Most prospective customers I speak with these days (with the exception of those starting new businesses) already have some sort of content management system in place. Often, the question of whether that system can handle a redesign or if it’s even worth salvaging is a dilemma that leaves them wondering what the best next step is.
This problem is more and more prevalent as those who made large investments in CMS platforms 3 or more years ago are now looking to transition and update into the multi-channel world we live in today.
What we, as consultants, can do is make recommendations based on our experience, the current situation, and where you want to go in the future. The decision to stay or go is up to you, the client. Much like any other decision, there are pros and cons to either pathway. Your current CMS has served you for a long time, and if you are even remotely considering keeping it, there is a good chance that on some level, you are satisfied with what the framework has been able to accomplish.
But if you’re here looking for alternatives, mired in uncertainty, it means you can already see the potential opportunities a new platform can offer. Either that, or you are painfully aware of the downsides of what you have. So, what is the prudent decision then? Much like trading stocks, it depends on a variety of factors. If you buy a security and the value decreases, do you stick it out or do you sell?
I’ll save you some time if you don’t want to read further. Unlike stocks, if you sense that the value of your CMS is decreasing, there isn’t a great chance of it rebounding. Chances are, if you think you are ready to move on, you probably are.
But for those who are still teetering on a seesaw of indecision, I’ve highlighted some possible signs you should watch out for as you deliberate which option is best for you.
Ask the Administrators: Are They Satisfied?
The first thing you should do when determining the future of your current CMS is an analysis of how your administrators are using it. This simple process should shed light as to the efficiency of the system and how well it holds up against a daily workload.
This step is relatively easy, as it just involves interviewing the administrators and shadowing their activities looking for inefficiencies. Why is this important? Because in the majority of cases, the person deciding the future of the CMS isn’t necessarily the same person who is using the system on a regular basis, so it can be easy to miss the biggest deficiencies.
As I mentioned, two things are integral to get a sense of how the system works for your administrators. First, interviewing them to understand the true use cases is essential. Chances are, in the years since you implemented your last CMS, workflows have changed. Content types and taxonomies may have changed as well. Asking your team the right questions will aid you in making the right decision.
A few key questions I’d be interested in asking would include:
- What are the top tasks you perform in the system on a regular basis?
- How do you perform them?
- How can it be made better?
- Have changes to business requirements altered the behavior of the CMS?
- Can you think of ways that your life within the CMS would be easier?
- Has the CMS system improved in performance over time or has productivity decreased?
- How has the CMS evolved to meet current technology advancements?
The reason you should ask these questions in particular is twofold. First, you want to judge the efficiency of the system in general. Are users productive and are they somewhat satisfied with how the system allows them to perform their tasks? And secondly, you are checking to see if there was a negative progression over time from the initial implementation to the current condition.
In most cases, the latter will exist at some level. What you want to determine is, given the scale of progression, is there a reason to believe that in the future, the system will lose efficiency as time erodes the platform?
Finally, in addition to questions, you should ask the users to show you the tasks they perform in a live demo. Again, as the decision maker, you may not be acutely aware of the work that goes into performing those tasks.
A couple of things can happen in this demo. First, you may notice that it takes a painful amount of time to do simple tasks. Sometimes users don’t even know whether the steps they take on a regular basis are the industry norm or not. And secondly, you may be able to sense areas of opportunity to make the platform better.
Having assembled the results of this quick internal usability study, you can then calculate the value of fixing these problems to the origination. This, in turn, may make your final decision easier to arrive at.
Is Future Planning Difficult?
If you are reading this article—or any of our other content, for that matter—you have probably already considered what the future of your CMS platform is. The only reason you would re-platform, so to speak, is to continue your evolution as a company online.
There really isn’t any other reason to. People don’t wake up and determine that they want to undertake a complicated CMS implementation project because they are bored. And you don’t invest in a development project to scale down an operation. Nor do you do so to decrease sales, leads, or other tangible results.
The purpose of redevelopment is to continue to iteratively improve your company’s digital efforts. With that in mind, is the best way to complete your future plans to stick with what you have or go with something else?
When presented this way, the choice to stay or go may be even easier to arrive at.
A good exercise is to make a list of the top 10 things you want to accomplish with your digital presence over the next 3 years. Order them by importance, then contemplate how you would accomplish each goal with the system you have in place. Compare that against the possibilities for the future you have in mind.
The choice may now be much clearer to see. If you don’t see a way to accomplish your goals with the system in place today, then it’s time to move on. If you can see how you would tick each item off of your list based on what you have today, then stick with what you have.
You Are Relying Too Much on Technical Assistance
One indicator that your CMS is living past its useful life is that you or your administrators use it less and rely on outside technical assistance more. Since the Web is still a technical medium, as CMSs age, it is common for all of the hacks and workarounds installed over the previous few years to catch up to the functional capabilities of the back-end system.
You know, that feature you asked for a year ago and had to be completed in a week? Well, chances are your developer “hardcoded” it—meaning it was built outside your CMS and isn’t easily editable. And changes like that, over time, are why you become more and more dependent on a developer or other technical person to make changes to your site.
You should aim for 95% of your tasks being completed in the CMS platform itself, not via development help. Development help should be limited to the design and implementation of new features that are integrated into the CMS itself, and which you can then control yourself.
If that is not the case, if you find yourself sending more than one out of twenty tasks to a developer, you may be at the point where your CMS is needing a reboot.
It Hasn’t Scaled
Does making changes in your CMS seem tedious? Is the actual processing of changes slow? Do you know there are better ways to do things? And as you have grown your digital presence over the years, has the management of new content improved or become more of a burden?
CMS platforms are much like any other software project. Oftentimes, at the outset, you simply don’t know what you don’t know. It’s hard to predict how interfaces will hold up against large datasets before you have them. It’s hard to future plan against subtle UI/UX issues that may arise over time. As your property has scaled from its first iteration to today, has your CMS stayed current? Has it aided in your productivity, or has it slowed you down?
The most common scenario revolves around a story that goes like this: Your website (or app) was launched with a CMS that met your requirements when you began. Whether it be a lower-budget project or a specific set of technical needs, the CMS you launched with met those requirements. But over time, as the business or content requirements grew, it began to slow down, or your workflows changed. What started as a good idea began to drag you down. Now, a new CMS could help you realize faster and more efficient workflows and manage your content database much more productively.
Sound familiar? If so, then this is a major indicator that it is time to start your move onwards.
Your Ecosystem Contains Too Many Solutions
I think this is such a big problem for so many enterprises. I could (and will!) write a blog just about this scenario, as this is not just an administrative and back-end problem, but a customer-facing one as well.
In a nutshell, here’s how I define this issue. Your CMS should be the center of your entire digital world, right? Meaning, anything that delivers a digital experience should be funneled via the CMS to ensure that your user’s encounter with your company is consistent and efficient. But as you try to keep up with growth and demand for content, you may end up with a whole mess of different systems and software just to get things done that your CMS can’t do.
To illustrate the problem, look at your local bank versus some of the national players. Many local banks are not interested in or are incapable of presenting banking details, or the customer portal, as part of their integrated web service. When you click “LOGIN,” you’re taken to some other domain run by another company, where the UI/UX doesn’t match. Compare this against some of the largest banks in the country, who have control of their software and are able to make the experience much more seamless to the consumer.
Another great example of this disconnect is my local utility company. They have you sign in on the homepage, but most of the time, the username/password doesn’t carry over to the customer portal for some reason. So, you have to log in again. Of course, the UI/UX is something that SAP provided to them, nothing they have control over. Then, when you’re in that system, if you want to make an electronic payment, the shuffling continues. You are then sent to a flimsy integration with Western Union.
All of this to complete a single transaction—it baffles the mind!
You may be thinking that these issues are for larger companies than your own. But you’d be wrong. Whether you are a small business offering your customers a login portal to manage their account or a non-profit seeking donations, any time you shift users from your world to someone else’s, it is a knock in your credibility.
I find this to be especially the case with non-profits. Many of them utilize third-party systems to handle donations. The consumer may be okay with this, but many wonder if those third-party systems are companies they can trust. Sure, the non-profit vetted them, but does that mean I want to send my personal information to this third party? Not necessarily.
So, going back to this point: Does your website feel like it is a series of integrations tied together by flimsy means? Do you send people to outside landing pages for conversions, a third-party portal for account information, or some other checkout system to handle payments or donations?
Each of these use cases can (and should) be met in an integrated way. Chances are, though, the reason you didn’t take that approach is because the integration isn’t possible within your current CMS. Which is, in this case, a pretty good indicator that it may not be up to the task any longer.
It’s Time to Go Multichannel
This is an issue I see mainly with publishers and applications. If you own an informational website, this point may not apply to you. But if your content needs to be distributed across non-Web channels, such as mobile applications, API, OTT devices, or similar, you have to consider how cleanly your content has been stored up until now—and if the CMS even has the capability to distribute content to these new mediums.
Chances are, if your CMS is more than a year or two old, the capability will not exist to handle this level of content distribution.
In the past, CMS platforms were built for a single channel—the Web. They were forced to evolve as the world went mobile. But now that content consumption can happen on any number of different media, it has become necessary to focus our efforts on storing our content in clean, future-proofed ways.
The content is your company’s most treasured asset. In some cases, your organization may have worked for years to assemble this asset. Having it stored in a CMS that wasn’t intended for multichannel means that your content is married to what it was built for—most likely Web—and all the imperfections that go with it. To go multichannel will be a large undertaking, which will involve a content migration effort. However, in the long term, it’ll be a necessary project to ensure you can stay ahead of the content distribution curve.
It Isn’t Supported!
I am not going to write much about this point. But if your CMS is no longer supported by the vendor or the open-source project, then it is most definitely time that you re-platform.
The risks here are twofold. First, you are going to be unable to iterate to the latest standards and technologies available. And secondly, you’ll be vulnerable as security updates and releases will no longer be issued.
Take end-of-life notices very seriously. and use them as an excuse to jump-start your redevelopment efforts.
If I May Make a Suggestion…
I find that many clients who are debating procuring a new CMS versus keeping what they have often obsess over the pros and cons of each possible new system, but never think about the pros or cons of staying with what they have. This is troubling because thinking about reasons not to do something often obscures the reasons you should do something.
I guess that is a life lesson, in a way.
Moving to a new system can be frustrating at times, much like any other major purchase. At times, it may seem easier to stick with what you have and avoid the hassle of a large project. While flawed, it is stable and no one risks their job or business with stability.
But deep down, you have to debate if that is the proper choice.
Are there enough positives to keeping the current system in place, or are you just kicking the can of inevitability down the road?
I will end this point with one thought. Imagine the next 3-5 years of digital capability for your company is at stake. Will that future be best met with what you have or what you are considering moving to? That should make the decision and deliberation a bit easier.