This is a post that I’ve been meaning to write for a while. having seen plenty of examples over the years of web content management replacement projects and a common perception that any problem is a tools problem.

Also, I confess having been in sales situations as a vendor that have preyed on the fact that an organization perceived that their incumbent product couldn’t do x, y or z when, in truth you can be fairly sure something has gone wrong along the way.

Yes, we are in an industry that is driven by change, of the next best thing, but.. I just want to take a moment and think about the merits of  sticking with what we have…

Let me start by saying that there are plenty of reasons why folks should reconsider their current content platform and it can be a great time to rejuvenate a strategy or hitch your wagon onto something that will change your business. Our industry has gone through an incredible amount of consolidation, support may longer exist or the product is heading into the sunset. In addition, of course organizations outgrow products that were selected to satisfy the requirements of the organization and it’s website visitors three or five years ago.

Or have they? If your current vendor is healthy and someone is not taking your product of choice round the back of the barn (to be quietly shot) then maybe it’s time to take a look at your incumbent and poke around a bit at the rest of your strategy.

Projects that stem from the earlier days of our business are most vulnerable, early versions of content management systems were little more than toolkits and a successful project was in the lap of the implementation gods. The users are actually interacting with the goodness (or badness) of the implementation, forged in a time when the joy of the content author was of secondary importance to all that front end heavy lifting that no-one told [insert your own SI name here] needed to happen.  Fast forward to today and those same users now have the procurement whip hand.

This poor old project is also named after the vendor, so in the lexicon of the organization the vendor name and the project name become fused. The water cooler and the boardroom are a buzz with how [insert your own vendor name here] doesn’t let Doris approve a content item, has produced a dated website or is at the root of the CEO’s e-Engagement problem. No mention of the crew that implemented it and the long forgotten undocumented feature that would be the answer to all of Doris’s prayers.

The truth of course is that a bad content strategy, poor content governance, outdated content or a dated design cannot be solved with the procurement (or download) of tools – however good they are. If a company finds it’s out of stock of a product or revenue is down they don’t smash up their calculators, ditch SAP or Oracle Financials.

In a continuation from the theme of my last post, it’s a complete folly to take a look at a poor website, it’s design and content and say you need Drupal (or something else). Yes – that could be true, but a look at a website isn’t going to tell if it’s the existing CMS that’s an impediment to a new  design. Nor will it tell you that the CMS is throttling adoption or preventing sound content governance. You simply cannot assume (Open Source or not) that the underlying technology is the issue.

Which brings me rather neatly to having a problem with the one dimensional cost based value proposition that Open Source is presented with (I was encouraged to see in a recent tweet that long time CMS analyst Tony Byrne shares this view). The proposition that an organization will replace something they have already paid for simply on the basis that it’s free (or err.. more free?) is absurd. There needs to be more than a replacement product is (supposedly) free to justify this move.

Yes, yes, support and maintenance (on both open source and commercial products)  makes this point more complex than I am expressing here, but you get the point.

Support and maintenance, oh yes… while everyone hates paying it, organizations should make sure they are getting best value from it. Being on the latest version is a start, but why not leverage all that lovely R&D investment that your vendor has been ploughing in and use the new features? Maybe a post for another day – but why do large organizations only do this in three year cycles with capital expenditure? Why aren’t our web projects being constantly tweaked and fettered?

Plus of course, you throw in the cost of a procurement process and migration – this new working web strategy doesn’t get delivered by the stork.

Aaaah.. you say.. Truscott you vendor Pollyanna you (or far less polite suggestions about my integrity), let me also turn my attention to the vendor folks that have allowed this to happen.

What happened after the back slapping of go-live and between the support calls?

If Mr Vendor Man you put all your effort into chasing a new piece of skirt, how can you blame the customers if they too decide to flirt with a younger model and dismiss you when you come a courtin’ when times are tough?

We read about vendors chasing folks that transgress their license agreements (which is all fair and proper) but how about an effort into helping customers get value out of current licenses?

If we recognize that a big chunk of the WCM business is this perpetual motion machine of replacement business – this high level of touch, of customer care is surely a better long term business strategy as you ring fence this as my happy customer.

So, both side need to take a look at this relationship, but organizations be careful – that might be a perfectly good baby that you are throwing out with that grubby old bath water…