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As a supplier of component content management products, we’ve seen it all when it comes to technology selection processes with our prospective customers. The good, the bad, and the ugly. If you’re looking for some free advice on a better way to choose your CCMS – and by better I mean faster and less aggravating for you and your vendors of choice – please consider these tips:

  1. Don’t start looking for technology until you’ve completed your Information Architecture. You need to finish work on your content strategy and content model before you begin to select a CMS, because both of these inform your CCM requirements. You wouldn’t believe how many organizations start looking at CMS technologies before they’ve even made their minds up about adopting DITA or component content, let alone complete the IA work that needs to be done to adopt DITA and implement a component content strategy.
  2. Document your technology requirements – in the form of capabilities – and clearly identify what is essential (a.k.a. “kill criteria”) and what is nice to have. Kill criteria are things that you can absolutely not live without.
  3. Use your kill criteria to develop a short list of potential CCMS products.
  4. Write short scenarios or user stories that you want to see demonstrated in each product. For example, you want to see how an author uses the product to create a reusable Topic in DITA, or how a content manager composes a DITA Map, or how a release manager Publishes a DITA map. This gets out of the trap of feature checklists, which ultimately don’t help you differentiate between competing products.
  5. Arrange demos of your short list products, and have the vendors follow the user stories you’ve developed. If possible, provide some sample content to the vendors. Be sure to give them plenty of time to demonstrate the use cases without rushing them. Don’t schedule more than two demos in a day to give your team time to debrief after each demo, and allow for more demo time if you want it.
  6. Select a product and complete a pilot project. Be sure the vendor gives you a way to access the CMS product for a pilot project with no long term commitment. The pilot project should follow a “real” project from soup to nuts. This means authors evaluating content creation, SMEs and authors evaluating collaboration, project managers evaluating reporting and review/approval workflow, and release managers evaluating publishing and localization capabilities. You should have clearly defined success criteria for your pilot, and share these with your software vendor (and services provider if you are getting professional services help from a consultant or systems integrator).
  7. Evaluate the pilot outcomes, make appropriate adjustments to your content strategy and content model, tweak your requirements (and perhaps your expectations), and either confirm going forward with your first choice, or fall back to the next CMS option if the pilot was not a success.

Sure I’m with a CCM vendor now, but for years I was a content management consultant and solution architect, and I helped many organizations choose CMS and search technology. Everything I say here is a best practice that I’ve recommended to consulting clients. I hope you find this helpful – and I welcome your feedback.

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