We all know content management systems (CMS) can be beneficial for most websites. However, they do come with five hidden costs.
Many think of a content management system as a magic bullet that solves all of their content woes. Unfortunately the cost of a CMS is greater than its price tag. Before making a decision about whether to adopt a CMS, or indeed which CMS to choose, you first need to be aware of the hidden costs. These include:
- The cost of training
- The cost to quality
- The cost to functionality
- The cost of redundancy and flexibility
- The cost of commitment
It is important that you understand the impact of each beginning with the cost of training.
The cost of training
Probably the most obvious hidden cost is that of training. No matter how well designed the application or how good the documentation, some level of training is normally required. In my experience training is particularly important with free open source systems. These tend to have less documentation and the interface is often designed by programmers rather than user experience experts. The result is a great learning curve.
The more content production is delegated, the more people it is necessary to train. Whether this is done through onsite training or video tutorials it is still a considerable cost.
Although training maybe an obvious expense it is not without surprises. Organisations often fail to consider that training has an ongoing cost. The more people using a system the higher the likelihood somebody will need to be replaced. This carries with it a cost in both time and money.
This ongoing cost is not limited to training new CMS users. Existing content provider also require refresher courses if they are not using the CMS regularly. I have often provided training for an organisation only to receive a call six months later because people have forgotten how to login. This is because they used the system so infrequently.
Unfortunately the price of having a lot of people editing your site is the cost of increased training. However, that is not the only cost that grows with numbers. So does the cost to quality.
The cost to quality
In some ways, what a CMS gives with one hand it takes away with the other. Quality and control are classic examples of this. Enterprise level content management systems have complex workflow tools that prevent new content from going live until it has been checked and double checked. This is designed specifically to ensure the quality of content being posted online.
The problem with this is two fold. First, this kind of functionality is only normally found in more expensive systems. Second, few organisations implement this kind of quality control because it creates a bottleneck in the approval process. This bottleneck is precisely the kind of problem a CMS was supposed to solve.
I think this highlights a substantial problem with content management systems. They are often implemented in the hope they will solve what is an organizational rather than technical problem. Unfortunately technology cannot solve everything.
At one extreme you can open up your CMS to allow anybody to post to your site. This will lead to a decline in the quality of your content. On the other you can limit access and create a bottleneck where only one or two individuals can make content live. The technology can offer you lots of options along that sliding scale. What you need to do is find a happy medium.
Of course, at least a CMS offers this control. That is more than an HTML driven website can. However, a non CMS driven site does allow more flexibility when it comes to functionality.
The cost to functionality
When you have a website that is not built on a CMS the possibilities are endless. Because you have complete control over your code, it is possible to build any additional functionality you require. However, once you commit to a content management system things become more complex.
Although it is possible to build additional functionality that sits alongside your CMS there can be problems with integration. For example, if your CMS does not have a forum and you wish to add one, you may have to ask users to login twice. Once for the site and once for the forum. Equally you may find it hard to tie your CMS in with other systems that you later purchase.
Some content management systems provide plugins to add additional functionality. However, often you are forced to either compromise or wait until the next release of the CMS and hope it supports your requirements.
Although you may find yourself frustrated by a lack of functionality, it is equally possible to be frustrated by too much.
The cost of redundancy and complexity
Unless you have a bespoke content management system, developed to your exact requirements it will probably contain functionality you do not need. That is because off the shelf solutions are designed to appeal to a wide audience.
Not only does this mean you pay for unwanted functionality, it also adds complexity to the user interface. The more functionality, the more complexity, the more to learn.
It is a problem that applications such as Microsoft Word have suffered from for years. Word is very powerful and provides an enormous range of features. The problem is that the majority of people only use a fraction of what is available. The result is that most pay for functionality they do not use, and struggle to learn what is a complex application. This is the problem many content management systems are facing.
The reason people have not stopped using Word and move instead to something simpler, is that they are invested both financially and in time. This brings us to the final drawback of content management systems.
The cost of commitment
Content management systems demand a high level of commitment on many fronts. These include:
- The upfront financial investment in implementing the system
- The cost and time involved in training staff
- The substantial amount of data entered into the system
The third area can be particularly tricky. Once your content is in a content management system it is not always a simple matter to get it out.
With such an investment in both time and money it is important to make the right selection of system. Changing your mind later is expensive.
So am I suggesting you should avoid content management systems entirely? Not at all. The benefits they provide are real and cannot be ignored. However, I am saying that you should go into the process of selecting a content management system with your eyes wide open. A content management system is not a magic bullet that solves all your content woes. However, it can be a useful tool if selected carefully.