A neutral perspective on CMS myths and selection.

Early last year the CMS market really started to get competitive (as if it wasn’t already spread enough).

In Australia that meant international companies sending sales and technology staff across the pond to talk directly to Aussie businesses, and make real connections; meaning local sales.

Toby Ward’s Blog had a summary and a few key points to make about CMS, and its a great little list of “traps for young players”.

However my take on the Ziff Davis source article, and Toby’s comments will hopefully (A) grant a perspective inside the CMS industry, and (B) more meat into the sandwich around these points.

Grain-of-Salt-Disclaimer: I work for a company that produces a CMS, so my comments come from practical experience. They also should not be viewed in isolation. Take it as read that I like our company and products, and will continue to work in application development no matter what happens in the future.
First I’ll put “make real connections” into perspective. Many CMS companies were conducting email, post, and online campaigns. This is standard practice and as a vendor that has a good share of our local market, and some great companies on our client list – we often get spam contacts.

Part A – Normally we ignore them. But late last year I started responding and investigating what these European and North American companies were doing. These guys were no longer just swapping email addresses, and investigating the competition to get inspiration. They were sending small teams of 2-3 staff across Australia to anyone who would take a meeting.

This meant that we could get face to face with the other vendors and chat. Most didn’t accept the offer, and I’m not surprised (given who our company is). But I was disappointed. To my mind the opportunity should be highly valuable for both sides. They can speak to a local producer of CMS and get some of the story from a vendor perspective, and we can see how large (and wealthy) companies are seeking to enter the market. Both sides have things to learn.

I don’t learn in isolation, and unless they are true idiot-savants, neither do they.

Part B – The Myths from Toby and Ziff’s article; and and my take on them.

MYTH: “Our interface will sell itself”

Selling based upon interface alone, is like expecting a marriage to last more than 3 months just because the couple are pretty. Its one piece of a much larger/complex system; and you’re a fool if you think along these lines.

I don’t think this is a real myth, and its fluff for the readers.

MYTH: “You only need XY thousand to get started”

This is another one liner that has no real value. If the salesman says this and gets some interest he is not talking to the right person; that is: the person who is going to pay for the CMS.

Show me the business stakeholder, economic buyer, technology buyer, and a short description of who the company is and what problem or opportunity they are seeking to address; or sit back down and do more investigation.

MYTH: “You can recoup your software expenses by re-assigning the web team”

Great – sack staff, then outsource. Thats a winner that should sell itself. I understand the benefit of this approach if its done right, but it also has to be done at the right organisation, at the right time in their life cycle, and with a much larger number of stakeholder input.

It worked in India didn’t it? (sarcasm)

MYTH: “Our open-source solution means you’ll get off cheap” & “Our commercial solution is better supported than open-source alternatives”

Half this myth is true: Commercial solutions are usually better supported, and the commercial vendor has a huge responsibility to make sure it works. It is cash for them and also their reputation on line line if things don’t go well.

But open-source is not cheap, and tricky to get completed. CMS development will always come back to who is doing the work, and what is their skill. Consider investigating the number of open-source projects that shutdown and are never heard of again. They die more often than businesses.

Don’t even talk to me about open-source tech support: if you have to post to a forum to get help and you have no other recourse; then you have made a really bad business decision.

MYTH: “Access to the source code protects you in an uncertain marketplace”

Really? Tell that to the folk who are not propeller heads (geeks). Access to source code just means you have to start another CMS vendor inspection, but this time you’re locked into a particular language and platform, have no understanding of what is really in the code, and a short time frame to do it in.

MYTH: “No requirements? No problem! Our business analysts can get you started”

You may just end up with features you won’t use, or a methodology that is not ideal. Ever bought a new car?

That said I’ve worked at IT companies that offer this service, and we are often very successful. But that is about trust, a good ethic, and concentrating on the business as if you worked for your client.

A good consultant can remain vendor agnostic, and get down to recognising, diagnosing, documenting, ranking, and reporting on the actual business needs.

MYTH: “Most enterprises deploy our solution within 4-6 weeks”

Very small site = yes. Huge enterprise level CMS = Never. Most companies take a few days to get a meeting arranged, and even a small $70,000 CMS installation will take 6+ weeks.

MYTH: “Our migration scripts will take care of your existing content”

This made me really laugh, almost out loud. The best way to handle existing content is to review it properly. That takes time and attention to detail. Somebody will get slapped if its not right, and the loss of kudos is not worth it.

Get the system people together and talk about it, then get them together again when they have had time to test their assumptions. If a migration is that easy then congratulations, you’ve saves a bit of time on the deadline, and a huge amount of work.

Integration/translation may happen well, but it does not happen often.

MYTH: “Our product is better than Vignette, for a fraction of the cost”

Ask why? Ask why Vignette does not offer the same features given they charge so much more. And then throw the questions and answers away.

You need to concentrate on what you need to achieve, not what a vendor is doing. Get a list of business requirements, then functional requirements, then talk to your IT staff about what the system needs to be compatible with.

Also ignore your IT staff who give you a “must list”. Thats not their role when you are in the selection stage, and if they are giving absolute answers, then they have already chosen a product.

MYTH: “We’re the only product with…”

A vendor may be the only one now, but give it another year. Hell – give it three years. The reason for this is that you will be spending money on this and expecting it to last. Choosing a vendor based on a best set of features is only thinking about today. You need to think about tomorrow, and the next three years. Also think about the poor person who will be doing your job in 6 years; don’t leave them a mess.