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9 reasons why a CMS does not deliver as promised

We have all probably stumbled upon stories of people frustrated about their company’s (newly installed) Content Management System that doesn’t deliver the expected results. Often the system itself and/or the implementation party are blamed. In some cases this surely is justified, but in a lot of other cases the real reasons behind the underperformance of the content management function may not be as obvious as initially thought. This article sheds light on 9 possible causes of underperformance – some of them straightforward, others hidden in plain sight.

1) Let’s start with the most straightforward and often listed cause: the system purchased is not a good fit with the tasks it is supposed to perform. A possible cause could be that the expert who advised the system wasn’t fully aware of the processes and daily practices within the company. Although ‘the system’ is most often mentioned as the main cause of trouble, the real cause lies just as well in the people and organisation categories.

2) The system was not implemented properly. When purchased the system’s benefits were clear, but after delivery and implementation, it looked quite different because of various reasons such as: templates don’t look pretty, functionality doesn’t work like it should, and the user interface is too hard to work with smoothly. Maybe the system itself is not the problem, but the way it was implemented is causing difficulties.

3) The users don’t use the CMS as it should be used. This is a typical ICT response on the statement that ‘the system’ is not functioning properly. Hiring smart people combined with extensive training and good documentation help to overcome this issue. However as content management can only be party handled by technology, in many cases the users will be the weakest link. As a result, content quality suffers and there is a significant risk of getting further and further into a downward spiral, which shows itself as an increasing backlog and number issues on your sites (see also: Managing “debt”).

4) If you have the right people, it still might be the case that the users have not been trained properly and enough. Training for a CMS is very often underestimated and given by the party who technically implemented the system. These companies might know a lot about a technical implementation, but not always they are the experts on the user side of Content Management as well, which entails a lot more than just entering content into a system.

5) The amount of work required to maintain a (number of) websites often proves more than expected. When sufficient capacity is missing, in terms of resources doing the content management work, both quality of work and morale of the users will suffer.
The solution seems simple: add more resources, but please be aware that a larger team also needs more management and coordination effort to function properly and the addition of resources does not equal the addition of capacity (see also: The Mythical Man Month).

6) In many situations the users don’t have enough focus on quality Content Management. This could be due to the fact that content management is only one part of their daily activities; their experience levels are insufficient; their computer skills are insufficient or there might be a lack of understanding of the importance and impact of quality content management throughout the entire organisation. This issue is the most difficult one to overcome as it requires both the individual users as well as the organisation to learn to understand new perspectives.

7) When there is insufficient budget to do Content Management properly, is seems obvious that the results won’t be great. However, in a lot of organisations there seems to be a misconception that after all the investments in getting the CMS up and running, the system will do all the work itself and nearly everything goes automatically. This is a common misunderstanding that needs to be solved at the level of higher management.
After all, the costs of great management of content will still only be a fraction of the respective costs of Marketing, ICT and for example translations, but it will definitely have a big impact on visitor perception, sales and brand value. Therefore, Content Management should be viewed as a sensible and important investment, rather than a cost.

8) Another common problem is that there is no proper organisation in place to manage and coordinate the processes that make sure the website will be changed, updated, refreshed, checked for quality and that statistics will be monitored, search works properly and the website(s) can be found with the right keywords. Managing these processes might sound costly and extensive, but every little bit of effort and every penny spent on getting a proper organisation in place will save a multitude of efforts and costs downstream by reducing significantly the time required to maintain your site.

9) When proper processes are lacking, you can have the best system, people and organisation in place but you won’t get the desired results. Where content and content management need dedicated tools and people, they also need dedicated processes, which work in the real world. Designing the right processes for your organisation can prove difficult, but will be very rewarding indeed.

Pursuing the cause why a CMS does not deliver as promised often goes further than simply holding the system itself responsible. Your CMS users, organisation and processes should also be looked over critically. Moreover, treating Content Management as an investment rather than a cost is likely to have a positive net impact on your website and company performance.

Rutger Plak