a sunset over water
PHOTO: Iain Rattray

You could have the best web content management system (WCM) in the world, delivering game-changing digital customer experiences. But remember: it’s not yours. Your vendor can pack its bags any day and leave. Mergers happen

Forrester analyst Ted Schadler called WCM the backbone of digital experience delivery, so this isn't a problem you can just ignore. So what can you do if your vendor is sunsetting its WCM? There are a few ways to prepare so your organization is ready for whatever comes next.

Get Clarity from WCM Vendor

Tony Byrne, founder and CEO of Real Story Group, said organizations need to get clear about what “sunset” really means in terms of ongoing support and security patches. “Some vendors,” he said, “are more responsible here than others, and this could seriously affect your timeline."

Also understand, Byrne added, how strategic the WCM is for your enterprise. “If it’s mission-critical,” he said, “than the answer above (from your vendor) becomes really critical.” 

Byrne said starting the process of selecting an alternative is a good thing. “But,” he added, “don’t panic: take the time to do it right.” The bigger problem here in the WCM industry, Byrne said, is not products that are formally sunsetted. That’s pretty rare, Byrne said. It’s the “undead” products that present big headaches for practitioners: those technically alive WCMs that are on perpetual life support.

Related Article: 10 Factors to Consider When Choosing a Web CMS

Reach Out to Your Development Partners

Chris Plamann, director of marketing at the BakerCorp, lived through a sunsetting WCM scenario with vendor Ektron. Episerver acquired the WCM provider in late 2014. The story unfolded over weeks through various media reports and scuttlebutt at industry conferences. “If you were an Ektron customer at the time, and you were paying any attention at all, you had an idea that something was going to happen,” Plamann told CMSWire. “Not that we saw the actual merger coming, but Ektron had a relatively small ecosystem of support partners, so it would’ve been difficult not to have heard some of the rumors.”

His team immediately got in touch with its Ektron development partner to discuss implications of the merger. “Sunsetting the system was obviously a main topic in that initial conversation,” Plamann added.

Keep Up With the News 

Social channels, developer communities and internal user groups are all good ways to keep up with developments over a potentially sunsetting WCM. Plamann said his team turned to online research. He said he remembers CMSWire “having a couple of good posts on the merger and the situation that Ektron customers found themselves in.” He remembered reading former Ektron CMO Tom Wentworth’s piece on LinkedIn in which he predicted Ektron customers "now face a future where their web content management platform won't keep pace with the massive pace of change needed to deliver exceptional digital experiences."

Related Article: 7 Signs You Need a New Content Management System

Explore Other WCM Options

In BakerCorp’s case, they decided to reach out to the acquirer (Episerver) for a demo and to discuss options. Plamann’s team had only rolled out on the Ektron platform about a year prior to the merger and “really didn’t consider immediately switching to another platform. We did discuss looking at Episerver and getting a feel for potential incentives to move over.” Plamann’s team wanted to simply get as much information as possible. “Obviously, we wanted to understand Episerver’s plans for the Ektron platform to get a sense for the timeframe in which we needed to make a decision,” he said. “And Episerver definitely made themselves available for all the Ektron customers. But it was pretty clear that although they never said ‘sunset’ regarding their plans for Ektron, the clock was ticking with regard to the investment being made in keeping the product current with other content management systems.” 

Get Impartial Views

Four years later, Plamann’s team was actively looking at a new WCM platform in preparation for a potential redesign project. He said he highly recommends attending relevant conferences, whether digital experience or WCM-specific, to talk to others involved in the area — and not just vendors. He caught up recently with a number of DX experts, “many of whom really didn’t have any skin in the game in terms of recommending one platform over another." "It’s a good way,” Plamann added, “to get a range of viewpoints on various platforms, but also the system selection process.”

Related Article: 5 Things to Consider Before Abandoning Your Current WCM System

Plan for the Inevitable

Irina Guseva, research director at Gartner, has worked for CMS vendors in the past, including Adobe and BloomReach. She recognizes changes in the WCM industry is just a way of life. “Vendors change, customers change and one just has to adapt to this,” she said. “It's much better to have a proactive strategy rather than sticking with a WCM vendor that you know is not going anywhere. It's a hard, but necessary decision, as your entire digital business depends on the WCM platform.” Think two steps ahead of your vendor, she said. “Some say, ‘if it ain't broken, don't fix it,’” Guseva said. “I'd say: ‘Expect it to break soon and have a plan to go forward.’”

Do Some Spring WCM Cleaning

Changing a WCM platform is always a good opportunity to do some "spring cleaning" when it comes to customer journeys, personalization techniques, content refresh, analytics, information architecture, design and UX. “Use this opportunity to map out long-term strategic planning for your digital experience strategy,” Guseva said. “But take an agile, step-by-step approach, as opposed to the gigantic, do-it-all at once implementation that takes forever and doesn't give you any ROI or faster time to value.”

Related Article: 9 Tips to Consider When Selecting a Digital Experience Platform 

Look for Stability and Long-Term Product Strategy

When your WCM is being sunsetted, and it's time to select a new WCM vendor, be extra vigilant. “If a typical cycle of WCM replacement is five to seven years, you want to make sure to get the best out of your next ‘partner’ in digital life,” Guseva said. “You should look for stability, holistic product strategy, openness in terms of APIs and integrations, future-proofed capabilities and vision to get you through the next decade.” Organizations should consider DX/WCM vendors that will support them not only today, Guseva said, but in their long-term strategy.