Can you realize the potential of your CMS feature wish list?

It takes more than just picking CMS technology to leverage the value and continued use you want to get from cool new website features.

When an organization prepares to acquire a new content management system (CMS), the team managing the acquisition often experiences the same elation as kids preparing their wishes for Santa. They write a long list of items they can’t live without that covers all sorts of neat things — workflow, task dashboards, HTML editor functions, polls and calendars, and maybe even a degree of personalization. “We can’t wait to use all this good stuff to make our lives easier, manage the site better, and deliver what our users want to see!” the team exclaims as they jot down their functional requirements.

But as we all know, having the items from the wish list actually appear under the tree requires more than being nice and not naughty. Parents will ask if Junior really needs a T.M.X. Elmo — and wonder how long he’ll maintain interest in it — before committing household funds to their purchase. Similarly, organizations must determine if they must have all those cool CMS features and then plan to implement and use them effectively 12, 24, or 36 months down the road.

Unfortunately, it’s common for organizations to buy more CMS functionality than they can use easily, or at all.

Seth Gottlieb

from Optaros, a guru in the open-source CMS space, observes that there has been a trend of companies over-buying content technologies amid commercial product shifts in the last five years. As a result, organizations are forced to use overly complex enterprise solutions that are not well integrated into business processes and ultimately result in low adoption rates. Gottlieb sees a current trend of companies moving toward buying simpler solutions dedicated to solving targeted needs that can be extended as needed.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it enter events into your corporate calendar.

Developing a list of must-have site features for a CMS to support cannot be done in a vacuum. Everyone, from technical support staff and site management to content contributors and end users, have to follow through and commit to the ongoing use of each item on the wish list in order to derive maximum benefit from the investment. Otherwise, you’re just buying a shiny toy that will be discarded when attention is diverted to the next cool idea or trend that comes along.

Developing a governance model is a crucial step in developing a site management process for who does what, when, and how often with a CMS or site feature. But governance can only go so far if the processes are not clearly defined or they are not presented to users with adequate explanation, rationale, training, and enforcement.

The most important factor in the success of implementing these feature processes is the buy-in that you need to get from users, content contributors and site managers. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it enter events into your corporate calendar on a regular basis. There may be an initial burst of effort to fully utilize these new CMS tools and features, but you want to ensure that over time they won’t grow cobwebs. Consistent care and attention to planning, execution, education, evaluation, and adjustment of the implementation process, will help maintain momentum.

Some real world observations

We have seen several cases where site tools and features were considered with the reality of just what would and would not be used coming to light over time. In some instances, what was considered a definite need later proved to not be required at all. In other situations, a greater amount of continued managerial commitment became necessary to realize the benefits of implementing new tools.

I recently attended a meeting at a major bank between an intranet redevelopment team and the senior executive who had been responsible for selecting the CMS for the bank’s public Internet site. The executive was asked whether it was better to acquire a “black-box” CMS with a comprehensive feature set list and defined integration model, or a more streamlined content publishing tool that could be custom programmed to build specific CMS site features. Surprisingly, the executive recommended going with the custom CMS tool development. His reasoning boiled down to one thing: in the years since selecting their fully-loaded Cadillac of a CMS they barely used or implemented 80% of the features that were available from the software. With custom development, he felt the intranet team would be getting exactly what they currently needed—no more or less—while still leaving the door open for future scaling should their requirements expand in the future.

One feature that I thought would be a no-brainer for a huge public site—distributed workflow of content contribution, editing and publishing—was never implemented due to a lack of resources. The public website team had effectively made do over the past few years with dedicating the minimal resources needed to ensure that site content was published in a timely manner. While the feature appeared to address an obvious need, the team learned that they couldn’t use it without increasing their resources. The experience of buying functionality that they couldn’t use taught them a valuable lesson. But it was an expensive way to learn. Conducting a more thorough needs analysis prior to acquisition would have provided the same knowledge at a much lower cost.

Prescient has worked with a number of clients who have implemented quick polls into their home pages. Quick polls are a fantastic way to get immediate and continuous feedback from employees or users on a variety of topics, they make sites much more interactive, and usually drive site usage higher. Many CMSs provide this feature, so the technology can be implemented fairly easily. But the intranet team needs to work behind the scenes to draft the poll content, establish the frequency and schedule with which the polls will be deployed, and define how the results will be analyzed, used and fed into ongoing site or organizational improvements.

In other words, our clients are usually enthusiastic about the concept of adding a quick poll to their home page, but sometimes less so once we start planning on managing their usage over the next 12-36 months. It’s the input, careful consideration, and drive to execute the plan to implement tools like this that leads to realizing maximum value for users and website managers.

In this case, many of our clients do opt for the polling features. But they do so with a full understanding of the resources and planning required to realize the potential of the polls so that they don’t end up in a closet with the other toys that have lost their appeal.

Another feature that site management teams often look to implement is a modest degree of personalization, say, in the form of a collection of site links. The technical feasibility and cost of a feature like this can be quantified and evaluated, but the mechanics of usage, development of content, and management of such a feature requires a good deal more thought and planning. In the case of one large financial organization’s intranet, a modest (but restricted) degree of link personalization using portal technology was implemented. A year later, the jury is still out on whether this feature is as highly valued and as effectively used as was hoped for, or whether the initiative could be qualified as a success. It’s possible that the lack of enthusiasm and uptake was due, not to any limitations in the technology, but rather because of a launch with minimal fanfare that was targeted to a narrow part of the organization’s site audience.

And the answer is…?

There’s no pat answer to the question of whether users and managers will successfully realize the value from acquiring all desired site and CMS features. Distributed workflow management or personalization are very cool, and may have been adopted successfully by Company X. But that success is due to Company X’s assessment, prior to acquisition, that the features would be used by its staff and its commitment to ensuring they are used post-adoption. If Company Y simply buys the features because the CMS vendor shows them how well they’re working at Company X, they are unlikely to experience the same success.

There’s no doubt that selecting and implementing the right technology is essential to managing your intranet. But marketing, governance, change process management, discipline, guidelines, enforcement and buy-in must all be present in order to extract the maximum value from those cool things you want to add to your site.

In other words, make your CMS features list, check it twice, and ask your users whether they


the toy, or if they


it. Then buy what you need, and make sure you have a plan in place to ensure your audience plays with the features even after the novelty wears off.

Prescient Digital Media is a veteran web and intranet consulting firm with 10+ years of rich history. We provide strategic Internet and intranet consulting, planning and communications services to many Fortune 500 and big brand clients, as well as small and medium-sized leaders.