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How to find the best CMS to fit your needs

By: Tallwave

Executive Summary

Choosing a CMS ultimately is going to make life easier. Choosing the right one to fit your needs? That decides if it’s going to be a hassle to implement or a great investment. There’s a way to choose, and knowing the ins and outs can save you time in the future.

Technical Debt

Businesses of all sizes struggle with managing technical debt (the future impact of any coding/web development decision made today). Technical debt can range from inexpensive to extremely costly to manage (More about technical debt outlined here). Implementing a Content Management System (CMS) would be an investment in reducing technical debt.

CMS Implementation vs Investing in Developer Resources

CMS systems are expensive to implement, but in our analysis, the costs for hiring resources to hard code pages is significantly greater over time.

This chart represents hypothetical high-level cost estimates associated with migrating an enterprise business to a CMS vs the Staff Augmentation approach. It demonstrates that the lower cost benefit of a standard CMS will begin to show between 3 and 4 years out, or sooner.

Pros and Cons

Using a CMS allows for easier management of content, brand consistency, and analytics tracking. See more details of benefits here. The main disadvantage related to CMS usage is the high cost to purchase an enterprise CMS. An outline of the advantages of using additional offshore resources is here.

Recommendation

For medium-to-enterprise businesses, CMS is an important long-term cost saving tech solution. The costs associated with migrating to a CMS can be minimized by using a blended onshore and offshore staffing model. Detailed comparison of typical CMS systems can be found here.

Rationale

Businesses that grow their website without a CMS can develop a complex system of oversight and management built on multiple technologies. The longer they go in this state, the more complex the system can become, many times expanding to multiple websites, and a significant developer cost. For businesses evaluating the decision to build a single central CMS to manage their websites, domains, and content, a series of factors should be considered. For example, the upfront cost of implementing a CMS, regardless of the platform, will have a significant cost associated with it, so this decision is not to be made lightly. The alternative option is to continue building customized solutions for every use case, leveraging offshore development to help keep costs down.

Technical Debt

When businesses experience a sprawling network of website pages, content, and even multiple sites, technical debt will accumulate. Technical debt is any code or data that will need to be fixed by a developer at some point in the future. This could mean a bug, a performance problem, or a change to account for something previously unknown.

The impact of technical debt is measured in three ways: Its impact - to customers as well as internal teams, the cost to fix it, and how likely it is to affect neighboring systems. These operate on independent axes, something that is very visible to customers may be cheap or expensive to fix, and may be isolated from other systems.

Technical debt usually falls into (at least) one of three categories:

Local Debt

This is debt that is usually in a single system and is therefore low impact. A single isolated malfunctioning widget in a complex system may be annoying, but if it does not affect other components and has a known workaround, does not need to be addressed immediately.

However, if this widget becomes a dependency on a bigger system, it can transform into a larger issue.

Local debt tends to have low-medium impact, medium cost to fix, and low likelihood of affecting neighboring systems.

Foundational Debt

This happens when there is a fundamental issue with a system itself. It can be difficult to recognize by experienced users because it is “just the way things are”. This kind of debt can grow exponentially - the more that is added to the system, the more the debt accumulates.

Foundational debt tends to have high impact, high cost to fix, and high likelihood of affecting neighboring systems.

Data Debt

Problems do not always live in code, but can also live in data. Good data and analysis are the lifeblood of a business system. If reports and analytics are difficult to create and access, they will not be created, leading to decisions being made without accurate information.

Data debt tends to have medium impact, medium cost to fix, and high likelihood of affecting neighboring systems.

The Cost of Technical Debt

Below is a matrix of hypothetical technical debt for a typical enterprise level business not using a CMS:

This amounts to a sizeable technical debt load, with a growing cost to manage. Generally, there are two potential ways to address the debt for future work: either implementing a Content Management System (CMS) or adding additional offshore developer resources.

Benefits of Using a CMS

Integrations

A modern CMS will integrate into existing networks and services easily. All major CMSes support authentication through SAML or Active Directory natively. This authentication can be used to create content workflows natively within the CMS and remove the necessity to manage content changes in IT ticketing systems.

Additionally, modern CMSes integrate well with major data platforms from Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle. The analytics data garnered from a CMS can be pushed into these platforms for further analysis and reporting.

Global Management of Content and Brand Strategy

Importantly, website content needs to adjust as brands adapt to market trends and forces. Having a single source of truth for the content and brand strategy for a website allows these adjustments to happen quickly, rather than sit stagnant in a queue for months (causing the site to appear disjointed or out of date).

Global View of Analytics and Measurement

When content is under a single management system, it becomes easier to understand the entire journey a user takes through a website. With this knowledge, deep analysis can be performed to optimize this journey and improve engagement metrics.

Benefits of Staff Augmentation Approach

Offshore development resources can be spun up and then back down for minimal cost. This has the biggest impact when immoveable deadlines are looming and staffing needs to increase in order to hit the target.

The structure, team dynamics, and management for operation for this approach becomes important. Without proper guardrails and a system, the technical debt increases along with an accumulation of disparate technical stacks.

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) system of working is recommended to manage large enterprise IT structures with multiple teams. A team structured this way can pay down Technical Debt while implementing new websites and pages.

Recommended Technical Approach

Teams should be empowered to select the right technology for the specific problem they are trying to solve, within certain parameters. A matrix of choices can be used to assist in the selection process. For example, with the following parameters: A content site with fewer than 100,000 views per month, 6 templates, and minimal interaction, WordPress would be the proper choice for the platform to host the content. On the other hand, a web application with very few views/month would benefit from a Java back-end with Angular front-end.

Regardless of application platform, the backbone across all of the systems should be consistent. The platforms provided by Amazon (AWS), Microsoft (Azure), or Google (Cloud) are all enterprise ready. Once this provider has been selected, tooling can be created to make it simpler for teams to instantiate and deploy services on the backbone.

The Opportunity Cost of a CMS vs Technical Debt

Implementing a CMS will have a significant cost. There are costs associated with hosting, and potentially licensing, depending on the platform chosen. The largest costs will come primarily from migrating data and existing sites into a new CMS. Training staff to use the CMS will factor in as well.

Whether or not the opportunity cost to adopt a CMS is worth paying can be compared against the ongoing cost of managing the technical debt of the existing system.

The cost to implement a CMS and migrate content into it is fixed. The migration can be spread out over a period of months to years to amortize it. There will be ongoing costs for operating a CMS. These center around infrastructure and adding features and sites. However, the accumulated operating cost of adopting a CMS will be significantly lower than the accumulated costs of managing the increasing technical debt created by the existing system.

This chart represents a high-level hypothetical example of the costs associated with migrating to a CMS vs the Staff Augmentation approach. It demonstrates that the benefits of a standard CMS will begin to incur lower costs between 3 and 4 years out. Between 6 and 10 years out, the savings potential in an on-shore CMS is substantial.

CMS Platform Comparison

Drupal/Acquia

Drupal is an open source platform that was built with customization in mind. At a high level, Drupal is a collection of modules and components that interact with each other. These modules have hooks that allow developers to modify internal pieces without requiring a full overhaul of the module. This renders Drupal a powerful business solution and not just a website builder.

Acquia is a Platform as a Service (PaaS) built around Drupal by the core Drupal development team. It serves as the host for multiple major enterprises, including SABMiller (Anheuser-Bush InBev), Wilson Sports, and AMD.

Core Technology

-PHP
-Symfony
-MySQL
-Twig Templating

Adobe Experience Manager

AEM is part of Adobe’s Marketing Cloud platform and integrates well with the rest of the ecosystem. At its base it is an asset management platform and allows for workflows to be created around that. It works at its full potential on sites that have A/B testing with robust analytics across multiple campaigns. Like other CMSes it is flexible and extensible.

Core Technology

-Java
-OSGI
-Adobe Cloud
-HTL Templating

Sitecore

Sitecore’s Experience Cloud is built for marketing websites and campaigns, and has multiple tools tailored for that purpose including dashboards, audience and acquisition metrics, and omnichannel tracking. It’s approach decouples the content from the presentation, so that the presentation can be optimized to fit the medium it is being viewed. It includes a content personalization engine out of the box.

Sitecore is built with Microsoft technologies and integrates well into .NET based environments.

Core Technology

-C# and ASP.NET
-SQL Server or MySQL

Our Recommendation

Based on most medium to enterprise level business’ needs, we believe that implementing a CMS could be the best long-term solution for running an efficient website ecosystem. The costs associated with migration can be minimized by using a blended onshore and offshore staffing model.

Written by Tallwave

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