We have all been there. The current content management system (CMS) doesn’t seem to be doing the job anymore. People are unhappy, and there doesn’t seem to be any further productivity to be squeezed from the system. People are asking for a new system. This is natural, but it’s often the wrong move and should be evaluated carefully.

There are many things that can be wrong with a CMS solution, the software being the least of them. Has the business evolved since the initial deployment? Has anyone running the CMS asked the business what has changed? Can the solution built on the CMS be modified? Has information technology (IT) kept up with the maintenance of the software or let it languish?

Is the interface the wrong shade of blue? (I have heard that feedback.)

Before doing anything, take a step back and find out what is really going on with the CMS solution.

Talk to the people

IT initially hears about a problem when complaints start arriving. That is a bad sign, as issues tend to fester before they surface to IT. People view IT as non-responsive and wait to bring up issues until they are fed up and want a change.

The first thing to do is to sit down with the business and talk to them. Have them show you what is not working well and what is working well. Go to their office and have them explain in depth. Ask them how things would work in a perfect world.

Once you have that story, it is time to look at the current system.

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Talk to the vendor

While the vendor will tend to say what you want to hear, talking to them is still the fastest way to an answer. They know their product well and will work with you to answer your questions. If they seem reluctant to help, suggesting to them that you will have to get a new CMS if this cannot be resolved always gets their full attention.

Show the vendor the current system, and then tell them how the business would like things to work. Ask them if there are new features since the initial solution was built that can be leveraged. Do not get distracted by shiny features that people haven’t requested. Those may be useful features, but if people cannot get their core jobs done, it does not matter.

When the vendor starts mentioning future features, make note of them and ask to see an official roadmap. Remember that features are not real until they are delivered, and any release date greater than six months out is likely to slide.

Circle back

If the vendor has the right answers, work with them to present a plan of action to the business. Focus on what can be done in the short-term. If new features are on the horizon for the product, discuss how the business can prepare in advance to be ready when those features are available.

Make sure the business understands that changing the CMS could take a year or more. Full requirements, vendor selection, deployment and migration of existing content takes time. It is also not cheap. Partner with the business so they can make a balanced decision. The business doesn’t care about the vendor. They just want to be able to do their jobs.

Prevention is better than remedies

This process can be avoided. There are many steps that an effective IT organization can take to stay ahead of these situations and earn the trust of the business.

  • Talk with the business regularly. Once a quarter, sit down and talk to them. Review the systems and ask how they are working. Include power users, not just managers. Bring in food to make it a relaxed setting.

  • Walk the floor. If you are in the area, drop by and talk to people. Get informal updates. Let people see that you care.

  • Keep up with the software. The biggest mistake I see people make is to fall behind on patches and upgrades to their CMS. This inevitably leads to an upgrade process that is so massive that it turns into a migration effort. Avoid this at all costs.

There are times when it is entirely appropriate to move to a new CMS. Not all vendors can grow their software to support the direction that your business evolves. The key is to make sure that any change is made to serve the business, not because IT didn’t put in the work to keep the current system relevant.

If lazy CMS management is the real problem, be ready to change systems every few years and for the waste in time and money that will follow.

Laurence Hart is a proven leader in content and information management, with nearly two decades of experience solving the challenges organizations face as they implement and deploy information solutions. Follow Mr. Hart on his blog, Word of Pie, or on Twitter @piewords

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