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Why Today’s CMS Platforms Aren’t Built for Longevity

By Pete Czech

Why Today’s CMS Platforms Aren’t Built for LongevityNew Possibilities Group

Doesn’t it feel like every two years, you’re debating the merits of your CMS platform and considering a switch? Has your organization been through more than a single platform, or more than one installation of a platform in the past three years?

Most likely, the answer is yes. The reason for this is that today’s CMS platforms—whether they be off-the-shelf, enterprise, or even in some (bad) cases, custom-built—are not made with longevity in mind. More often, they are made with a quick sale in mind, as opposed to long-term success.

Asking a software sales person or a developer questions focused on the long term will often draw blank stares. It simply isn’t something they know how to answer. Not in a “loss of words” way, but in a completely-unprepared-for-the-question kinda way.

Instead, those folks tend to focus their sales efforts on honing into your current pain points, as well as demoing either past projects that were similar or how their software would address those problems (even if not well!).

We all know that a CMS development and deployment project is a large undertaking. Large from a development perspective, even larger from a resources perspective—and of course, huge from a budget perspective. Yet for some reason, we still never really think about longevity. No one ever thinks about how long their solution will last and what the ongoing implications of their choice will be, whether from a capabilities or cost perspective.

The first thing to remember is that longevity is not out of your hands. As the technology of content management has changed, the opportunities available to website owners and content creators have evolved.

Let me go a bit backwards to explain…

The Battle Between Front End vs Back End Technologies

Websites run on multiple technology packages, or stacks. You have the front-end website experience, which is powered by HTML, JavaScript, CSS, and other technologies. Then you have the back end that powers your website and administrative portal. These are tools such as PHP, MySQL, MongoDB, .NET, Ruby on Rails, and so on. These tools work under the hood to power your website.

But these technologies evolve at different paces. Back-end technology moves slower, with slower update cycles than front-end technology.

I began my web development career in 1998 coding with PHP. Sure, it’s iterated to new versions over the years, but the core syntax has stayed very similar. Front-end technologies, on the other hand, are completely different today than in 1998. The advent of mobile devices and other distribution methods has resulted in rapid iterations of front-end technologies. Back in 1998, we designed for one or two computer monitor sizes. Today, we have to design for mobile—tablets and smartphones—in addition to computers that may have 15-inch or 27-inch screens. And that doesn’t even take into account other devices which are now capable of web browsing, like TVs and watches!

As you can tell, there is a divergence here. Front-end technology evolves quickly, back-end technology slowly. Yet the most popular CMS packages are still coupling these two items together closely.

Take WordPress or Drupal, for example—they couple the code that runs their administrative panel closely with the front-end experience of the website. This means that as front-end technology changes, you are more or less stuck unless you continue with the upgrade cycle the community makes available. This is one major reason why you seem to always be starting over: Updates and upgrades foster instability and oftentimes lead you to just scrap what you have and begin again. These upgrades and updates are attempts by your provider to keep up with an ever-changing technology industry.

Breaking the Vicious Upgrade Cycle

So how can you, the customer, prepare for a CMS that will last you for a while?

It begins during the sales process. Learn more about the platform you are considering. How old is it? Is the codebase from 2007 or 2017? That makes a big difference. Platforms built when the Web was aimed at single devices such as computers are incapable of being a viable long-term solution. The reason for this is simple: The industry has changed so significantly, there is no sense in deciding now to utilize a system built for another era. It would be like buying a projection TV in the era of LED. Why bother?

Back to my point, however. This era of short-lived CMS platforms can be over, if you are ready for it. The industry hasn’t done a good job keeping up with changes in technology. We’ve spoken about our views regarding the CMS of the future before. See our blog post and free e-book for more information.

So what does that perfect, long-lasting CMS of the future look like?

It’s Headless

By decoupling, you can again focus on the content being data. Clean data that you can administer and then present for consumption by your audience. Today, your data isn’t necessarily “clean”—it’s assembled as your software wants it to be assembled. In this way, your content has no longevity either (more on that in a minute).

When you invest in integrated, coupled platforms, you’ll have content that was created and stored in a way that the CMS prefers—not in a clean, portable way.

It Puts Content First

Find a platform that is content-agnostic. As I alluded to earlier, content should be stored in as clean a format as possible. It shouldn’t contain inline HTML markup or other tertiary information within the content itself. The cleaner your content, the more likely your ecosystem is to last the test of time. When CMS platforms store content in weird, proprietary ways, it means future problems during updates, upgrades, or redevelopment.

Have you transitioned data from one CMS to another in the past? How did that work out for you? The opportunity now exists to avoid costly and time-consuming issues entirely by focusing on a content-first system.

It’s Custom-Built

Are you tired of hearing us ring this bell yet?

Seriously, you should consider a custom-built approach to your CMS. Longevity is best achieved via control. A system that you don’t own or manage will not age in a way you can exert control over. Any licensed software, whether closed- or open-source, will leave you with less control over its future. And not having that control will eventually leave you open to scenarios such as software unsupported or straight-up abandoned by their manufacturer or open-source community.

Ownership may be a slightly more expensive proposition, but again, if your interest is a long-term solution, it is the most reliable way to assure longevity.

I’ve said this many times in the past: The CMS industry is broken. It relies on customers and clients who are stuck in the cycle of continuous updates and upgrades. They literally note this in their internal sales initiatives—a CMS that you license will never last more than two years without being eligible for an upgrade or else the vendor would not be in business.

Consider who longevity helps. Is it you or the vendor? This idea should help you gain real perspective as you consider the options available to you going forward.

 

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