Selecting a new CMS for a Local Authority

I’ve recently written a report for a Local Authority to help them select a replacement for their Content Management (CMS) platform. Choosing a CMS isn’t trivial task. You’re likely to be looking for a system that will be in place for several years, will be supporting key business functions and needs to be able to support requirements you haven’t even thought of yet all at a reasonable cost. Below, I’ve summarised some of the key criteria we used in the process.

First of all a bit of background. The existing system has been in place for about eight years. It’s been customised by in-house and external suppliers but has generally performed well and supports business critical functions across the Council. The platform is used for internal document repositories as well as the source for the council’s public web sites. The product it’s based on is no longer being updated and incurs fairly high support costs. So it’s the perfect time to be looking for a replacement.

In selecting a replacement we came up with a number of criteria we wanted to measure products against. These were:

  1. How comprehensive is the product? Will a single product do everything we need or would we require several products which would need to be integrated?
  2. How widely used is the product? How easy will it be to get additional resources? Is it a very specific product or language or does it use common and generic skills.
  3. What is the learning curve for the new system and how does this fit in with the existing staff skills? What sort of training will be required?
  4. What is the Products ecosystem? Are there plenty of conferences, support forums, meetups, events, product days?
  5. Where is the supplier based? Are they based nearby and will it be easy to set up face-to-case meetings?
  6. Is the product evolving? Are there new features being added frequently and is it keeping it’s place in the market?
  7. What will the total cost be over five years? Including implementation, licences, support etc.
  8. How mature is the product? Is it the latest cutting edge technology, is it tried and tested, is it bloatware?
  9. Are new features covered by the same license or do they require new ones?
  10. Is this the key product for the company producing or is it a sideline? Also, is this an old legacy product which will not get much attention?
  11. Is the company stable, are they likely to be bought or to buy someone else?
  12. What level of customisation can you do? Are there any areas which you can’t customise, either technically or because it would break support aggreements?
  13. Does the product scale both horizontally and vertically?
  14. What will the migration effort be and does the product provide any shortcuts to help with this?

Using these criteria we evaluated several products, both commercial and open source. We also looked at combinations of products where we thought a single system wouldn’t fit the bill. Based on this we were able to produce a short list of systems which would fit our requirements.

I’ve shared these in case they’re useful to others. These criteria may not be the same for you but hopefully they’ll provide a good starting point. Please get in touch if you think of anything other criteria to include.