Transitioning to a new CCMS (podcast)
In episode 103 of The Content Strategy Experts podcast, Alan Pringle and Bill Swallow share some considerations for transitioning into a new component content management system or CCMS.
“You need to look at the requirements you have now. Are they being supported or not supported? Do you see this system helping you move forward with your content goals in three to five years?”
– Alan Pringle
Bill Swallow: Welcome to The Content Strategy Experts podcast brought to you by Scriptorium. Since 1997, Scriptorium has helped companies manage, structure, organize, and distribute content in an efficient way. In this episode, we share some considerations for transitioning into a new component content management system or CCMS. Hi everyone. I’m Bill Swallow, and today I’m here with Alan Pringle.
Alan Pringle: Hello everyone.
BS: And we’re going to jump into a discussion about when we should be switching our component content management systems. So I think Alan, I’ll probably start off with a question to you. How do you know it’s time to move on with your existing CCMS?
AP: Well, everybody’s situation is going to be a little different, but in general, there’s some things that you can look out for as warning signs you may need to reconsider your CCMS. One of them being, sure things worked great when you stood the system up, but now a few years later, you’re finding that it is not scaling to meet your needs. You’ve got a whole lot more content in it. You have some feature sets that may not be there, that would be very helpful to you. So it’s a matter of, is that system keeping up with your growth and your changes? Is it keeping pace?
AP: In regard to the feature sets that I just talked about, if you discover that you’re spending a lot of time doing customizations to make things work for you, that may be a warning sign that you need to take a look at what some other systems offer as out of the box features because you do not want to be in this loop where you are spending a lot of time and money and investing in a system by basically doing patchwork add-ons to it. That’s not sustainable in the long run. If there is a system that has the feature that you’re looking for automatically, it may be worth considering that system, instead of doing this patchwork add-on to your existing setup.
AP: We’ve also seen cases where we had a client that was involved in a merger. And because of that, there were multiple component content management systems in the mix from the different, mostly technical publications departments that merged together from the different companies. So when you find yourself in a situation where you have acquired another company or you’re being acquired, you may have a situation where you’ve got overlap in your tool ecosystem, and in general, a company is not going to want to support two tools that do the same thing.
AP: So you have to take a look kind of from a bigger business point of view, at what the overarching goals and efficiencies that the company wants to make. And some of those efficiencies may be, we’re not going to have two CCMS’s here, we need to migrate everything to one. And I think it’s worth mentioning in that case, just because you’ve got two systems in house, you may want to look at a third option, so that way, you are really not picking winners and losers because everyone has to move. I am not saying that is the perfect solution for everybody, but it’s absolutely something you should consider, if you do participate in a merger and have some overlapping systems.
BS: So everyone shares the pain pretty much. Okay, so let’s say we made the decision that we have outgrown our existing CCMS. How do we start to evaluate new options?
AP: Well, you need to gather information and you can do it internally, kind of be your own consultant, or you can hire someone to come in to help you do this. Basically, you need to take a look at the requirements that you have now, how well they’re being supported or not supported, as the case may be. And kind of break out your crystal ball. Where do you see things three to five years? Do you think this system is going to support you and some new things you may need down the road? So, that’s the kind of thinking you have to do. How well are you being supported in the present, and do you see this system helping you move forward in three to five years with your content goals?
BS: And I think once you start putting all this information together, at that point, you may want to consider doing a request for proposals from multiple different vendors. And in that case, definitely include your existing vendor because there may be something that you may not currently have in your existing configuration that they may be able to offer as well. Plus you’ll be able to use them as a baseline against your other options.
AP: Yeah, it’s not necessarily that you have to immediately assume that your current vendor is no longer going to be part of the picture. There may be a chance that they have new offerings, new features like you mentioned, and you can use the RFP process to kind of uncover some of that too. And from a business procurement point of view, I am sure your procurement department is not going to be disappointed to get a chance to renegotiate a contract. That’s just gross. And I know it sounds very matter of fact, but it’s the truth. It’s a matter of renegotiating and looking at a tool and seeing if it’s supporting things and what kind of funding is going to be required with any update that you have with that tool, if you choose to stick with it.
BS: Okay. So we’ve identified issues with our existing CCMS. We’ve gone through and identified a new option, whether it’s to stay with the existing one with some changes or to move to a new system. What are some of the common issues or roadblocks that you might encounter as you start to switch systems?
AP: This is true of anytime you switch technology, even if you, for example, were on an Android phone and you changed to iOS on an iPhone. There are going to be some features in one operating system that are not going to be exactly equivalent on the other side, you’re going to lose some features and you may gain some features. So you may have something set up that is very specific and tailored to the particular tool, the particular CCMS you’re using now. Is there anything in that, that is not going to translate well or come over to the new system? And there’s several components here in regard to this. Are there features you were using that are specific to that particular CCMS, that are not supported because it’s a proprietary feature, in whatever you’re moving to? That’s one consideration. And then another side of that is, do you have any connectivity, any connections to other kinds of systems?
AP: And this can include a learning management system, a digital asset management system, a translation management system. Are those connections that you have, can you get the equivalent setup in the new CCMS? Are there automatic API connectors from your new system to these things? Are you going to have to rebuild or completely recreate your existing connectors when you move to a new system? So you’ve got to look at anything that is very particular to the CCMS that you’re currently in and how well that will transition over. And then you have to think about your bigger tool ecosystem and how those things are connected and how you’re going to basically reconnect everything together when you switch to a new CCMS.
BS: So I’d also expect in this case, if in your existing CCMS, you’ve been making a lot of customizations on your own and hacks and whatever else to get things to work properly, you’re probably going to have to find either a resolution for those or unwind them, even in your content, perhaps, as you start migrating to a new system.
AP: Exactly. And this goes back to what we were talking about earlier, where if you have done a ton of customization to your CCMS, at what point do you say, “Is enough, is enough. I can’t keep adding and adding these custom hacks to this tool because it’s becoming inefficient.” That very much ties into what you’re talking about here.
BS: Okay. So we’ve talked about problems in the existing, evaluating new options and problems when you’re probably migrating. So what can you do to make this transition a success?
AP: Well, this is a tiresome piece of advice, but its solid advice, and that is, you need to make a transition plan. This is not something you can just jump into. You need to take a look at your “real work schedules,” because you do not want to be making this transition, when you have deadlines, deliverables, anything going on at your company where you’ve got a new product release coming out. That is not the time to do this. So you need to step back, look at what’s coming schedule wise, in the next few months, figure out when would be a good time to do this, and then start giving some thought about, “Okay, what might be the first thing that we can try and move over?” You may want to try to do a pilot to move over just some of your content to be sure that everything has stood up correctly, instead of going whole hog and doing everything at once. Those are two things that immediately pop into my mind.
BS: And probably keep both stood up and keep using the old one as your production system until everything is verified as complete on the new one.
AP: Absolutely. I think you also need to basically take a very deep breath and realize things are going to go wrong and be flexible and be ready to deal with things that are going to go sideways because they will. And there are going to be some things you may have an inkling, this may be a little challenge, but there may be other aspects you haven’t even considered that cause you problems. So you can’t go in with this super rigid idea, we must hit this exactly right, because in general, technology is going to wag its finger in your face and say, “I do not think so. I’m going to cause you a problem here.” But some planning can minimize those things, but I don’t know about you, I’ve yet to see any transition from one tool to another, CCMS or otherwise, that was perfectly smooth, and there were no hiccups. I have yet to see that ever happen, period.
BS: No, there’s no golden system. Going back to your phone analogy between Android and iPhone, there are excellent things about each one of them, but they also both have their problems.
AP: Exactly. And then finally, too, because you are moving to a new tool, you’ve got to realize skills people had in the old tool set, are not going to be quite as useful. So you’re going to have to provide training and support to be sure people can basically remap the skills they had from the old tool to the new tool. And that may be a little rough, especially if people have really invested a lot of time and thinking into workarounds to get things to work in the old system. And those things are no longer available. That’s a lot of muscle memory you’re going to have to undo with some training and best practice information, so people don’t keep doing those workarounds because they’re no longer needed.
BS: All sound advice. And I think we could probably wrap up here. Thank you, Alan.
BS: And thank you for listening to The Content Strategy Experts podcast brought to you by Scriptorium. For more information, visit scriptorium.com or check the show notes for relevant links.