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Why Your Website Needs Custom CMS Workflows

By Pete Czech

Why Your Website Needs Custom CMS WorkflowsNew Possibilities Group

All too often, we onboard clients with incredibly convoluted content management workflows. When we ask to see their process for updating content on their website, it isn’t unusual to watch the client load up a crazy long checklist or set of instructions and then go line by agonizing line just to make a simple change.

In one horrific example, we had a client who had their many business locations listed on their website. Sounds easy, right? Well, in this case, they had to have a developer access MySQL directly to add records to two different tables. Then, they had to remember the ID number of the first record they inserted so they could reference it in the second record.

Using a hacked multisite WordPress installation, they would go and create a post that was the actual page for the location they added, where they would also again put the ID number in place.

The instructions they had were about a page long. And, as I mentioned, they couldn’t get very far without a developer or without accessing their database directly, which could be catastrophic in the wrong hands.

A Better Solution For Content Management Workflows

In a perfect (and easily achievable) world, the aforementioned client would have a simple toolset to allow adding, editing, and deleting locations on their website. Those locations would be known to the other tools in the system and thus accessible throughout the entire multisite ecosystem. And instead of using functionality created for another purpose (i.e. the WordPress posts function), they would have a page generated for each location automatically.

So why am I telling this tale of horror so long after Halloween? Because this is a prime example of the need for custom CMS workflows.

In the above example, there are significant downsides to a complicated system, including these risks to the business that must always be avoided:

  • Administrators needed either technical assistance or to log into the back-end database directly. The latter can have catastrophic consequences in that the database—in this case, MySQL—contains user data, site configuration data, and the like, which are put at risk in two senses. First, an administrator without MySQL knowledge could kill the data. And secondly, the database is exposed to the world to allow this sort of administration. Not a good combination.
     
  • Most of the time, the client was relying on someone with some technical knowledge to manage the addition of locations. This provided peace of mind, but at the same time, this type of process is slow and inconvenient. Definitely not something conducive to a marketer and the agile process they require.
     
  • The entire workflow isn’t built around their business. They, in fact, are conducting their day-to day content management around their CMS, when it should really be the other way around.

The last point above really comes to the focus of this post. The CMS that powers your website MUST be configured to work around your requirements, not the other way around. This is a sacrifice that you should always be unwilling to make in all cases and scenarios. It is rare in any instance that you would choose to utilize a tool that makes your job more difficult, yet in our industry, we see this happen all of the time.

This is unfortunately a familiar story in the web development world, as many developers fall into two common buckets.

First, they may not really listen and understand client requirements—typically because they didn’t really take the time to analyze, research, and undergo a proper discovery process. This can lead to configuration of CMS systems that may accomplish tasks but in less than desirable ways.

Or, even worse, the agency or developer may understand the problem, but simply not know how to address it.

How To Tell If You Need Custom CMS Workflows

What workflows are utilized so often by your organization that they may need custom CMS solutions? Think about your normal administrative patterns so you can start to get an idea. In the above scenario, location management was an often-utilized feature. Having it be so difficult to perform simple tasks was a hindrance to the company.

In our case at NPG, we update the content on our site often. It is a marketing website focused on lead generation and content sharing. The custom CMS that powers this site is focused around the tools we use most often. Portfolio management, blog posts, video management—these tools are created in a fully customized way, ensuring that time is not wasted in adding, editing, deleting, and organizing that content.

Custom CMS workflows are more than just time savers. They are also examples of good design and of best practices being followed. One of the potential flaws with any piece of software is technical debt. This is best defined as adding more and more technical “solutions” to software until it becomes unwieldy.

Our opening example probably came to be through many years of poor design and quick fixes. Dedication to properly addressing content management, including how to best handle administration and organization, will help avoid the possibility of adding more and more layers to an onion of bad code.

When Can You Build Out Custom CMS Workflows?

You don’t necessarily need to rebuild your system to do it. If you work on WordPress today, it isn’t the worst project in the world to find those common tasks and begin to make the necessary amendments to your code and database to make those tasks nearly automated.

The biggest challenge is to be open-minded to the change. The client in our opening scenario knows their system is bad, but has come to accept it even though a fix would not be an expensive or time-consuming undertaking.

“It isn’t ideal, but it is our ecosystem,” one might say. But it isn’t a good enough excuse to put your company at risk with unstable workflows.

And if you are building from scratch, you can easily determine how you want to administer your website from day one. With the opportunity to build your custom CMS from scratch, you can define what your day-to-day content management will look like.

By the way, it isn’t just content management we focus on when building custom tools. It is more complex operations too: order fulfillment, lead management, marketing tasks, etc. These are all items which can be overly complex when superglued together, but automated and streamlined with just a bit of development work and a clear understanding of the business needs at hand. 

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