What Ben Franklin Can Teach Us About Web CMS

Philadelphia is a city dominated by the memory of Benjamin Franklin. Statues, memorials, tourist stops – seemingly everything in town honors this notable Founding Father. (The rest? That’s reserved mostly for the Philly cheesesteak.)

At the UPenn Wharton UI Conference I attended in late July (Big Ben founded UPenn, too) Franklin spoke from the hereafter to educate and enlighten on the topic of web content management.

In a great presentation about how colleges and universities deal (often perilously) with web content management, Jen Yuan of UPenn invoked some of Franklin’s most notable quotes to illustrate salient points. (In an earlier post, I reference her research that found approximately 20 CMS systems are used at Penn.)

I’ve highlighted a number of the great CMS-centric Franklin-isms below and Yuan’s deftly crafted points – applicable to non-EDUs as well.

“Haste makes waste.”

It appears Franklin foreshadowed one of the biggest and most common web content management mistakes –rushing into CMS projects. If we’ve learned anything here at the CMS Myth, it’s that acting too quickly leads to trouble. Yuan notes: schools may be good at creating spec sheets and technical requirements for a CMS, but end up trying to hustle through CMS projects to achieve their objectives. This shows up in several ways:

  • Because budgets are always an issue, schools make hasty CMS decisions to implement to get a quick payback in terms of reducing the number of people and time required to manage and publish content and sites.
  • EDU web committees and individual stakeholders (let’s call them Big Thinkers) often believe their expertise in one discipline – say, physics  – gives them license to work fast to conquer anything, including this whole CMS thing. A common sentiment: “It can’t be rocket science; I should know, I am a rocket scientist!”
  • Colleges and universities, in the move to implement, typically don’t spend enough time defining their complex organizational structures and hierarchies and prepare them to work together for web CMS success.

To avoid “Haste makes waste” problems, ask and answer critical questions: Does implementing a new CMS make sense right now? How much work, at what cost, in what timeframe will this all take? How long will we use the CMS? What’s the CMS lifecycle, and how long will it take to reap real benefits?

Further questions to explore: If we already have a CMS, does it make sense to keep our existing CMS or switch to another solution? Are we prepared to assemble an effective evaluation team with the time and fortitude to lead an enlightened product review and selection?

And finally this important question: Do we have sufficient organizational support at the highest levels to get buy in to get the time, money and organizational commitment required to do CMS right?

“Half the truth is often a great lie.”

Ben was a great philosopher. And with those eight words above, he nails one of the most overlooked factors in CMS adoption. Namely: what will the ongoing maintenance costs add up to, and are you ready to support them?

As Yuan pointed out as comparison, making a baby and raising a child are far different. Conducting CMS research, running RFPs and holding vendor interviews and demos help you identify a solution – and the winning vendor will love you for it. But remember to pay attention and factor in all the additional costs associated with buying into a CMS product – and ask your vendor to paint a full and complete picture of the costs. (Far be it from us to cast aspersions on CMS vendors.)

The lesson for you, CMS buyer: Look beyond initial software license costs, for one. That $100K software license for a commercial system will run you about 20% in annual maintenance costs, costing you another $100K over a five year period. Of course, that’s a fraction of what you’ll end up spending when you add up time, agencies, internal resources, upkeep and other expenses.

Other great chestnuts attributed to Franklin and applicable to CMS and the web:

“Distrust and caution are the parents of security.”

The bottom line: DON’T underestimate security requirements for your CMS and web properties. Schools frequently fail to allocate proper security resources, Yuan notes. If anything, go the extra mile during the planning stages to align and allocate the people, process and policies to ensure bulletproof security (especially a college and university culture dominated by independence, diversity of CMS use, dozens or hundreds of authors and a “do it myself” attitude) .

“He that teaches himself hath a fool for a master.”

Translation: Properly address your organization’s training requirements when adopting CMS. Don’t gloss over the needs of your users. Starting out with a new CMS is hard on the people tasked with using it. Software products tend to be geared toward engineers and developers; CMS vendors still have a long way to go to make their products easy to use. Low levels of user satisfaction means low user confidence levels and failure of adoption; robust training can breed familiarity and confidence and overcome some of these problems.

“There are no gains without pains.”

Ben must have had the CMS Myth on his mind when he spoke those words. We like to say CMS is not a silver bullet. No pain, no gain? We agree with that. Organizations need to realize content management is an ongoing process involving people, process and content. CMS can bring a world of positive change, but change is ongoing with CMS. And it can be painful when you introduce a new CMS to the organization.  So be innovative. Rethink your business processes, workflow and rules – embrace the opportunity for change and digital improvement that a CMS can support. Be prepared. Start early and anticipate ongoing needs for maintenance, support and preventative care for your CMS and sites.  And budget for it – now.

About the Author
David Aponovich

A former 'CMS Insider,' David is relentlessly focused on the gap between vendor speak and customer adoption. In addition to keeping a keen eye on industry trends, he works with clients on the cultural and process implications of CMS that are so often overlooked. David wrote for the CMS Myth during his time working at Connective DX (formerly ISITE Design).

More articles from David Aponovich

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