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Exploring the information space

Which came first? The CMS or the failure?

I thought I harped on about it enough myself, but earlier this week, the theme was repeatedly brought up at Content Strategy Forum 2011: Content Management Systems are selected too early in the process.

Which came first? The CMS or the failure? (current process)

This is how the story goes:

  • Marketing decide the web site isn’t performing well enough
  • Marketing instruct IT to fix it, providing some high level requirements or a pre-selected “solution”
  • IT issues an RFP for the new CMS
  • A new CMS is selected based on the vendors’ sales techniques
  • Designers and IAs are brought in to design the new site
  • The CMS vendor’s development partner builds the site (including pushing back most of the new ideas in design)
  • Marketing are given their new site and reminded that they need to populate it before it goes live tomorrow
  • 6-18 months later, repeat

So, which came first? Where is the problem? Is the industry fundamentally flawed? Can it deliver on its promises? Is the selected CMS at fault? Or was there a fault that caused the CMS to not deliver on its promises?

Process failure ensures implementation failure

The answer is that the failure came first. The standard process, repeated by so many, is guaranteed to not deliver the promised results. This is a classic case of Silicon Bullet Syndrome: digital is the solution, applied indiscriminately to every problem without defining how it should deliver the result (it is, after all, the silicon bullet).

In this instance, the marketing department see that their delivery channel is broken. Not understanding how the platform works, they opt for the simplest solution: blaming the current implementation and insisting on a replacement. Decisions are made about the delivery platform without a clear definition of the underlying information process and management requirements.

By abdicating responsibility for the result, failure is ensured. Huge pots of time, money and stress could be saved by leaving things as they are (albeit unacceptable) for another couple of years.

We use the new CMS as a way to re-implement the same problems on a new platform!

A process for successful implementation

In order to implement a CMS that delivers the results the business wants from it, the people who understand those results need to take the lead, and stay involved all the way through. They need to talk to IT for longer than it takes to say “We need a new CMS.” Most importantly, they to give IT meaningful requirements regarding empowering the content process, not just fancy output.

Which came first? The CMS or the failure? (optimised process)

Improving the story is simple… just add a few steps:

  • Marketing decide the web site isn’t performing well enough
  • Guided by communications strategy, the message (content strategy) is identified (new)
  • Content architecture and author experience are designed as CMS requirements (new)
  • IT issues an RFP for the new CMS
  • A new CMS is selected based on its ability to support real business goals (improved)
  • Designers and IAs are brought in to design the new site
  • The CMS vendor’s development partner builds the site (improved)
  • Content, created while everything else was ongoing, is entered into the new system (new)
  • Marketing are given their new site (improved)
  • The new site does what it was designed to do (new)

Could a new implementation built to this model fail? Yes. The difference is that responsibility for the failure would be placed squarely where it belongs: with the choice of marketing message.

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