Okay, okay, I’m already hearing these voices: “How can a content management vendor give recommendations on choosing a content management system? It’s all manipulative! Any vendor write such ‘recommendations’ in a way that brings a customer to the idea that the vendor’s CMS is the right one to choose”.
Look, I myself am very skeptical about any recommendation of this kind. Do you know why? Because before I co-founded DITAToo, I’ve worked for about 15 years as an independent consultant. I’m convinced that the analysis of customer’s needs should be done by someone independent who will find a solution that fits customer’s requirements in the best way.
I brought this concept to the way we work at DITAToo. Not in the sense that we are recommending competitive products, but in the sense that I have no problem of saying to a prospective customer after learning their needs “Listen, DITAToo is not for you, at least at this point”.
You can say that I’m not loyal to my own product, but I see it differently. For us, building a long-term relationship with a customer and keeping a customer happy is much more important than getting their money no matter what it takes. I love DITAToo and I believe this is a great product. But I also believe that loyalty and honesty with customers are not less important.
So helping a customer to choose a CMS that will solve their needs is a part of this. We do want customers to choose us, but only when this choice really solve their needs. Otherwise, I’d rather suggest you to continue your search than trying to sell you something that won’t bring you tangible benefits.
And now, after this wordy disclaimer, let me finally get to some recommendations on choosing a CMS.
* Ever never build a matrix that compares just features of different CMSs
Features alone don’t allow you to understand whether a CMS fits your needs. For example, let’s say you are looking for a possibility to branch versions. If you ask different vendors whether they support branching, chances are all of them will say you “yes, we do”. However, the question that you really need to ask them is how exactly they support it.
To get a meaningful answer, use scenarios. A scenario is a story written in plain English that describes (preferably, in a step-by-step manner) how your work process looks like. Ideally, you should end up with a set of scenarios with each scenario representing a specific requirement.
Then you can send these scenarios to different vendors and ask them how exactly they support each scenario. You may find that even if a vendor doesn’t have a feature as you called it, their CMS can still perfectly support your scenario using other means. Then you will need to estimate if these means are effective enough for you.
* Remember that there is no such thing as an ideal product
In any product, you’ll find that some features work better than the others. In rare cases, you can find a product that will be a 100% perfect match. So you need to prioritize what is a must-have, what you are ready to give up, and when you can agree to a workaround if the system doesn’t support your scenario in a way that you would expect.
* When evaluating a CMS, always use your real content
The famous DITA “garage” sample is very good to do a quick test to make sure your DITA OT installation works. But unless you are buying a CMS to manage these garage files, you have to use your real content that reflects your real scenarios – the same scenarios that you sent to vendors. Basically, your scenarios is something that you need to evaluate, and you can do this only by using your real content.
* Estimate the overall time required to set up the system
Always check how much time required to fully deploy a system and bring it to the state when you can fully exploit it.
* Always calculate the total cost of ownership
Don’t look just at the cost of licenses – it might be just a fraction of the costs that you’ll have to spend in an explicit or implicit way. For example, keep in mind:
** Complexity of installation and configuration: do you need a vendor’s assistance here? will they charge you for this? how much time will it take?
** Usage of proprietary technologies: are you locked by any mean into the product? what if you decide to migrate to another product?
** Recurring fees: are there any fees that you keep paying to the vendor after the purchase? what do they include? what happens if you discontinue paying them?
** Product documentation: is the product documented? can you just read a user’s guide or will you have to contact the vendor’s support? if you contact their support, do you have to pay?
These are just a few highlights that you should think about. If you are choosing a CMS, I hope they will help you at least to define a general direction of your searches.