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Put customers in the driver's seat with a content management system

Selecting a content management system can be daunting, but it's not much different from dating. And if done right, it can increase your bottom line.

BOSTON -- Let your customers drive your content management system (CMS) selection. It will only grow your bottom line. That was the message Anthony Wilson, director of client services at New York-based Molecular Inc., gave to attendees at last week's AIIM Conference & Expo. "There's a fundamental shift in the digital world. Content does not stand alone anymore, people are trying to understand the relationships in the data," Wilson said.

What works for one company may not work for others, especially small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). IT professionals at SMBs need to consider the context of any recommendation they are given -- whether by a friend, colleague or analyst. Ask detailed questions about usage and what criteria was used to evaluate systems. Your needs and goals probably aren't an exact match.

It's also important, Wilson warned, to look into the corporate standards at your company. There may be some for CMSes -- you'll need to work within those standards to find a system. "This approach reduces licensing costs and simplifies maintenance for IT but does not always assure the right system is used for each application," he said.

In addition, SMBs need to understand what a successful enterprise CMS needs to flourish:


  2. Corporate compliance: Know how to maintain compliance; and how to keep track of and retrieve data. Be proactive. You have an incredible repository. Use it.

  4. Social computing, Web 2.0, enterprise 2.0: SMBs should use their clients, users and employees to find out what they need. Give them a place to voice opinions and to communicate with each other and you. If they can quickly get the information they need, your bottom line will grow.

  6. Multi-channel: Companies are starting to understand their customers don't want the channel to inhibit access. Different groups do different things, and they need to know what's happening -- marketing needs to know what packaging is doing, and vice versa. Information flowing across brands is critical.

Create a portrait

Once you know your organization is ready to look for a CMS, it's time to create a portrait of your ideal system.

Start with your goals. Know what your budget is, your business case, the type of application you need (business-to-business, document management, business-to-consumer), the environment it'll be in and the human aspect. Then you can focus on the detailed requirements such as security, administration, metadata, taxonomy, publishing, collaboration, architecture, etc.

Focus on the user, content and lifecycle. Inventory and identify all content. Do a metadata analysis. This will help you connect the content, as well as user experiences.

Research vendors. Review analyst reports, attend trade shows and talk to experts. You know what your variables will be, so you should know what you're looking for.

Create a quantitative evaluation framework. Rank each vendor and how they rate for each of your requirements. Add up the numbers. Ideally, one vendor will stand out, however, in reality, a few will fall in the upper-middle tier. This is your shortlist.

Meet with your shortlist. Good vendors will expect things from potential clients. When you first meet, make sure you have documentation of what your requirements are, content types, use cases and workflows, as well as a reasonable timeline. Meet with each vendor two or three times, as this is not a decision you should rush into. Holding multiple meetings leaves time for questions and to build your relationship.

Also, be open! There's no reason to hide information from your vendor. Think about questions to ask ahead of time. Don't ask questions with obvious answers, such as "Is it an easy process?" Instead, ask, "what is the hardest part of the implementation and why?" Get them to talk details. Challenge and probe them.

You should also have expectations for the vendors you meet. Make sure you receive written responses, case studies of similar work, a proposed architecture and cost breakdowns. Although this is not likely for SMBs, if you have a large deal, you should also ask for a proof of concept.

In the end, the process needs to be driven by your consumers. Wilson compared the process with online dating: First you think about doing it; maybe ask friends and family what they think. Next, you look online at the people who are out there. Then you reach out to the people who pique your interest, followed by a few first dates and then narrowing down the list and entering into a long-term relationship with one.

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