing decisions based solely on short-term costs, rather than long-term value. How can you ensure the solution you select matches your requirements and budget now, and in the future?…But Those Complications Can Be Eliminated By Using a Four Step Approach for CMS Comparisons

With the broadening CMS application landscape and added pressures that come from a poor economic environment, buyers can feel beleaguered over choosing the best content management system for their organization.

Despite the many pitfalls that exist with CMS procurement, buyers can bypass those hazards and navigate the seas of chaos by following a four-step approach.

Step 1: Inventory and gain consensus on your CMS requirements. The first step in any technology solution selection initiative is defining, inventorying, and agreeing upon what the technology should do and what business processes it should support.

Interview business stakeholders from disparate units to understand what and how the web can support their business.

Generally, CMS solutions are used by and impact Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service businesses the most, with some requirements also coming from IT and Operations.

Building requirements from Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service serve as a strong foundation and baseline for what the CMS should do and how it should support the organization from a holistic business standpoint.

Step 2: Determine requirements priority. Arguably the toughest job in CMS selection is separating requirements that are “critical,” versus those that are “less essential.” Too often buyers approach CMS requirements gathering initiatives as an exercise to develop an exhaustive requirements list.

While developing an exhaustive list of requirements is good from a due diligence standpoint, it can lead to negative downstream effects like increased costs or technology over-payments.

Triaging requirements can help you identify “Must-Haves” versus “Nice-to-Haves.” It can also help you zero in on CMS solutions that are good fits for your organization, aid you in averting the risks of paying too much for a CMS, and prevent you from having a CMS with rich capabilities that are rarely used and are essentially “shelfware.”

Step 3: Rank solutions against the same criteria. Once requirements have been inventoried and prioritized, you’re well-equipped with a common set of criteria to measure different CMS solutions against one another. Develop and use product scorecards to highlight CMS requirements that you need met. Scoring scales, such as 1 = poor, 5 = Avg, 10 = strong, can measure your requirements criteria against those scales for each CMS.

With a list of vendor solutions, evaluate and score product capabilities against the scorecard. Tally up the scores and see which solutions come out on top.

Step 4: Compare apps’ strengths and weaknesses versus your requirements. Once you’ve completed scorecards for the solutions you’re evaluating, review the solutions’ strengths (i.e. where they scored highly) and the solutions’ weaknesses (i.e. where they scored poorly). Compare the strengths and weaknesses against what’s critical for your CMS. Through comparing how the solutions stack up to your most important and critical requirements, you can separate the solutions that are strong fits, versus those that don’t make the grade.

Set Your Content Strategy, Do Your Homework, Research the Market, and Build the ROI

Selecting the best content management system is one part art and another part science. It requires a mixture of qualitative and quantitative analysis. In addition to following the steps outlined above and before getting too involved in the CMS selection process, be sure to:

Build and set a Content Management (CM) strategy. Because CMS solutions have an average lifespan of 5-7 years, ongoing refinement and adjustments are most likely required after year one to support changing business needs. To address changing needs down the line, organizations must develop, set, and settle on a content strategy. Then manage that strategy through metrics like time to create content, approve content, and publish content. Through metrics you can witness the effectiveness/ineffectiveness of your strategy.

Finally, make adjustments incrementally. Making large-scale adjustments, rather than incremental ones, can derail the effectiveness of your CMS, simply because of the impact that change can have on your organization, culturally.

Do your homework upfront. Being prepared before involving vendors can save you time and money. Not having a firm grasp on your requirements before you begin speaking with CMS vendors can lead to vendors defining requirements for you, which can then lead them to proposing a solution that may not fit your needs or be more expensive.

Separately, not knowing which requirements are critical versus less essential can steer you away from what the CMS solution should really focus on supporting. This lack of focus can increase the risk of selecting the wrong content management system.

Brush up on where the industry is going. Although industry trends are not always systemic, it’s important to understand how external industry factors can affect your approach to CMS selection.

For instance, more organizations are integrating their CMS solutions with other technology assets within their organization in an effort to generate more value out of their CMS and other technology investments. By keeping an eye on industry trends, you can weave in external factors and data points into your long-term CMS strategy and determine whether those data points are priorities in your CMS selection process.

Justify your CMS project before you take the plunge. Most business applications and technology solutions have a useful life of 5 to 7 years. CMS solutions are no different. After defining requirements, understand what parts of the business (Marketing, Sales, Customer Service, or other) are ailing and need fixing. Size those problems in terms of money. Then, build a return on investment (ROI) model that not only outlines CMS costs and labor to implement and support the app, but also forecasts tangible and likely benefits over time.

Technology projects are uses of cash. They should also generate sources of cash through their implementation for things like revenue boosts, cost savings, or productivity gains – things that justify “uses of cash.”