I haven’t written a technology related post in some time. Part of this is workload, but a bigger part is the pace of change in technology. And with the change in pace, my role and expertise changes along with it. By the time I sit down to think about writing about the impact of the ever evolving hosting solutions, development platforms, development methodologies and managing a team of developers, a new nugget of information or technology flies across and changes my view point just slightly enough that I get stuck back into the churn of thought. But today I’ll talk about a general trend that has been bubbling for a few years. For the technically adept, this probably won’t be news. But for anyone listening to an evening rant over a pint, or those few who read my proposals, requirements, and functionality specs, it might give you a bit of background on the why’s of an often non-traditional response.
At Likemind, not only do we design & develop online annual reports, but during the better part of the year, we’re designing and developing large .com sites for pan-European clients. These sites are often 150+ pages and tie into investor relations, careers information, and PR efforts.
Often our clients have a vision of 10-15 geographically dispersed editors and several stages of approval. Web editors are often staffed with their day jobs plus the responsibility of keeping the site fresh. Clients with large, involved IT teams took the requirements from the business and dictated requirements to agencies asking for large, enterprise scale content management systems (CMS) that had the ability to manage workflow (ie, what happens when an editor pushes the “publish” button), integrate SAP HR functions, create custom forms, perform on-the-spot surveys, custom analytics, and allow certain editors limited privileges over certain sections, full permissions over other sections, and no permission to edit yet another area. In all, these were huge development efforts – and products like SDL Tridion, Documentum, and Sharepoint quickly filled RFPs and developers minds for months on end as there were no other real viable systems or strategies for solving the challenges. These systems – from a technology perspective – were *fun* to build. Teams of developers joining together to bang out a scalable site that had all the bells and whistles imaginable.
And what happened? Huge enterprise content management systems were deployed with UIs inherited from the CMS — so complicated all but a handful of editors who performed content edits day-in and day-out knew how to use the system, obliterating the need for system complexity in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong – when users were trained correctly and knowledge about the system was passed from editor to their replacements over the years, the systems themselves performed brilliantly. But just as often, knowledge of the system resided in the handful of editors and stayed there.
Working on sites for the likes of Yara, Shell, and EDF Energy (to name a very few), Likemind has been learning these lessons and altering our expertise and training guidelines. We’ve also learned that after you answer IT’s questions, it’s time to go back to the business drivers and validate and justify cost & requirements.
But also, emerging open source CMS projects like Drupal, Joomla, Magnolia CMS, and up-and-comer Concrete5 have narrowed the gap between smaller content management systems and the heavy hitters. And not only have these projects become viable contenders for the system themselves, but they’ve put tremendous pressure on the larger content management systems to innovate, clean up their UI, and streamline editorial duties forcing a bit of technical evolution. Also, sister systems – like HR and investor feeds have cleaned up their application programming interfaces (APIs) and XML feeds to work with much less effort with the web content management system. This makes incorporating their data and functionality much much easier and eases the need for detailed custom development.
And so while my friends on the design side of Likemind focus on experiences for the website vistor, ever increasingly our technology team is focusing on the experience of content editors. Every week it seems we evaluate a new RFP for an enterprise CMS & remember to put CMS user needs right up with IT needs. Sometimes scrutinizing these requirements and talking to the client team leads us to a much simpler option. An option that meets the multi-editor requirements, permissions based editing, custom workflows, a shorter technical development, and flexible deployment.
A while back, Chris Bray, a friend back in NYC posted: Another installment of “What you sold, what you built, and what they needed”. A perfect graphic representation for technologists to keep in mind.