A client with several years of CMS experience recently she pointed out that she thought that CMS products we were going through a revolution. I had to agree, over the last couple of years we have seen major changes in the CMS world. Some of the facets of the “revolution” include:

  • old CMS products we grew to love and hate have been acquired, all the large independent players (Vignette, Stellent, Interwoven) have now been acquired, opening the way for new entrants into the market
  • online communities are more important than vendor viability. Proprietary vendors now realising the importance of developing communities, encouring their products to be discussed openly online warts and all! This kind of information wasn’t readily available thanks to vendors wanting to control “the message”.
  • open source and SaaS are now being seriously considered alongside purchasing licenses for proprietary systems. Historically decisions about Open Source were made at the outset, rather than being largely irrelevant.
  • ease of use is king. You no longer have to go on several days of training to grapple with clunky interfaces in order to manage your content, some content management functions can be performed without any training at all!
  • You get more for less. Prices for licensed software have come down providing CMS buyers with more functionality that ever before for less.
  • Downloading and try software. Some vendors allow you to try their software for free, and not demand several days consultancy services to come in and install the system.
  • the rise of social media, means that products are fundamentally being rearchitected from where the content management is performed on the back end as well on the front end.

I’m sure there are more aspects to the revolution that I’ve missed that you will come up with. I ran the idea of a CMS revolution past Tony Byrne who partly agreed with me! So what are your thoughts, are we in a CMS revolution or is CMS software as bad as ever?

When speaking to clients and CMS vendors we have been discussing what is the most important criteria that CMS buyers are looking for when selecting a CMS. A year ot two ago I would have said it was cost or how well a CMS met requirements. However in our most recent projects usability has been as important as cost or how well the CMS met a clients’ requirements. So why is it important and why does it feature at all in CMS selection projects now and what do we mean by CMS usability?.

What is CMS usability anyway?

Usability means making sure something works well, and that a person of average ability or experience can use it for its intended purpose without getting hopelessly frustrated. Therefore a usable CMS will :

  1. Be easy to learn
  2. Be easy to remember (particularly for occaisional users)
  3. Have a simple content management model (content types, ‘pages’) and follow a users’ mental model
  4. Require minimal training and be easy to explain to non web savvy editors.
  5. Be fast, resilient and error proof.
  6. Provide helpful error messages and tips when things go wrong. (wishful thinking!)

Clearly these things are not always covered in a statement of requirements, and have a significant impact on a successful CMS project.

Why is usability so important?

  1. Project failure is not an option (particularly now). If a CMS has been selected based on primarily technical or value for money criteria then there is a siginificant additional risk the project will fail!
  2. If  your team does not understand the CMS they will not use it.
  3. You will have to factor in additional hidden costs of training (of existing and new staff) and support. Your team will be inundated with support requests from users who will get stuck and then your team will spend time helping them.
  4. Devolved content management will not be possible, without significant additional investment.

What do you think? Does usability feature in your CMS selection? If not why not?

Useful posts on CMS usability:

  1. 11 usability principles for CMS products (Step Two Designs)
  2. The 5 hidden costs of running a CMS (Paul Boag)