children's blocks in a stack: 1,2,3 and A,B,C

Gerry McGovern recently asked why so much software sucks. The article made me think about why so many content projects fail. For example enterprises, instead of focusing on easing the capture of information, just expect people to put content into the system. Over in the web content universe, the focus is mainly on creating more content and less on why.

Both trends have been shifting as of late, for two reasons. The first is a focus on the user experience. After all, if people cannot use the essential elements of a system there is no reason to have the system. The second is the cloud. Cloud options are newer and tend to have those essential features and not much else. 

But at the end of the day, the real problem is us and our need to have the best, shiniest, new toys.

Ignore the Bells and Whistles: Deliver the Essential Experience

McGovern used tractors as an example of the current trend to overcomplicate technology. It made me remember an episode of Top Gear, where the hosts faced some challenges after buying tractors. The tractors were full of gadgets and features. During the course of the program, it became blindingly obvious which host was going to successfully plow their patch of land.

The host with the least complicated, least feature-rich tractor won.

This is the whole point. When comparing products and designs, it is too easy for buyers to get swept into buying cutting-edge features. They like vendor A because they have these cool features and they are heavily investing in AI. The reality is most organizations don’t spend enough time properly implementing the essential features.

Your website exists to achieve one or more goals. It may be answering a question, buying a product, attracting potential new hires, or simply providing directions to the office. Making sure the layout and content on the site does those things is important. Too many organizations simply throw together a menu, paste in some content, and start playing with the advanced features. They never realize that expending that effort on improving their existing content will achieve, or exceed, their desired goals.

Related Article: Content Management Vendors Pushing Shiny Objects

The Cloud's Advantage Was in Focusing on the Basics

In the enterprise space, the advent of cloud vendors has helped. Companies like Box started with a simple set of features. It focused on making it easy for people to put content into the system. Ensuring that people place content into the repository has been an ongoing problem in the ECM space. Companies like Box and Google proved that people would do the right thing if the system was easy to use.

In many ways, cloud vendors made large parts of the industry — who were still trying to get their success rates over 50% — look like fools.

But before we give cloud vendors too much credit, we need to acknowledge that they started from scratch. To drive adoption, those vendors had to focus on the essential functionality and make sure it was better than the incumbents. They correctly deduced that capturing and accessing content are the most important things.

That is the lesson that the industry has been absorbing. The goal isn’t one giant ECM system to rule them all. It is the right CMS seamlessly integrated into the employee’s day. If that is one or two different systems, then that is the trade-off for properly managing content.

It isn’t as if organizations only have one ECM platform. They have the one they bought last year to replace the previous one that people weren’t adopting. Except of course for Finance, which likes the older system because they were part of the initial proof-of-concept five years ago and it was tightly integrated with their financial processes. Meanwhile, manufacturing has been nursing along another system for 15 years because it has all the important information from the past two decades and the prospect of migrating things out is scary.

Breaking that cycle and intentionally having a few right CMSs that meet the needs is not asking too much.

Related Article: Is it Time We Declutter CMS?

Remember the 80/20 Rule

Everybody knows the 80/20 rule. People only use 20% of an application 80% of the time. The remaining 80% of that functionality also tends not to work if the first 20% isn't properly used. Organizations do not need the bells and whistles until they are getting the most out of the mission critical core of their enterprise applications.

The plus side is that for most modern applications, it isn't a problem if you choose not to buy or deploy the advanced features. Modern systems have strong APIs that allow you to hook into other components on demand. If you get your website humming along and you want to tie it more directly into your marketing automation, you can do that later. When you do, you will find that the automation is very effective because it is now augmenting a well-functioning digital experience.

And that is the goal. Do the essential things right. From there you can build and expand. That is how you do digital and that is how you will be able to lead in the 2020s.