Many companies nowadays are installing content management systems. They are often driven by the growing recognition that business currently generates huge volumes of information, and that this information must be made available to staff and customers—when and where they need it. Few companies, however, ask themselves this question: What do we want to achieve with a CMS tool? The fundamental question is how to get the right information to the right person at the right time. To be able to answer this, you need to ask yourself two questions:
- What information does the business need?
- What technology should be used to manage this information?
Presently, most CMS tools only solve (or focus on) the second question—the first question is often overlooked.
The Content Creators
The people who create the content are often the category of users who are most forgotten in the development of CMS tools. Many large CMS tools provide versioning, workflow, and job tracking support, whereas the tools provided for the authors often are weak. This is a critical problem, because if the tools provided for the authors are difficult to use, how will the site be fed with new updated information?
The problems with hard-to-use author tools grow exponentially with the amount of content available. If the authors complain a little in the beginning, you can be quite sure that they will yell at you before too long!
We will now discuss some simple steps for selecting a CMS tool.
Identify the Business Needs
Do not start a CM project without identifying the business problems that the CMS is meant to solve, and figuring out the strategic benefits it will help to achieve. Implementing a CMS tool is not a goal in itself.
Talk to the Users
This is the most missed step, even though it is the easiest! To find out the requirements, simply ask the users. Once you have convinced the users that you will use their feedback, the tips will never stop.
Rewrite the Content
We have seen too many companies that only want to move their current information into a CMS tool. This is far from the most optimal solution. Instead, these companies should focus on rewriting their content on a long-term basis, in order to make it fit the CMS and digital publishing. Many companies also do not understand that it is difficult to write a good technical article or description! The use of good professional technical writers is often absent today.
If you were to ask your customers whether they would be willing to let their people code one of the critical applications they are going to hire contractors for, the answer would probably be no. But when it comes to content, these same customers are not interested in investing much. In our view, many companies are taking the design, layout, and content itself too lightly.
Quality Not Quantity
One of the biggest problems, besides the quality of the information that is published, is that too many people publish too much. An intranet or an external site may contain too much information, making it hard for users to find what they are looking for. The solution is to give the user less, but better, information—remember quality before quantity. As mentioned before, you must encourage the customer to rewrite content for the CMS in order to develop the content further, rather than publishing old manuals directly into the CMS tool. Putting old stuff into a CMS tool directly will mostly decrease the organization’s efficiency rather than improving it.
Structure and Navigation
Next comes the need for a navigational tool that makes it possible to traverse the information on the site (even if you have reduced the quantity, you still may have thousands of pages to handle). Without an effective tool to navigate this content, the site will be useless. We often use information architects and professional indexers to pinpoint the problems, and from there construct a solution that solves the problem and makes end users happier.
Workflow and Review
Currently, there are two different workflows on the market: centralized and decentralized.
- Centralized workflow is when all workflow passes through one person (or possibly a few), who needs to authorize the information before it’s published. This solution is great in that the information published via the CMS can be held to a consistent level.
- When you are working with a decentralized workflow, many authors are allowed to publish information directly to the site. This presents the challenge of ensuring the consistency and quality of the content. The use of templates is one tool you can use to try to help the authors in following the design guidelines set up for the site.
Despite the selected workflow model, you need to ensure that any kind of workflow and review model exists on the site before you take it live. Trying to apply a workflow after the authors have started to work is likely to fail.
Finally, the most important category of users is the one that will publish information via the CMS tool. These people need to have an easy tool that can help them with everything from browsing images for use in the content to approving and publishing complete articles via the CMS tool. If you are using a decentralized workflow model, this is even more important, since more people will be working with the publishing tool, and you will have to provide more support if the selected tool doesn’t fulfill the authors’ requirements.
The authors should not be required to understand HTML, XML, or other technical stuff. The best solution often is to have a publishing tool similar to some other tool they are using on a daily basis, like a word processor word processor. This makes it easier for the authors to learn the new environment and quickly start producing material for the new CMS.