No other enterprise system has the same three to five year churn that we see with web content management systems. 

In many cases, the push to replace happens just after the three year mark, when you've finally embedded the CMS into the fabric of the larger organization. 

These platforms provide the foundation of your digital customer experiences. Replacing them only becomes more disruptive the more integral they become to your business. 

Replacement brings up issues of technical integration complexity, as you try to untangle the CMS's long tentacles into the back office. Complexity also arises when trying to balance the needs and requirements of the diverse and vocal stakeholders from across the business, and the requirements of satisfying an increasingly savvy user base.  

In other words, this replacement is a big deal. 

Tip #4: Before Anything Else, Understand the Needs of the Organization

Vendor marketing, demonstrations and slideware can be very persuasive. As is the feeling that your platform is out of date or that your organization is falling behind the cool kids in your field. 

It’s easy to get sucked into a whirlwind of feature and function promises made by the people who have a vested interest in a re-platform — the analysts or consultants helping you select the solution or the people that will implement it. 

But, this is more of a plea than a tip: Invest in understanding the needs of the organization, your audience and your users before doing anything else. 

Do this before the first vendor meeting or demo, before the first chat with your favorite consultants, your agency or analyst organization of choice. 

Make this a formal inquiry. Don't just ask around or bust out the whiteboard pens to brainstorm with your nearest and dearest stakeholders. Invest in understanding the customer journey, the persona-led user experience design (and of course, remember the author persona we covered previously).

Tip #5: Ask Why

When you understand your organization's needs, ask a hard why. Use your fresh set of requirements and ask: why do you need to re-platform? 

I’ve written about this before in Throwing the Vendor Baby Out with the Implementation Bathwater. Take a look at your incumbent platform. With a little love it might make the grade. 

If not, you are ready for tip number six.

Tip #6: Select CMS Tools Based on Real, Relevant Scenarios, Not Just Features and Functions

Investing in a new platform can be entirely justified at times. 

The market was probably a different place when your organization selected its last CMS three to five years ago. Acquisitions have taken place, products that were once the sweethearts of the marketplace were underinvested in, new products have come to the fore.

Lead your selection process with the specific needs of your organization, your users and your audience (as established in tip four), rather than getting distracted by new shiny features and functions. 

The best way to communicate those needs to suppliers is through a set of well-defined scenarios. 

Use these scenarios consistently throughout the early life of the CMS project: during the selection of the vendor and implementation partner, the POC, the pilot and the acceptance testing when it’s time to go live. 

Compared to the traditional, dry, dull request for proposal spreadsheet, where vendors can simply copy and paste “fully compliant” into every cell, a scenario brings your requirements to life and gives the vendor something to engage with. 

Yes, they may grumble and try to show their standard demo, focusing on their platform's strong suits — but you may not want or need that functionality. 

Paying Dividends in the Long Run

All of these tips require investment up front. I’d encourage you to really invest the time and the talent in understanding your organization and your audience’s needs —this foundational work will pay dividends through the implementation project and beyond. 

After all you are hoping to make a decision that will last beyond three years. 

So there you have three quick tips on choosing the right solution. People have written whole books on this topic, this article just scratches the surface. In the next article we'll look at what happens post go-live, as we maintain the solution.

Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of four articles on breaking the web CMS replacement cycle. Be sure to read the others in this series here.

Title image by Jesse Bowser