LavaCon Session Summary: Robert Rhyne Armstrong on the Perfect CMS

Day 3 of Lavacon 2011

The Perfect CMS: Brass Ring or Unattainable Goal?

Robert Rhyne Armstrong presents the challenges and strategies involved with selecting a content management system (CMS) that will offer the best solution for everyone.  A CMS is a system that provides an environment for users to collaborate, share and organize information and documents. His straightforward approach guides technical communicators to choose the right CMS, and he suggests asking serious questions before committing to a system.

According to Armstrong, there are over 1000 CMSs listed on CMSMatrix.org. With that many available, it is often difficult to choose one CMS solution.

A useful method for navigating the maze of content management is to ask the hard questions: How will it be used? Who will operate the system? What platform will it exist on? Where will the data be stored? Will it use legacy systems?  Then the big important question: open source or commercial?

Even if the CMS is open source, this does not necessarily mean free. There are pros and cons for utilizing an open source CMS; for example, they are usually less expensive to operate than proprietary systems, and some open source software systems have a large community of people actively using it who are willing to share their knowledge and code. In addition, in choosing an open source CMS, there is the open source code to work from, a usable Application Programming Interface (API), and a more flexible structure.

However, the pitfall with using an open source CMS is there is no “real” support, it may have poor documentation, and it may cost more with customized add-ons. It can become even costlier if a plug-in that the website relies on fails work with future security updates of the CMS. In other words, any given CMS may not be the correct solution for everyone.

Armstrong offers this recommendation to technical communicators when selecting a CMS: “Evaluate on their merits, not on their origins.” What he means is to look from the perspective of the customer, author, and administrator. Each user is going to use the CMS differently, so the software should meet the needs of all three of these user types. However, the strongest argument for choosing a particular CMS is based on one’s own preference.

Once you choose a content management system, live with that decision. Armstrong explains it distinctively as the Puppy Theory. If the puppy is trained incorrectly, there can be consequences in the future. He emphasizes looking beyond the “puppy period” and taking some time to evaluate how the CMS will be used from all angles: users, data, features, and maintenance.

Is there a perfect CMS? Instead of thinking that there is a perfect system, look from the perspective that “it could be perfect for you.”

The takeaways from this session are:

  • Narrow down the selection of potential CMSs
  • Evaluate who will use the system and what kind of technology is behind it
  • Ask the hard questions first and seek help from the community forums
  • Select a system that is flexible enough for the type of work it will be used for
  • Prepare for time and costs required to implement the CMS
  • Test the system out before making a final decision

In the end, there is hope to finding a CMS that works well for your needs.

Twitter: @Ninety7
Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/ninety7/the-perfect-cms-brass-ring-or-unattainable-goal

Roger is relatively new to the technical communication field; however, he works extremely hard to network and develop professional relationships among colleagues. He also posts articles regarding technical communication on his blog at WriteTechie.com. If you are interested in hiring Roger, feel free to view his resume on LinkedIn.

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