All too often, we confuse the concept of what a content management system (CMS) really is.
Most of the time, we pigeonhole the CMS to be a piece of software with one sole capability: website management. This is probably because of the growth and advocacy of the larger CMS industry. Software manufacturers and open-source CMS projects must be careful not to promise that their CMS can do everything while also fighting to gain market share.
As such, they have to simplify the application of their software, focusing it to perform a single task such as web content management. This is disheartening because the right CMS can—and should—do so much more.
Of course, that is if you build it the right way.
We’ve reviewed the many benefits of custom CMS solutions through the years on this blog. Most of the time, we discuss the arguments for why custom solutions are a better investment than off-the-shelf platforms. One particular argument we talk about is extensibility. You can develop and deploy additional functionality to custom CMS platforms that are difficult (if not impossible) to do with off-the-shelf software.
In this post, I’ll walk you through some ways that your custom CMS can serve as the most essential piece of software that your business runs beyond mere website management.
1. It Can Serve as the Digital Hub of Your Ecosystem
As mentioned earlier, most CMS platforms that you take off the shelf are meant to do one particular job: manage website content. Today, however, your website is just one possible method of distribution for your content. New devices are constantly being introduced, as well as new ways to consume content.
A custom, decoupled CMS is a better foundation to adapt to the future and embrace these new distribution methods. Custom systems can be built around your proprietary content, not around content the way the developer envisions it. As such, they can be built to share that content in a way that best benefits you and your business. The most popular off-the-shelf solutions have predefined what content means, limiting your flexibility.
Your company’s digital ecosystem today is more extensive than ever before. Your organization most likely utilizes a website, but you may also distribute content to mobile apps, for example. In order for this to work, you will need a centralized system that can facilitate the distribution of content to those apps in a unified way with other distribution methods. A strong centralized system will serve as the hub that makes all of these parts work together well.
There simply aren’t any off-the-shelf solutions that do this the right way for every business scenario that exists—to have one piece of software fit all situations wouldn’t be feasible. A custom solution is always the right way to go if you plan on growing out your delivery methodologies or expanding into alternative communication methods that are proprietary to your business.
2. It Can Power Essential Business Applications
I see so many clients who have a website that facilitates a transaction with a user, only to then require the same transaction to be recreated on some other proprietary system. This happens for a variety of reasons.
First, they may have been pressured to choose off-the-shelf software, even though it didn’t fit their internal infrastructure. Or perhaps their developer didn’t have the ability to build out the functionality that was truly required.
There are so many causes for this type of scenario, but most can be avoided if the business realizes that the right CMS can also manage sophisticated business logic.
One example is from our own portfolio. Auto France is a web-based e-commerce business that handles long-term auto rentals in Europe. When they first came to work with NPG in 2012, their website was controlled by a rudimentary CMS that allowed the most basic levels of control. Their business logic was, in most cases, controlled by Excel sheets and an Access database. This meant most transactions were being managed via those tools even though users were submitting orders to the website.
This logic was time-consuming and confusing, and the client was losing patience.
The answer was to build this logic into the CMS, making it a unified platform where transactions can be sent from the user and managed by the administrators. This is particularly effective because their business logic is highly complex: rentals can have varying terms, cars can have many options, drop-off and pick-up locations can be different and have varying fees, etc.
With complicated business logic, there is no off-the-shelf software that could ever do what they needed in a secure way (though I’m sure some WordPress “guru” somewhere would try to convince us otherwise!).
There is probably an infinite number of other business scenarios that would be best served by a similar solution. Unfortunately, most businesses will fall into the trap of choosing software that can’t be extended in such a way and, as a result, will prevent them from ever having this unified solution in place.
Instead of thinking about how they want their website and platform to be managed and building the perfect system for it, they think about how they can manage their business within the strict rules of a chosen off-the-shelf system. The reward lies in the former, not the latter.
3. It Can Serve as a Publishing and Content-Creation Platform
I think many people forget how [insert expletive of your preference here] important the C in CMS is: content!
Obviously, if you choose off-the-shelf software, you will be restricted to their vision of what content is, i.e. how it’s created, how it’s stored and managed, and how it’s distributed. Most of these systems are strong in tying together code for Web distribution.
But with a custom CMS solution, you have the ability to utilize your system not just for distribution and display of content, but for the production of it as well.
This is a situation that makes the most sense for companies whose business is the creation of content. Digital content publishers need more than just a system to put up a blog post or article and hit “publish.” They need sophisticated software capable of editorial functions.
This means having contributors, authors, and editors all performing distinct tasks at the same time. It means markup and distribution controls. These are complex systems, and in many cases, there are no off-the-shelf systems that perform these tasks just right. In fact, most media companies today power their production and distribution efforts with custom systems, including the NY Times, Condé Nast, Buzzfeed, the LA Times, and many more.
A unified content publishing and creation platform helps publishers save time in production and editing, build software around their content creation workflows, and spend their time building a valuable asset, rather than just maintaining and updating someone else’s software. The amount of production resources that custom workflows save alone is valuable, allowing for either additional content creation or cost savings.
In the case of sophisticated content creation, nothing beats a custom solution.
4. It Can Aggregate Statistics
One complex feature that can be built into a custom CMS platform is statistics gathering. We are living in the era of big data, and data lives in many different places. The best custom CMS platform will tie together creation, publishing, and analysis.
All businesses and publishers look at data differently. They all have different methods of distributing their content. The secret to the aggregation of statistics is to normalize the data before you compare it. This means gathering statistics from multiple sources, utilizing APIs (programming interfaces) to transmit data to your platform, and converting it to a format where you can easily compare it to data from each source.
This is a perfect application for a custom piece of software. The reason being that statistics need to be integrated into the one-screen experience that all content producers, editors, and management see in one place. It’s valuable for an entire team to know in real time how their content is performing within the entire publishing ecosystem.
Custom systems make that connection possible. They are extendable via API connections, and their flexible nature allows organizations the freedom to choose how they compare the data.
Unfortunately, many solutions already available off the shelf may connect to one data source, but lack the ability to connect to many. And if they do multiple connections, it’s rare to find solutions that can normalize the data to make valuable comparisons.
5. It Can Consolidate External Systems
As we mentioned above with the example of Auto France, custom solutions make system consolidation very easy.
We are in an era of SaaS, or software as a service. As such, most businesses are subscribing to many different platforms to perform a variety of tasks. Some long-standing enterprises are still managing many of their workflows on Excel or Access, local tools with no network connectivity and limited content sharing capabilities.
The ability to consolidate the tools your business uses—either by connecting to individual components or replacing them—is a key reason why a custom CMS solution makes sense. In some cases, we’ve been able to consolidate clients who were using ten or more different applications into one dashboard.
It just isn’t feasible to expect employees to continue to utilize so many tools to perform their tasks when building a unified solution exists as an option.
Off-the-shelf software tries its best to connect to outside tools. They offer API connections, CSV imports, and the like. But rarely do they actually serve as a replacement for another piece of software. That comes with custom developed solutions built around your specifications.
Our goal on every CMS installation is to manage as much of the day-to-day operations of your business as possible via a one-screen solution. This means if you walk around your office, most employees will be utilizing the same software. It makes life easier, makes business more efficient, and both of those factors together translate to cost savings.
Determining If You Should Make The Switch
Although we spend a lot of time touting the benefits of custom CMS solutions on this blog, one thing remains true: There is no one solution that is perfect for every single business scenario. In fact, there may be many instances where an off-the-shelf CMS is perfectly sufficient.
That being said, the more complex your business requirements and workflows get, the more a custom-built solution makes sense.
When you consider how much time/money gets lost down the rabbit hole of wrangling multiple systems, flawed workflows, and an endless number of compromises due to CMS limitations, it’s almost crazy not to consider it. Because in the end, your business is more than just its website—so why shouldn’t your CMS be more too?