Picking the right CMS tool may require IT, marketing unity

The key to choosing the ideal content management system is getting the IT and marketing departments to work together as a team, experts say.

When it comes time to pick a new enterprise Web content management system (CMS), many organizations leave the shopping project up to the IT department. But this can become a problem when a marketing department is expected to take over the new CMS tool and fly with it, according to experts.

The IT department is best positioned to know what software will work and integrate best with existing systems. They have the expertise and a pretty good knowledge base when it comes to vendors of enterprise content management, Web content management (WCM) and the front-end CMS that makes it all work.

But they’re busy. And when a hardware project or back-end systems overhaul has to be interrupted every time someone in marketing -- or some other department -- needs to make a change on the corporate website, IT is the first to hear about it.

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To take some of the heat off IT, however, many organizations are now handing the reins of the corporate Web presence over to marketing departments. It makes sense, especially when Web content management systems are becoming easier to use and don’t require deep technical knowledge to make changes. Yet IT departments are still tasked with choosing the CMS tool, and that can be a problem, said John Fairley, director of Web services and social media at Walker Sands Communications, a website design and marketing consultant in Chicago.

Who gets to choose?
IT often picks systems they’re used to and can easily support rather than think about best design and functionality for end users, Fairley said. On the other hand, the team chosen to maintain the website is also the wrong choice for picking it. The group responsible for content must be able to post it on its own time to remain competitive and will often choose tools that are easy to use and have great functionality without thinking about which ones work with existing systems and can be supported by the IT staff.

That’s one of the key issues an organization experiences when working toward the deployment of a new CMS. The marketing department has needs and the IT department has needs. The key to making sure the organization ends up with the right CMS for the front end of an enterprise Web content management initiative is making sure everyone’s needs are respected.

There must be a meeting of the minds, Fairley said.

“The main thing is to overcome resistance and head off conflicts by saying, ‘We’re going to hold off on ruling anybody out until we get close to the end,’ ” Fairley said. “Ultimately, this has to be a business decision with IT’s input.”

Avoid war at all costs
IT and marketing -- or whatever group is given end-user responsibility -- can sometimes feel like they’re at war over managing content, but it doesn’t have to be like that. Working as a team to find a CMS tool that fits both groups’ needs can fix CM issues and streamline the workflow.  

Once management issues the go-ahead for a WCM software project, the review committee should consist of IT and marketing personnel as core members, Fairley said.

“I think it has to be a joint decision,” said Stephen Powers, a principal analyst and research director at Forrester Research Inc. of Cambridge, Mass. “It shouldn’t be one side or the other. It used to be that IT would make the decision in the vacuum, and that was a problem.” But while the choice should be shared by IT and other departments with an interest in the CMS, Powers pointed out that in many cases, IT holds the budget and therefore must be a key player.

It’s also wise to include someone from sales and, if it’s a big purchase, someone who can do a financial analysis. “But you want to have a lean team here,” Fairley said.

The size of the committee, however, should depend on who has a major interest in managing online content, Powers said. Keep in mind that while business problems are going to be vetted first, you need other people on board who can point out requirements that, say, a three-person team might miss.

Developing a multidimension evaluation team is important, said Tony Byrne, president of Real Story Group, an analyst firm that’s based in Olney, Md. It should also include key people from human resources, for example, and anyone else who might have ideas about content management processes.

Beware mixing flavors
A lot of vendors advocate a platform approach these days, and many require a certain amount of customization. That’s another reason to at least engage IT experts in the discussions. Very often, IT would prefer not leading the shopping effort, but they do want to make sure they can support a software decision once it’s been made.

“Also, it’s important that you don’t go behind IT’s back,” Byrne said, “particularly with critical aspects.” The last thing anyone needs is someone coming up to them after they sign off on a purchase to be told how much work it can be to get their new .NET product to work on a PHP system.

“I don’t think marketing should be presenting a short list to IT; they should be working with IT to get to the short list,” Powers said. “If they come up with it together, they feel much more compelled to work together on getting it right.”

This was first published in May 2012

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