Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Note to CEOs & Publishers: Choosing a CMS

I've been building and buying CMS' since 1995 -- and have seen the good, the bad, and the truly hideous. The number one reason people won't work with technology is because it is too difficult to use. They have their day jobs -- and interpreting the screens and workflow that are foreign to them ... well, people just won't do it. And they don't. And the technology is a big fat expensive failure.

The problem with a CMS is that CEOs don't understand that they are not merely a "getting-stuff-onto-the-web tool." The "S" in CMS stands for System -- not product. That system is supposed to unite the world of creating, collaborating, collecting and channeling content. The mentality that it is merely something that gets content onto the web is the reason so many sites are, well, anemic. And, frankly, the reason so many balance sheets are sickly. Traffic doesn't stick (nor return) to sites that don't anticipate readers needs.

Instead of being a seamless solution into the entire workflow, the CMS tends to be an ad hoc interruption into an already stressful day. It would be like having two homes, and having to carry everything you need from one home to the next. Pretty soon you buy duplicates of everything just to keep yourself sane. Your wallet is lighter, right? Or, you start focusing on one abode more than the other. Now the other is lacking. See how this doesn't work out?

It's also the reason why the pure-plays, the companies that are solely online are driving the innovations in the industry. They have created, from scratch, an entire digital content supply chain, without having to worry about the turf wars surrounding the various bastions in the traditional world. No, they have built a digital infrastructure that allows the ebb, flow and sharing of digital content. They don't necessarily have it all figured out -- but they aren't being anchored by a century old legacy system.

The challenge for CEOs who grew up on the traditional business side, is that they never worked the "Fry Station." In McDonalds, to move up the management ladder, a person has to work every role: cashier, fry station and cook the burgers. That notion of working your way up through every department holds true in most industries. That is what made you a great CEO. You worked the Fry Station.

However, for many, digital entered into our professional lives at the mid or late point of our careers. We are managing -- and now relying on something -- we just don't understand. And as such, we rely on others to guide us. That may or may not be a good move. So here are my guidelines for purchasing a CMS:
  1. Work the Fry Station. Ignorance is no excuse for not obeying the law -- and its no excuse for managing your company. You can start out by creating a blog if you are too embarrassed to ask an underling to show you how to work the current CMS. But roll up your sleeves and get going. Create a post. Create it in Word and try to paste it into your blog. Try and update from your Blackberry. Create some tags. Change your mind. This little lesson will be priceless.
  2. Trust ... but Verify. You hired a CTO to manage -- but does he or she have an agenda? CTOs are human too. Some like to build things so that they can have a bigger development staff. You have to ask yourself -- which business are you in, the software development business -- or not. Because let me tell you, building and maintaining a CMS is a fulltime job. As soon as it is built, it is obsolete and needs to be improved upon. Is that the expertise you really want to invest and cultivate?
  3. Examine the Workflow. As I said before, the word CMS is a real misnomer, since it suggests a single product, instead of systemic approach to the 4Cs: creating, collaborating, collecting and channeling content. Look at each of these steps in the supply chain, and develop a system that works across the entire company. If you update here -- will it update there (automatically) -- or does someone have to remember to "move it to the other house."
  4. Align CMS with Business Goals. In case I haven't been clear, a true CMS should not merely shovel stuff onto the web. List what you want to accomplish business wise: (hints: optimize operations, lower production costs, monetize assets) and align your system to your goals. This means taking a very hard look at Point 3 above.
  5. Align CMS with Department Needs. A good CMS should touch EVERY department in your company, and across silos. Editorial will be an obvious benefactor of the 4Cs, as research, creation, collaboration and production should be seamless and make their lives easier. But Marketing should find that the CMS will be search engine friendly and allow ease in email marketing. Sales should notice that it is now easy to create new products and get them to market faster. IT should find that it is no longer dinged for every change that needs to happen on the web. Accounting should see operations cost decline and revenues increase.
  6. Cut Your Losses. I get it. You spent a ton of money on your current system, but it's not answering your business needs. Go back to the two home metaphor: you can't get your money back, but you can stop spending resources on duplications. As my father loves to say, a loss today is cheaper than one tomorrow.
  7. Build for the Future. You have no idea what the next great application will be. Who would have thought Twitter would take off? Or that so many viewers would flock to the CNN/Facebook collaboration during the inauguration. A system that does not allow "hooks" into new technologies -- or doesn't allow it without 9 months of labor -- just will not pass muster in a world where nimble is number 1.
But the biggest takeaway on all this is you can't manage what you don't know; you have to work the Fry Station. Who knows, you might enjoy it!

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