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Web content management tools buying tips

Web content management tools are becoming ever-more complex. Here are some key considerations as you begin your buying process.

Despite what you may hear about "leading" vendors, your enterprise has more viable choices for Web content management...

tools than ever before.

A vibrant marketplace of global players, regional contenders, cloud-based vendors, open source alternatives, and industry-focused technologies awaits you. You can find powerful platforms with expansive scope and extensibility, as well as simple products that you can deploy within hours.

Many Web content management (WCM) vendors say they can "do it all." Don't believe the hype. Software development is about tradeoffs, and the choices WCM vendors make in product development -- for example, how much digital marketing capability to build into the product versus integration with third-party services -- have a significant impact on the long-term fit for different kinds of customers.

Just remember that keyword in the WCM buying process: fit. The right WCM tool best fits your architecture, budget, internal capabilities and ambitions as well as your business model. You'll face your own tradeoffs, but over the past 15 years, after helping hundreds of organizations select WCM tools, I know that there's a right way to do this.

The WCM marketplace

First, let's categorize the Web content management tools marketplace. There are many ways to group vendors: by cost, type of technology, delivery model, regional footprint, license model and architectural approach, among other factors.

A businessperson should chair the WCM vendor selection team.

Take all these factors into consideration, but for a simple two-dimensional view, look at the marketplace along a complexity spectrum. At one end lie complex, powerful, extensible and potentially costly platforms. At the other end lie simpler, less feature-rich, but also lower-cost products.

Bring a critical eye to your own internal capacities and staff skill sets here. Platforms are sexy and tend to demo well. Products generally yield higher adoption and customer satisfaction. Don't over-buy and then find you lack the in-house capabilities to truly exploit the software capabilities.

Web content management vendor landscape.
Real Story Group’s vendor evaluation research divides the Web content management market into five key segments.
  • Legacy platforms: These systems come from old-school enterprise vendors and, lately, customers more frequently consider exit plans rather than purchasing them new.
  • Upper-range platforms: These systems are complex, rich, expensive and often require lengthy implementation times.
  • Midrange platforms: These systems are less complex than the upper range but are still developer-intensive.
  • Midrange products: These systems can be easier to deploy but are less functionally rich than platforms.
  • Simpler products: These systems are the least extensible and almost always the least expensive.

Part of your challenge is to "place" your company's requirements on this spectrum. Hint: Don't just consider tools in a single category. Look at the category above and below to get a full view of your options.

Selecting the right WCM vendor: A 10-step plan

If there are so many tools, how do you pick the one that fits the best? Every organization is different, and you should modify any formal approach according to your internal culture.

That said, follow a structured process for selecting WCM software. In particular, apply an empirical, test-based process for winnowing down your choices. Here are 10 steps that we recommend when we're advising our audience on WCM vendors.

1. Build a multidisciplinary team. All the key stakeholders -- but especially marketing and IT -- must be well-represented. A businessperson should chair the selection team.

2. Solidify your business case. Knowing exactly why you're investing in new technology helps you make tough decisions as you get further down the road in the buying process.

3. Establish the architectural context. Consider business and technical architecture to determine your intended scope for this technology. Some WCM tools try to serve as omnibus digital marketing platforms. You may or may not want a WCM platform that extends to such marketing capabilities.

4. Follow user-centered design principles. Understand the kinds of experiences you need to create for your own colleagues as well as your customers. Start at the interaction tier in terms of how people will use the system and work backwards.

5. Develop narrative use cases. These should comprise the heart of your solicitation. Have the vendors describe and then demo your use cases, not theirs.

6. Establish nonfunctional requirements. Don't go overboard here; focus on wish lists and avoid absolutes (like, "The software must be .NET") wherever possible.

7. Research technology alternatives. But consider informational biases here. Colleagues in your industry may bring an unhelpful herd mentality. Consultants and integrators sometimes foreclose on your choices by favoring pet technologies. Analysts can often be biased (e.g., against open source or in favor of big-name vendor clients).

8. Require a proof of concept. Hold a bake-off between two finalists, where your team can get hands-on with the technologies.

9. Develop a plan for implementation support. This could be an integration partner, a single expert, the vendor's services arm and of course your own internal resources. Understand how all the pieces fit together.

10. Start negotiating early. And everything is negotiable. Don't wait until the end to negotiate to avoid losing your leverage.

Selecting Web content management tools can become particularly tricky because the main business drive typically comes from marketing and communications teams, but the tools have become complicated enough in recent years that you face critical IT considerations as well.

I know this because our individual WCM vendor evaluation chapters have grown from around 10 pages to typically more than 20 pages per vendor. There's a lot going on underneath the hoods of most of these systems.

So now is a good time to align marketing and IT teams. In my experience, joint education sessions can bridge gaps here.

Next Steps

WCM systems: All things to all people?

WCM software to meet business goals

Well-tuned processes behind WCM

This was last published in August 2014

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