“What CCMS should we buy?”
It’s a common question with no easy answer. This article provides a roadmap for CCMS evaluation and selection.
First, a few definitions. A CCMS (component content management system) is different from a CMS (content management system). You need a CCMS to manage chunks of information, such as reusable warnings, topics, or other small bits of information that are then assembled into larger documents. A CMS is for managing the results, like white papers, user manuals, and other documents.
1. Why do you need a CCMS?
The very first step in CCMS evaluation is to determine why you need a CCMS. (Sorry, this sounds like a Fight Club reference.) What business problem are you trying to solve? I am amazed at the number of people who think they need a CCMS but cannot articulate why. Some common reasons for CCMS implementation are increases in:
- Volume of content
- Translation requirements
- Velocity of content
Before you do anything, understand the scope of your problem and whether a CCMS can solve it. What is broken? Is it more broken than last year? Why? Some common examples of problems that a CCMS will not solve are:
- Content is inaccurate.
- Writers lack necessary technical expertise.
- Departments are siloed because of a lack of mutual professional respect.
- Content creators refuse to follow style guides because their content is special.
- In short, all of the People Things™.
If you have issues with People Things, you need to address those in addition to (and preferably before) any CCMS initiatives.
2. What is your ROI?
CCMS implementation is expensive. The cost of CCMS software varies, but implementation is expensive no matter what. Assuming you have a problem that a CCMS will address, your next step is to calculate your approximate return on investment. You’re looking for a rough order of magnitude here, and much of this calculation is driven by your scale. If, for example, you have 50 full-time content creators, and you assume a loaded cost of $100,000 per person per year, then a 10 percent improvement in efficiency is equal to around $500,000 in yearly savings.
By contrast, if your annual translation budget is $50,000, you probably won’t find ROI justification in cutting translation costs.
You can build ROI based on:
- Cost avoidance
- Increased revenue
Cost avoidance is an efficiency argument: “If we buy X, we can do task Y with less effort.”
Increased revenue is an investment argument: “If we buy X, we will get more income from Y.”
Time is usually a time-to-market argument: “If we buy X, we can deliver Y in two months instead of six months.”
Our XML business case calculator lets you estimate your potential ROI from a transition from desktop publishing to XML.
Once you have some sort of idea of the cost improvement (the “return” part of ROI), you can move on to figure out the other side of the equation–how much do you need to invest? Your initial cost estimates will tell you what class of CCMS you should be looking at. For general guidance, refer to our XML workflow costs article.
3. There is no bad CCMS. Only bad fits for you.
The trick to buying the right CCMS is to find the one that meets your requirements. Every system on the market has strengths and weaknesses. There is no single Best CCMS, nor is there a Bad CCMS. What we have is systems that are better in some scenarios than others. Therefore, you need to figure out the following:
- What are your priorities?
- Which system best matches your priorities?
Figuring out your own requirements is your job. Once you have some vague idea of what you need and have done preliminary research, consider issuing a formal RFI (request for information) to get better vendor information.
At this point, you should not be issuing an RFP (request for proposal). You don’t know exactly what you want to ask for yet.
4. What features do you need?
“What features do you need in a CCMS?”
Well, duh. Let’s ask a better question: “What features do you need beyond the basics?” Answers in the past few years from different clients have included items such as:
- “We have no IT support, so the system needs to be SaaS (software-as-a-service).”
- “The system must not be SaaS.”
- “The system must integrate with [SAP | web CMS | others].”
- “The system must generate output via [this protocol] to [this format].”
- “The interface must be available in [this language].”
- “The system must cost less than [this amount].”
- “The system must align with the branching techniques we use in [this software development tool].”
- “The system must be installed and running by [some very soon date].”
- “The system must support [this content model].”
You want to thoroughly understand your exact requirements and constraints so that you can narrow down your choices quickly. Don’t make a list of boring stuff that every CCMS does. It’s a waste of everyone’s time, especially yours.
Instead, do the following:
- Identify your most unique requirements (regulatory? system architecture? content volume? languages?)
- Write up detailed use cases for your most critical requirements and use those to evaluate the systems
Your use case scenarios will help you evaluate the candidates and figure out whether they really meet your requirements.
5. Is extensibility important?
How will your CCMS interact with other systems? Which other systems do you need to interact with? If extensibility is important, focus on the systems that provide a good starting point for this type of integration.
6. What is your exit strategy?
Start planning your exit strategy on the way in. If you ever decide you want to take your content and shift it to another system, will you be able to do so? What is your exit strategy?
7. Vendor relationship
Can you communicate successfully with the CCMS vendor? If not, the implementation and integration process is going to be extremely painful.
Don’t play games with your vendors. The CCMS world is extremely small. People move from one software vendor to another constantly. As a result, there is an excellent industry grapevine. Bad behavior, whether by CCMS vendors, by consultants, or by potential CCMS buyers, is not an option–word gets around quickly.
Not too long ago, I asked a colleague about working with a particular prospect, who seemed a bit….difficult. His response? “Run. Run fast. Then hide.”
Test your vendor relationship with a low-budget, low-commitment pilot project.
This brief overview only scratches the surface of what you need to consider. More resources:
- Paul Wlodarczyk wrote an excellent article at easyDITA.com that covers similar ground. I particular like his discussion of “kill criteria” and use cases.
- Need more support? We offer consulting services for CCMS assessment. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, use our contact form, or just pick up the phone (!) and call +1 919-481-2701, (ext.) 118.