Surviving a content management overhaul

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Reflecting their digital commitments, several b-to-b publishers have deployed new Web content management systems (CMS) this year, including Hanley Wood, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), Thomas Publishing's Managing Automation and Reed Business Information-U.S.

All four gave the same reasons for making the expensive, time-consuming and troublesome transition:

  • They had legacy systems, some dating back to 1998, that were difficult to use, limited in functionality and lacked capacity for growth.
  • They wanted to empower their editorial teams to run their sites without as much hand-holding from IT, with relatively painless platforms to be used by busy editors.
  • They wanted to add community and social networking capabilities.
  • They wanted to improve the search and discovery of their Web site content, as well as to tag and classify each story, photo and multimedia element so it could be used in different ways.

The companies had one more thing in common: Not one experienced a hassle-free deployment. As one executive put it, "The one thing that seems to be standard is aggravation."

Hanley Wood shifts emphasis

"We went though the most sophisticated software selection process I have experienced in my career," said Alec Dann, general manager-business media online at Hanley Wood Business Media.

Hanley Wood spent more than a year preparing for the CMS shift before its first site launched using the new system. In January 2007, with the help of a consulting firm, the media company started interviewing internal stakeholders—chief editors, publishers and other key executives—to identify requirements.

A different consultant helped Hanley Wood identify vendors. In May, nine CMS vendors each made three-hour presentations. After narrowing the list a couple of times, Hanley Wood invited two vendors to create pilot versions of a Hanley Wood Web site. "I created a script to make sure they would emulate everything we do on a daily basis," Dann said.

Hanley Wood then selected SDL Tridion. Next, Dann presented the case for the CMS investment to the company's board, which approved the budget in August. The build-out started in November and the first site, Builder Online, was launched on the Tridion platform this past March.

The last of Hanley Wood's 30 current sites won't go live on the new CMS until late 2009, about a year later than expected. The delay, however, had nothing to do with the CMS, Dann said.

"Our original plan was to roll out 30 sites quickly on the new platform," he explained. "But Frank Anton, our CEO, and Peter Goldstone, our president, decided to change the emphasis. They wanted our major brands, Builder Online and Remodeling Online, to have top-of-the line Web sites, so we concentrated on fully building them out before moving on to the others."

Despite the preparation and research that went into Hanley Wood's CMS selection, there were glitches in the implementation. "It's impossible to know what issues you will have until you start building and deploying the system," Dann said. "You solve one problem and it reveals others."

Asked what he'd do differently if given the chance to do it over, Dann said he would have planned more time and staff for content migration. "There's only so far you can get with automation," he said. "Someone had to check to make sure the content ported over correctly, and that's not something the permanent staff has time to do. We should have built in more time and temp support for the editors."

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