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Procurement and Selection of a new CMS or Digital Platform

Last week I was invited to speak at the Memberwise Digital Platform Selection Seminar at The Chartered Institute of Highways & Transport on the minefield that is the procurement and selection of a new content management system (CMS) or digital platform.

Throughout my 8 years at Cantarus, I have seen the good and the bad in terms of procurement processes from a vendor’s perspective so I’d like to think I had a good grip on what makes a good RFP or tender document. That said, there is so much to cover and as the session was only 20 minutes long, we distilled this down into 10 questions that an organisation should ask itself during any such procurement process:

  1. Avoid lock in - Does the CMS avoid lock-in to a niche player either via because it is open source or because it is from an established vendor with a large client base

    This is an important one, don’t just go with the CMS your potential vendor has suggested; you don’t want to be locked into the relationship if it doesn’t work out. Have a look at the likes of Google Trends to see if the CMS is relevant and who uses it. If you’ve never heard of it that should start some alarm bells.

  2. Partner skill levels- How skilled and experienced is your implementation partner? Can the partner provide a strong portfolio and reference multiple clients? Can the partner provide a pre-existing solution offering rather than delivering via extensive bespoke development?

    You should be looking at your vendor choice as a long-term partnership, do your research! Don’t just accept the references they provide, have a look at their other work and ask to contact at least one previous client that is not on the provided reference list.

  3. Licensing - Is the CMS licensed per server, per domain, per user or per year? How cost-effective is the licensing structure in terms of your current requirements, product updates and strategic direction? If your membership base grows are there additional costs?

    Over the long-term, your capex costs could easily dwarf your initial project opex costs so you need to consider these just as carefully as the headline number provided by your potential partner. Licensing costs are often a big part of this so look into the details here around any licensing agreement.

  4. Support - Is the CMS supported by large and active third-party modules vendors? Is the CMS supported by an experienced and engaged partner/developer community?

    The big players in the CMS space typically have a large community of users and developers. Looking at this can often give you a good indication of adoption levels. The likes of Wordpress, DNN and Sitecore all have thriving communities and their own 3rd party extension stores.

  5. Support Costs - What are the vendor support costs associated with the CMS? Are open source products hiding any hidden costs? Does the vendor’s support window cover your operating hours?

    These questions are fairly straightforward, are you going to get the required level of support from your chose vendor within your budget?

  6. Membership Expertise - Is the CMS proven in the membership sector? Which organisations does it power? Are these organisations at least as large and complex as your own?

    It’s all well and good the CMS being used across the web, but is it suitable for your sector or organisation. BuiltWith.com is a great tool to check on a particular website technology stack as it tells you what a particular website is powered by and also what websites are built with a particular CMS.

  7. CRM Integration - Will the CMS connect to your existing CRM platform? If it does, is it through native or vendor pre-developed functionality? If it doesn’t, what cost, complexity, risk and ongoing support is involved in initially integrating and then maintaining said integration.

    Any CRM system you are using internally should continue to be your single source of truth from a data perspective. Look to reduce data duplication by allowing your selected CMS to communicate directly with your CRM system.

  8. Security -  Is the CMS considered to be a secure platform? Can you trust the CMS to act as a public-facing gateway to your customer data given data protection legislation, such as the upcoming GDPR?

    Apologies if you are sick of seeing GDPR but this one is essential. GDPR is here, and you need to be sure your selected platform is secure and you aren’t awake at night worrying about data protection issues!

  9. Ease of Use - How easy for it for non-technical business users to create, manage and maintain content? How long will it take for these users to be trained to a sufficient level? Are there re-usable templates available and is the editor sufficiently powerful whilst still be easy to use?

    You’d be shocked as to how many tender processes I have been involved in where the organisation hasn’t even asked for a demonstration of the CMS. Make sure you get to use the system in anger and that you consider any re-training costs for your staff.

  10. Features – Does your solution provide the typical features of a modern CMS?

    This is somewhat of an open-ended question but nevertheless is important; does the features provided by the CMS fulfil your requirements. Features such as content personalisation, multi-site support, in-depth permissions, approval workflows and mobile support should be bread and butter for modern CMS systems.

    You may also want to consider looking at a Headless CMS option. My colleague Tom provided an excellent talk during this event on the future of digital platforms and also about the concept of a ‘Headless CMS’.

The feedback I received during the session was positive so hopefully this will help you, especially if you are not from an IT background, get a head start on some of the important concepts to ask of both your platform and also potential technology partner.

Written by Mike Cundall Head of Professional Services
4 min read Web 24 Oct 2017