How to Buy a Content Management System

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Wednesday 1 January, 2003

- The Background to Buying a CMS
- The Steps Leading to a Purchase
- Important to Remember 

A cropped screenshot of part of the cm3 Acora CMS page development toolkit.The Background to Buying a CMS

Buying a CMS is not like buying other kinds of software, even if you think your requirements for using the software are fairly simple. Whether you're a large or small business with complex or simple needs, a content management system will have an impact your organisation at many levels in many ways. It will affect your staff, your customers, your approach to communication, and your suppliers.

If you'd like to know about the steps involved in purchasing cm3, contact us. If you'd like to know more about how to make a decision about which CMS to purchase, keep reading.

We suggest that you should have a good understanding of CMS deployment issues as well as related and on-going costs before you buy cm3 from us - or in fact before you buy any CMS from anybody.

A CMS is usually purchased as an integral part of a development project or as part of a wider business improvement strategy. This is true even if you're a small company building a website. Your web developers will often tie their preferred CMS in with their design and construction quotation.

The Steps Leading to a Purchase

The following list outlines a common approach to choosing and buying a CMS. However keep in mind that there is no one way to do it. The approach varies depending on the complexity of your requirements, your existing level of knowledge, the expert resources you have access to, and many other things. 

List Your Projects

Create a list of projects that may require a CMS immediately and in the future. Although it's not strictly necessary to run multiple projects on one platform, you can save on training and support costs and reduce complexity if you do.

Identify Core Requirements

Identify and document your key requirements for these projects (not just the immediate ones). Consider your needs on both organisational and technical fronts. Be specific about your requirements and don't overestimate them - e.g. don't tick every box on the CMS requirements form, think about what you really need in your organisation.

Create a Shortlist

Create a shortlist of CMS products that appear to meet your requirements. We strongly suggest that you do not consider the base licensing cost of each CMS as a key factor in creating your shortlist at this point in time. There is a wide variation in licensing structures and feature sets between CMS products on the market today. You will discover a few things, not all of which are obvious when you start shopping:

  • The base licensing cost of a CMS package often has no bearing on the quality of the solution. We know that cm3 is comparative to solutions that are (in some cases) ten times the price. This will also be true of other products. Make sure you don't discount packages because they appear to be too cheap!
  • The base licensing cost of a CMS rarely relates directly to the total cost of ownership. Some products with low price entry points may cost more once you add up every dollar you need to spend to get them running. (This is particularly true of open source solutions. Remember that "free is not free".)
  • You'll learn a lot while you are shopping around, and your expectations about costs are likely to change as you go. In some cases you'll decide to spend more, in others you may decide to spend less.

Contact Vendors and Get Demonstrations

Contact your shortlisted vendors when you are in the early stages of research or simply have some general questions. The good ones will be able to provide demonstrations, advice, tools and resources to help create a Request for Information (RFI) or Request for Proposal (RFP). You should balance what you learn from each vendor with other vendors and consultants - don't ask just one.

Ask for Details

Ask your shortlisted vendors to give you a detailed response to your RFI or an RFP. 

  • If you're still not confident that you have a really strong understanding of your needs at this point, make sure your RFI specifically asks about the things that confuse you.
  • If your investigations are advanced enough to submit an RFP (which is usually more focused and specific than an RFI), consider making your first deployment project an integral part of it. Ask your shortlisted vendors to show you exactly how you will go about getting your first project up and running.

Consider Asking for Advice

If you have a good relationship with a web development firm or e-business consultant, consider asking them to be the communication layer between you and the vendors. However be aware that your existing web development supplier may have a vested interest in selling you a particular solution or even an in-house product. If that is the case, don't let it guide your decision-making process.

Important to Remember

  • Think about your purchase carefully, and do your research
  • Make sure you see the product working
  • Evaluate the product you want to purchase directly against your key requirements
  • Make sure the product you want to purchase is well supported. (Good things to check are company backing, existing customers, and evidence that quality systems are built using this product