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WebReference.com - Chapter 1 of Content Management Systems, from glasshaus (5/9)

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Content Management Systems, Chapter 1: Foundations of CMS

Why Don't People Use Content Management?

In the next section, we'll define what content management is, but let's just pause to ask ourselves why more people don't have content management systems in place already.

A Leap in the Dark

Committing to a particular content management strategy is somewhat akin to getting married, in that, hopefully, the choice will work for a lifetime. An organization may be inexperienced with content management, however, so they have to commit to a substantial relationship without understanding exactly how it will impact them.

It's Hard to Change

It takes effort, courage, and money to change the way things work. Frankly, although people understand that the changes need to be made, the status quo is preferable to an uncertain future.

Planning and implementing content management is a high-level strategic activity. Selecting a content management package is perceived to be a job for CTOs or the heads of the IT department, largely because of the high cost of the tools and because these are the people such tools are marketed at. Additionally, many web professionals are so busy trying to stay afloat that they don't have the time to consider a content management system.

However, as a web professional, you'll often have the best view of the challenges and impact content management will have, so don't be afraid to speak up and help shape the decisions about content management. No matter what happens, a content management system will impact your work significantly, and it's best to get your input in at the start.

Content management affects many people in an organization. Getting all of those people moving in the same direction and working together is hard work. The impact on the organization is often not widely understood – depending on your goals, it's possible that everyone in the company will be affected.

The Market is Confusing and Immature

For those who have decided to buy a solution, there are many vendors trying to carve out a niche in this growing market. Many agencies that have written a CMS for a client are now packaging it as a product. Some of these are nowhere near 'product' quality, and those that are industry leaders are, in many cases, only there because they made the jump early.

It is difficult to compare the content management products available because of the widespread use of jargon, buzzwords, and marketing babble. While there are some basic similarities, the approach and metaphors used by one software product often do not match precisely those of another. Content management tools may only implement a portion of a full content management strategy, but market themselves as a full end-to-end solution. This confusing and complex marketplace leaves customers, quite rightly, frustrated.

There is also trepidation about picking a product that will be a winner. In uncertain economic times, in such a competitive, untested marketplace, it is hard even to know who will be around next year. We have yet to see which companies will do well and survive, and which will fade away.

Products are also distributed unevenly. Products available in Europe may not have support in the US, while support for CMS products throughout Asia is generally weak.

Content management vendors are on an uneven footing when it comes to advertising their products. The big vendors can afford to saturate the market with advertising (one prominent US vendor sponsors the replay at my local ice hockey arena). Smaller products – even if they have a reasonable feature set and price/performance ratio – are often lost in the noise of the market. It's hard for vendors to differentiate themselves.

Furthermore, the vendors are experimenting with all sorts of business models. Some license their products per server or per CPU; I've even seen a license based on the total CPU speed in megahertz. Others have a base server fee on top of which they charge per-seat costs. Furthermore, per-seat costs may be based on concurrent users or include a separate fee for developers and administrators.

There are open source consultancies that charge for significant professional services. Other products have a hybrid open source model – they still charge for their product, but you do have access to all the source code, and they have an explicitly open development model. Then there are application service providers, who will host a CMS for you that they have built or licensed from a vendor.

The result is that licensing costs are difficult to compare. (The one common license element I've seen from commercial vendors is a yearly maintenance and support fee that averages about 20% of the initial license fee.)

Content Management Can Be Complex

Ultimately, the practice of content management is about getting disparate parts working together. Those disparate parts are both the people involved – authors, editors, and developers Â– and the technology that supports them. Content management is a group activity, and requires collaboration to succeed. Putting in place a technology infrastructure that will support that collaboration is non-trivial. It requires co-ordination across disciplines.

In many organizations such inter-departmental cooperation is unheard of. And even though this is a failing of the organization and not one of content management, this is the situation into which content management may well be introduced.

Content management is also complex because it tries to prepare us for an uncertain future. There is no guarantee that we will use the same browsers and systems to view our content in the future. The compromises that need to be made between preparing for the future and still getting something that works today (and on today's budget) are not easy to make, and sorting through the various options can be complicated.


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Created: August 22, 2002
Revised: August 22, 2002

URL: http://webreference.com/authoring/languages/html/cmsystems/chap1/5.html