I’m working with a major client choosing a CMS.

In this particular choice, it’s a multi-year, multi-million dollar choice.

If all goes well, it will eventually be a system that touches from at least 1000, to many thousandsof staff.

Their demanding business context has quickly filtered the market from literally thousands to only a handful of systems. We’re now down to two major vendors. The first of these vendors is demonstrating their extremely powerful system.

Problem: it’s too powerful, and too customisable.

(Note: You may also find this Webinar on differentiating and understanding the value-add of different types of CMS. It looks at the differences and roles of Web CMS, Component CMS and Document MS (DMS) systems in an enterprise architecture)

Spoiled for Choice

The system is positively bristling with functions, but as a result, it looks unusable. By the end of this week we’ll have spent 4 straight days digging through this thing.  As the product selection team, we’re looking at as many aspects as humanly possible before the selection process itself stops being cost effective.
What’s happening is that with too many ways to do something and too many options, the whole thing seems daunting.  If you’ve not used a CMS before, or used only lightweight or simplistic ones (you know who you are, Vendors!) then a big customisable beastie can start to look like something you’d dread putting your users in front of, then having to train on and support.

Metrics vs Feelings [NF1]*

As scientific and unbiased as we try to make software decisions, there’s a very real and human component. And it’s an important one. When I talk about brand I talk a lot about the brand “experience”.

The whole “holistic content strategy” thing is about looking at all aspects of how content affects the experience of the brand.  It’s crucial to whether we’ll move from one phase of a relationship to another.
For this project we’ve defined 31 high-level use cases which between them have nearly 350 specific points of evaluation. Each evaluation point is then given a score and weighting multiplier, resulting in lots of juicy math and pretty pie-charts to make everyone feel confident and rest easy.

But do you go with the system that’s better on paper, or the one that feels like you could live with it?

Take Aways

What I’d like to put forward here is two musings from my experience with buying CMSs:

Not Just a Pretty Face

Don’t dismiss UI discussions as a software ‘beauty pageant’.  UI discussions are important.  Bad UI in your internal systems is damaging to performance in the same way as bad design of the content you’re managing in it.  The message gets lost, and you’re slowed, if not prevented, from realising your goals.
The fact that staff can be “told” to do their jobs but users can’t be “told” to engage with your content has some effect, but don’t rely on this factor. (This is especially true for those looking at buying structure, adaptive content, XML, or DITA-capable CMSs.)

It’s Not About You

That said, remember that this is technology we’re talking about.  Configuration options can be overwhelming, but especially with big systems, they’re there for a reason.

You want something that can grow with your business.  As the stakeholders in the system decision it’s your responsibility to understand how the system could look different to different user roles in your organisation.
The fact you’ve got to sit through ALL those options, doesn’t mean they do. You’ve got to sit through 20 examples of how the interface could look, but they’ll only get one or two.  As with all decisions in business, we must step outside of our emotional reactions and think on behalf of others.

Use the Math

The Use Cases and formal points of evaluation are your sanity check. As much as I think that people should weigh subjective user experience into the decision matrix, it is one – albeit important – factor among many.
Develop your use cases well, validate them with your users, then make your vendors go through them, ideally, with your content.

Investing in your use cases is vital.  Then you’ve got to brief the vendors to make sure they walk through them properly.  It’s easy to squander huge amounts of time, and eventually not be comparing apples to apples in the flow of canned demos.

If you don’t structure your evaluation, you’re only left with “I liked that one better, and I’m pretty sure they ticked all our boxes”. That’s not a reason to invest in any key system, and not a defensible position if anyone asks in 6 months time what you did with all that budget.

Any one else have CMS selection tips they can share?

* This is an NF (Nerd Factor) Rating