Building a Custom Enterprise CMS: Points to Consider

By Pete Czech

Building a Custom Enterprise CMS: Points to ConsiderNew Possibilities Group

“Enterprise” software is a term that has been used for decades, mostly to the confusion of marketers, technology professionals, and management.

Wikipedia defines enterprise software as:

Enterprise software, also known as enterprise application software (EAS), is computer software used to satisfy the needs of an organization rather than individual users. Such organizations would include businesses, schools, interest-based user groups, clubs, charities, or governments.

I’m not sure that definition really helps us clarify the confusion! So for the purposes of this post, we’re going to approach an enterprise CMS platform as a system that manages content for delivery on the Web in a multi-user and multi-team collaborative corporate environment. This definition should serve to narrow down the applicability of this post to your current situation.

If you are administrating, managing, or in charge of a corporate web presence or researching how to build the best custom enterprise CMS platform, this post is for you.

The complexity of high-level corporate content management is oftentimes daunting. Every organization has their own policies and procedures in terms of workflows, approvals, and permissions. We all know there is a host of off-the-shelf solutions that promise to solve all of these challenges with minimal improvements and initial development. These platforms range greatly in terms of initial cost and ongoing budget, ranging from tens of thousands to millions of dollars.

On the other end of the spectrum, many corporations are deciding that investing in custom enterprise CMS solutions is money well spent, as it develops a corporate asset built to their specific requirements and unique workflows.

My focus today is on factors you must consider most seriously during your enterprise CMS rollout and deployment, especially if you are contemplating a more customized approach to your new platform.

1. Consider User Permissions

Enterprise CMS installations require more functionality in terms of user permissions and management compared to other types of CMS integrations. This is because corporations have highly complex organizational charts composed of large quantities of users that are organized into distinct groups.

More likely than not, each group has access to particular sections of the website to control specific content. And, even more confusingly, certain users may only have permission to perform particular tasks in those specific sections.

It is often difficult to find an off-the-shelf solution that can capture all of these requirements properly. Therefore, during your planning phase, begin to define an organizational chart that clearly identifies all users and groups in addition to what roles or tasks they will be assigned or perform. This will enable you to have a visualization of your organization, which will be immensely helpful as you talk to custom CMS developers or CMS vendors.

2. Consider Content Workflows and Approvals

This is a good segue from our previous point in that workflows and users (or groups) are tightly integrated. Your enterprise CMS redevelopment or website redesign must focus on content first. Don’t figure out how your website fits to an existing content management system. Instead, think about how your content is organized, composed, and how it is distributed, then have your CMS work around that taxonomy and list of requirements.

This is difficult with many monolithic CMS platforms that are already available today. Of course, it is easier with enterprise custom CMS platforms because they are more flexible and built to your needs, not the needs of a general audience.

In determining your pathway forward, build out a series of documents that can isolate what your workflows currently are. For example, you could have a workflow for publishing news headlines that is similar to the below:

  1. Content is created and written within the publishing platform.
  2. The writer submits to the editor for review.
  3. The editor reviews and submits feedback.
  4. The writer utilizes the CMS to amend the document.
  5. The editor approves and creates a preview.
  6. Management approves the preview webpage.
  7. The editor schedules deployment.
  8. Deployment to the website happens automatically when scheduled.
  9. Deployment is verified and double-checked.

If that is your workflow, how do you actually accomplish it today? Does the content get generated in a Word or Google Document? Is there then back and forth between many parties? Do management, editors, and writers all share the same documents? How collaborative is the process? Are revisions kept throughout the process?

This is just one of many potential workflows that can occur within an enterprise corporate CMS. So, as part of your preparation, document the who, what, when, where and why of content creation on your website.

At the end of that process, you should be able to determine the best toolset to accomplish these goals, which hopefully will happen in one universal platform, thus consolidating the use of many unnecessary and inefficient tools.

3. What About Publishing and Deployment Procedures?

This was briefly alluded to in my last point, but it’s important as a stand-alone topic. What is your process for deploying new changes? Is there a global approval from a web manager or overall management? Does your system allow for scheduling mass deployments?

In the modern era of the Web, mistakes are permanent. Archive websites can pick up on changes and make them available forever, meaning embarrassing mistakes can always be made public. This is most famous on Twitter, where “deleted” tweets are always found by the media, resulting in many embarrassing episodes.

As you document and plan to build your custom enterprise CMS platform, identify what your procedures will be for deployment. Will you need emergency rollback? Will your site be integrated to the CMS or published off-site? Who is the ultimate gatekeeper of publishing changes?

All of these questions will make the architecture of your project easier to realize on paper, and will ultimately result in a better architected project.

4. Worry About Security

We have written about this many times in the past. An enterprise CMS must be secured. One of the trends right now is the infiltration of open-source platforms such as WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla into enterprise environments. While these platforms are capable of some great things, they are also notoriously insecure. The number one reason to choose a custom enterprise CMS platform is because it can be hardened at or beyond industry standard for your business.

CMS security flaws are being taken advantage of left and right with new stories being published every day in the media. There is nothing more embarrassing for a corporation than their website being hacked, infiltrated, compromised, and/or defaced. It provides talking points for your competitors and emboldens more attackers to take aim squarely in your direction.

Custom CMS platforms not only fly under the radar of automated bots and scripts that are seeking to infiltrate, but also make it much harder for focused attackers to gain access. New technologies such as decoupled or headless CMS platforms make it even more difficult.

Make sure that when building your new enterprise CMS, you consider security as being a first or close second in terms of priority. The best website in the world in terms of form and function will not do your organization much good if it is attacked and undermined.

5. Research Historical Performance to Determine Platform Longevity

An enterprise custom CMS development project is a significant undertaking. As we have said, it takes serious planning and architecture to properly blueprint how the system will work.

The business goals of such a project must be twofold. First, how will you accomplish all of the goals as stated in your discovery process with a single piece of software? Secondly, how can it be done in a way that can realize cost savings over a period of time?

If your organization is spending $250,000 per year in CMS updates, continuous improvements, hosting, and monitoring, you must find ways to save in the long run with your new solution. How can you cut those costs by 25, 35, or 50%? The only way this is possible is by choosing a platform that has a tried and true history of performance, security, and scalability. You would not want to build on a platform that has no history of long-term installations. Likewise, choosing the “hot” software framework to build on may not be smart, as trends in software development change often.

The tried-and-true technologies like LAMP, .NET, and Java have been in use for many years, are supported by vibrant communities or corporate backing, and have ample case studies and historical data to confirm that they may be the right choice for your company.

The Most Important Part of Your Project

With the above points taken into consideration, it is my duty to remind you that planning certainly makes perfect. In this case, planning a technical blueprint is of the utmost importance.

Before breaking ground on any project, work with an agency or consultant to devise how your custom enterprise CMS will be built. What administrative functionality will be necessary? How will you build tools to enable your custom workflows? And what will the ongoing scaling and maintenance look like?

To use an old cliché: Measure twice, cut once. Engage with a professional team of developers and technical experts to architect your project, eliminate any “gotchas,” and build a solid budget and timeframe for the completion of your project. It will greatly enhance your chances of success.

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