What is a Content Management System?

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Wednesday 31 July, 2002

A concept diagram icons of things like graphs, people, and computers floating around colourful jigsaw pieces in the middle.

Before reading further, keep in mind that any two CMS consultants will give you different definitions of "content management system". This article outlines our idea on the matter. It's not the only definition, and it may not even be the best. But we think it's right.

- The Core Definition
- What Others Think...
- Extending the Definition of Content Management
How Content Management Relates to DM, KM, DAM, SCM, CRM, and DRM
- What Do You Think?

The Core Definition

In the purest sense, a content management system is what it sounds like it is - a system for managing content.

For instance, Microsoft FrontPage on its own is not a content management system. However Microsoft FrontPage coupled with a well trained webmaster who follows a structured process for sourcing information from business stakeholders, updating web pages, and getting these pages online is a content management system. It's not a very efficient or effective one in most cases, but this collection of human and software driven procedures forms a viable system for managing content.

More usually, the term content management system refers to a software package (often web-based) that helps to automate the jobs involved with managing information within an organisation.

What Others Think

Tony Byrne writes the following in a recent CMS Watch article:

...a CMS should offer at least 4 and ideally 5 of the following attributes:

  1. Authoring and/or Transformation Services
  2. Repository Services
  3. Workflow Engine
  4. Templating Engine
  5. Promotion and Distribution Services

Read the full article here...

James Robertson of Step Two Designs says this:

A content management system (CMS) supports the creation, management, distribution, publishing, and discovery of corporate information.

It covers the complete lifecycle of the pages on your site, from providing simple tools to create the content, through to publishing, and finally to archiving.

It also provides the ability to manage the structure of the site, the appearance of the published pages, and the navigation provided to the users.

Note that we are focusing on the most common use of a CMS: to manage web content. In some circles, these systems are therefore called web management systems (WMS).

Content management systems can be much broader than this...

Read the full article here...

We like James's definition best of all the definitions we've found so far, as it is the most comprehensive and wide reaching. However it should be noted that his definition has a focus on web content. Many content management systems (including cm3) are more object-driven - they will allow you to manage content that is created or delivered not only on the web but via other channels as well.

Extending the Definition of Content Management

There are many issues that are related to the core definition of content management. We think a full featured content management system should provide more than what James Robertson and Tony Byrne outlined above.

Think of "content" as any object of information that is being sent, received, created, stored, or otherwise managed in some way. A good content management software package should provide a framework upon which to build the tools required to connect humans with this information. A good CMS should include following elements:

  • Tools to help build any kind of content driven web interface
  • Forms management
  • User management
  • Personalisation services, i.e. the ability to target content to individual users and groups
  • Authentication
  • Starting points for purpose-specific content management applications - e.g. forums, surveys, shops, websites, intranet tools, extranet tools, information input and tracking, etc.
  • Index and search (well, James Robertson outlined this already)
  • Tools to help integration with other data management systems

How Content Management Relates to DM, KM, DAM, SCM, CRM, and DRM

When considering what a CMS should include, it is useful to know about other kinds of data management software. Different approaches to information management systems are hard to categorise, but consider the following types of information management systems:

  • DAM: Digital Asset Management
  • DM: Document Management
  • KM: Knowledge Management
  • SCM: Software Configuration Management
  • CRM: Customer Relationship Management
  • DRM: Digital Rights Management
  • CM: Content Management

Rather than explain what each of the above product categories aims to achieve, we'll point you to an excellent article by Tony Byrne from CMS Watch - The “IM” Product Universe.

Like Tony, we think that content management lies at the centre of all of these information management categories. We think that although a good CMS should not aim to be all things to all people (since other software packages provide excellent support for requirements in different niches), it should support the processes involved with (and to a certain extent, provide the functionality for) all of the topics outlined above.

What Do You Think?

Do you agree or disagree with our view of content management? Have we answered your questions?