Top ten claims by big-box CMS vendors

We welcome guest mythbuster Rahel Anne Bailie to the blog. Rahel is the president of Intentional Design and a well-known expert in the world of content management and content strategy. If you’re considering an enterprise content management solution, you’ll appreciate Rahel’s sizzling summary of the whoppers you may hear in the evaluation process.

Never mind “the check is in the mail” or “you can’t get pregnant the first time” as the top untruths of our time. Now we have a high-tech list of what I’ll call misconceptions about big-box software. We’ve changed the names to a generic “Big Box” to protect the innocent, and to avoid the guilty. Hey, no one wants to get sued, right? These claims are sometimes made by vendors, who we call PSV (Predatory Software Vendors) and sometimes by integrators who we call PITA (no explanation needed). We get these situations dumped in our laps and are left to make the best of what we’ve been handed. And depending on what’s happened before we got there, the situation can be pretty grim.

Truth be told, I didn’t set out to write this post. It all started with a few of us gathered around a booth at a tradeshow, remarking with some incredulity about a couple of comments we’d heard during the morning conference sessions. Before I knew it, we’d amassed our favorite ten laughable claims by those who had something to gain by perpetuating the myths. The conversation started with the first point, which is my particular hot spot, and quickly evolved (devolved?) into a rounded “top ten” list. So without further ado:

1. Yes, it does component content management.

Well, Mr. PSV, no it actually doesn’t. And your product manager said it doesn’t (yes, I spoke to her/him at length at last month’s trade show). In fact, you don’t even know what component content management is, I can tell from our conversation. In fact, you’re using content management and document management and collaborative workspaces all pretty interchangeably. How many clients will it take who say “well, we bought Big Box product because Mr. PSV said it did” will it take before you hang your head in shame? On second thought, I don’t need to hear the answer.

2. No, it’s not contagious.

Well, actually, it is. We call it the Big Box virus. It spreads like wildfire. You install it in one department, and next thing you know, three other departments have an installation, too. Of course, none of them get implemented properly, so at some point, you have a staffer in one building getting frustrated with a staffer across campus because “the document is in the subfolder “Marketing > Proposals > 2010 > North America > Drafts>” folder. Only it’s just in the folder of the installation the yeller is using; the file doesn’t exist in the folder the yellee is looking in. So not only is the entire premise of collaboration out the window, but each rogue installation spreads the virus throughout the corporation. Gives “going viral” a whole new meaning.

3. Aw, just get the office admin to set it up.

Ridiculous? We’ve seen it done. Example. An organization had the software installed, and needed a bunch of subsites set up,  and in their infinite wisdom, assigned an office admin to “copy and paste.” Only that didn’t work (obviously), so she was left to copy down all the settings, and then set up two dozen sites, one at a time. It took her several (unnecessary) weeks. And the end products were all cookie-cutter sites, which annoyed the internal clients with department-specific needs. And she got no support from IT, who didn’t much about the product from the actual user end, it seems. And the list of gaffes goes on and on.

4. We have a price point you can’t beat.

Mr. PSV doesn’t tell you about all the hidden pricing that can run into the six figures. You’ll hear about how cheap it is, maybe even free. And it is, until you try to actually use it for any business reason.  This leads to the next misconception in this series.

5. You can use it out of the box.

It’s more like: You can use the box … as a door stop. Any real work you want to do? Oh, that takes customization. Of course it takes customization! There is no “generic” business that can use things out of the box! It’s not some desktop product like word processing that you download, install, and use. If it’s your first Big Box experience, then you’re forgiven for not knowing that. Mr. PSV isn’t. He knows that we call them Customize ‘R Us when we see their people drive up. And then the price list comes out. And the professional services people swoop in. Because, of course, without having their people do the upgrades, you get to the next misconception.

6. Sure, we support your customizations!

If the number of hankies from tears shed over this one were stretched end to end, it would reach to the moon and back, twice. OK, maybe I exaggerate. One-and-a-half times. I would wager than the vast majority of installations – dare I say virtually all? – require some sort of customization to make the application useful for a specific organizational context. But what happens when a PITA customizes your system is that product upgrades may very well break your customization. So the vendor will then tell you that your particular customization isn’t supported because, well, it will cost money to fix any breakage during the upgrade. Which leads us back to the vendor doing the customizations. Because otherwise, you have the following problem.

7. Of course we document our product revisions.

I’m sure that some PSV or PITA will take issue with this, and emphatically assert that they do, they, do, they do document all the changes as they go. Sure, right, go ahead and ask them to put it in writing. Good luck.

8. You don’t need to do any usability testing before your launch.

Yes, I know, somewhere, back at the ranch, some usability testing was done on your product before you launched it. But that was long ago, and before your upgrades, and before our customizations. How do we know the end result will work for our users?

9. Our product is intuitive.

I looked up the word intuitive, and the meaning is (and I quote from Princeton’s WordNet Search): spontaneously derived from or prompted by a natural tendency; “an intuitive revulsion”. Well, I don’t want to point out the irony, but when their products give users what we’ve come to call “the never-ending tree” of folders, subfolders, sub-subfolder, and sub-sub-sub-sub-subfolders in which to lose, er, store their information, that’s a pretty basic problem with the intuition. Too bad we couldn’t store our annual maintenance fees in that same tree and send the vendor to intuit where it might be. Find it and it’s yours! And that brings us to the last, but not least, in our list: finding information.

10. Just put a search box on it.

Sure, let’s compensate for a non-intuitive product with a search box so that we can drive our users round the bend when they query a document and get thousands of search results. There is a time and a purpose for search, but this is not one of them.

About the Author
Rahel Anne Bailie

Rahel Anne Bailie is the president of Intentional Design, and a content strategist who helps organizations get the most effective use of their corporate content assets. She merges information architecture, usability, and communication principles to ensure that the focus of communication strategies and the supporting technologies focus on the ultimate ability to successfully complete the tasks that further the organization's intended goals.

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