Is there such as thing as a “wrong CMS”?


CMS expert Jon Marks trying to fix WCM at the J. Boye Aarhus 09 conference while Jarrod Gingras from Real Story Group listens carefully

Well, it is possible to select a content management system which does not meet your requirements and will be unsuitable for your organisation, but most significant systems in the market today are likely to meet between 80 - 90% of your requirements. Thus, the "wrong CMS" is almost an extinct species, but there are still plenty of poor integrators and bad implementations everywhere.

10 years ago when only few vendors supported certain features, e.g. workflow or Office integration, vendors could easily differentiate themselves on features, but today that is different. This has wide implications for your CMS selection process, where many buyers continue to invest substantial time in going through analyst reports and vendor sales pitches.

Instead of focusing exclusively on trying to identify the CMS with the most features, factors such as implementation methodology, implementation team and implementation time, references and price are the important elements that ought to help you decide which product will be right for you; the elements that can make a big difference for your project.

Even given that most content management systems will do just fine, you can still easily  design the CMS selection process in such a way that your project is very likely to fail. As Danish Internet Entrepreneur, now
E-commerce manager at Bilka (Danish chain of hypermarkets) Hannu Vangsgaard elegantly put it in a tweet:

All CMS are wrong with the wrong approach and/or people

If you don't manage to get the right skills and experience together, you will be in big trouble. Or, to turn it on its head: If you do indeed have the wrong CMS, but the right implementation team, then you will probably manage just fine.

CMS expert Jon Marks (former Lead Architect at News Corp and prior to that Head of Development at LBi as well as a speaker at past J. Boye conferences) also has a valid point in saying that some systems are just outdated or architecturally not a good fit (read his tweet for his blunt phrasing). As always, the devil is in the detail. While all significant vendors will confirm that they are able to meet every one of your requirements, there are substantial differences in how they do it. As an example, implementing a digital marketing campaign is quite different in Ektron vs. Sitecore. Also, all vendors will claim that their system is very easy to use, but take just 5 minutes to talk to customers of different systems and you'll find major differences in adoption and training requirements from system to system.

My simple recommendation is to look beyond your functional requirements and focus your attention on finding the right implementation team. Why not let the system integrator decide for you? For a slightly cynical take on this, here's how Benelux CMS guru Erik Hartman puts it in a tweet:

There are only two kinds of CMS: bad ones and lousy ones. Pick a bad one and find a good team of developers to fix it

Learn more about CMS selection

Continue the conversation in our CMS Expert Groups in Europe or North America.

Join the web content management track at our Aarhus conference in November, which is hosted by J. Boye expert Peter Sejersen.

Read our free report on Best Practices for Selecting a CMS.


Janus Boye
CEO and Group moderator

As founder and managing director at J. Boye, Janus has grown the business from an office at home in 2003 to an international operation today with members in Europe and North America.

Janus is a frequent speaker at industry events and chairs the renowned J. Boye Conferences held since 2005 in Denmark and since 2009 in Philadelphia, US. Among the organisations that have recently called upon Janus' expertise are  local government agencies, the UN in New York and companies such as Brother, Carlsberg and Red Bull.

4 Responses to “Is there such as thing as a “wrong CMS”?”

  1. I think you can only make really bad selections if you pick something with the wrong budget or the wrong technology stack.
    Wrong budget could be that a vendor sells you per-CPU licences that doesn’t cover the performance required for your site; or an assumption that “free” software will be significantly cheaper.
    Probably the worst project I ever worked on was down to wrong technology, where the vendor – who shall remain nameless – simply lied about a key requirement for the intranet system. The technology would simply never have worked even though a bunch of good guys (including one you mention above) spent weeks trying to fix it.
    So perhaps there’s no such thing as a “wrong CMS” but there’s certainly such thing as a “wrong CMS choice”.

  2. I agree that the implementation team is crucial for the success of a CMS project, but I strongly disagree with the notion that the CMS selection isn’t that important, and that most CMS’ on the market will be good enough if the implementation team is good.

    A very good team can possibly deliver what might seem like a successful project on a wrong cms, but at what cost? How much longer did the implementation take due to the fact that they had to work around problems in the cms? Is the finished project as good as it could have been with a better suited cms? How much more will it cost to maintain, due to workarounds? How much will future development be limited by the wrong cms?

  3. [...] differentiation between the CMSs left in the race to make an informed decision. To quote a recent blog post from Janus Boye: 10 years ago when only few vendors supported certain features, e.g. workflow or [...]

  4. Yuval Ararat says:

    I see a great use of the Service Design for the WCM field in the internal side of the implementation rather then the external one.
    WCM today is a flexible and adept solution provided by many companies, the problem as Jon and Janus pointed is the implementation. i find many clients jump the gun and judge a CMS with the old Features battle method. they do evaluate features but are not willing to investigate the product deeper.
    This usually clears the sales fluff and makes the vendors life a tad harder in proving that the system can do all it states it does OOB.

    The implementer can be a problem, its hard thought to identify that.

    Clearing the t’s and marking the y’s like the stack and the budget should be the basic thing, if this is not done right then the ability to implement makes no difference and the product choice can be done with a flip of the coin.

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