Cadillac vs Hyundai CMSs

by Carmine Porco — You’ve undoubtedly heard this analogy before: why spend the money on a Cadillac to go around the corner for a bag of milk, when a Hyundai will do the same job at a fraction of the price? Sure, you may not have the luxury or add-ons like an OnStar system, DVD player, and GPS, but your task can be completed more economically, as competently, and with a less expensive vehicle. Well, this analogy can also be applied to the purchase of a Content Management Solution.

In my earlier article,

Pssst, Wanna buy a CMS

I outlined the steps required when an organization is investigating CMS vendors. I also highlighted some of the main features to look for when evaluating them. This article discusses the merits of considering a less expensive CMS that could still meet 85-95% of your organization’s needs.

We’ve all heard of the big boys — Vignette, Broadvision, Documentum, etc. These are typically called “enterprise wide” or “upper tier” CMSs and have great features such as personalization, numerous levels of workflow, collaboration, etc.

For those of you who have sat through one of the upper tier CMS vendor’s presentations, you will undoubtedly have been dazzled by all their features--6 layers of workflow, portal integration…OnStar, heated mirrors, dual climate controls—you get the picture.

But what of the small and mid-market vendors such as PaperThin, Ektron,  Bridgeline, NTSweb or even the ASP and Open Source vendors such as a CrownPeak or Zope? Some of these vendors may not enjoy being compared to Hyundai, but like the car company that has grown in quality and options while increasing value at a lower price point, these CMS vendors offer many features and functionality that could potentially meet most, if not all, of your requirements.

Potential buyers must first understand what they need before they start looking at vendors. Using the earlier analogy, would you start looking at family-sized minivans if all you need is a single-commuter compact?

For example, a client was looking at replacing their CMS and was fixated on Microsoft’s Sharepoint solution. For the record, this is not a bad product. However, Sharepoint does not fulfill this client’s particular requirements. When we met with the stakeholders, we learned that they had not really researched other options or thought about questioning their requirements. Long story short, Prescient introduced them to four other vendors and took them through a CMS blueprinting exercise (which included analysis, evaluation of product alignment with business requirements, and short-listing of appropriate CMS products for the client’s organization and environment).

After examining their requirements and a number of solutions, the client selected a lower cost alternative – a Hyundai if you will. Their needs were not complicated: basic interactivity, with simple links to some pre-built applications, and a desire to enforce their governance model.

On the topic of governance, do not think that by simply implementing a CMS, your governance challenges will disappear. Like any new technology, a CMS is simply a piece of software that does what it is instructed to do. The old adage, “garbage in, garbage out” holds true. If you do not put the effort into defining your governance model before you implement your CMS, you will be doing yourself and your organization a disservice (Read “


” for more on governance).

A new CMS will allow you to enforce a governance model, but it is up to the organization to tell the CMS of the rules and parameters. For example, who is responsible for each page of the site? Who can edit, review, contribute to, and publish each page on the site?

Another factor to consider is timing. Do you need the CMS for 1-2 years or 3-5 years? How is the business case being built? If you require a quick solution to last, say, three years, then it may be more economical and tactical to go with the Hyundai. For example, some organizations only require a short term solution until their enterprise-wide Document Management System or portal product gets implemented in the next 2-3 years. In this case, it may make more sense to purchase a short-term solution.

A CIO from a large utility summed it up quite simply, “If I can get a solution that meets 90% of my needs at one-third of the price of the larger vendors, and then replace it in 3 years, why wouldn’t I do so?”  This is a trend we have been witnessing of late. With all the promises of the larger enterprise applications, the “good enough for now” approach is gaining traction.  While Sharepoint and Microsoft CMS, for example, figure out how it will all fit together over the next couple of years, companies are investing in simpler solutions for the time being. It is also possible that lower-cost solutions will pay higher dividends in value.

Looking at some of the smaller vendors, you don’t have to travel far to find a product that has many of the components the upper tier vendors have. Most, if not all, are web-based, have pre-defined user types (content contributor, approver, publisher), basic workflow, links and image upload capabilities, basic reporting, some out-of-the box templates, a robust editor, preview capabilities and  versioning. This is by no means a complete list of the features and functionality of a basic CMS, but, once again, an organization needs to consider their requirements. Three levels of workflow and three user types may be sufficient (any more than this and you risk bottlenecking the system). Although a vendor’s technology may offer more levels of workflow and/or user types, the people and governance model may not be able to accommodate it.

Here, then are some guidelines when venturing off to shop for a CMS:

  • When looking at purchasing a CMS, first understand your requirements. Ask your stakeholders what they need and document their requirements.

  • Make the requirements drive the vendor’s dog-and-pony show. Ask the vendor to highlight the features and functionality that are important to your stakeholders.

  • Don’t let the vendors sell you on features that you don’t need (i.e. six levels of workflow, personalization, online collaboration).

  • Define your Governance model before the CMS is implemented. The CMS must be told who is responsible for managing the content.

  • Understand the life expectancy of your CMS and how it will/may integrate within your organizations overall knowledge/document and/or portal management strategy.

As with any new technology, an organization must understand its needs before deciding on a solution. This is even more important in the CMS field, what with all the new vendors and amalgamation of solutions there are today. Although you may have your eye on the new Cadillac, the Hyundai may well meet and potentially exceed your expectations.

To engage Prescient for help in selecting the best CMS for your organization, please see our

CMS Blueprint

service or

contact us


A Senior Internet Business Consultant and a regular writer and speaker,

Carmine Porco

is the Vice-President of Prescient Digital Media. For more information on Prescient’s CMS Blueprint service, or for a free copy of the white paper “Finding ROI”, please contact us.

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