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Buy, build or assemble? That is the CMS question

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Almost every company publishes some form of content, so every company needs a content management system. But there’s a more strategic question to ask than simply, “Which content management system should I use?” The key question is whether to build your own tools, buy an all-in-one CMS, or assemble a stack of best-in-class services to power your content.

Content drives much more than websites. Websites are table stakes. To be competitive, companies must leverage content for an interactive web presence, as well as for innovative products, services and digital experiences.

For this to happen, content has to be managed. The challenge: Not only is content being used in myriad new ways, but it comes from a wide variety of sources in a wide variety of forms. Further, more stakeholders need access to the content to make it responsive to constantly changing customer and market demands.

Organizations have essentially three choices to handle these new demands: buy, build or assemble.

Build your own CMS

Many companies have gone the build-your-own route, to ensure that their CMS will meet the specific needs and workflows of their organization. This approach might have made sense when CMSes were used almost solely for pushing content to websites, but, even then, the build option was fraught with issues.

To say that it’s challenging to develop a content workflow and templates that meet the needs of all stakeholders is putting it mildly. Companies that choose this route attempt to take everyone’s needs into consideration, but in doing so end up compromising and satisfying no one. With so many of these systems built on custom code, making changes typically causes a cascade of problems — especially if the staff who originally built the system leave the company.

Buy a traditional CMS

Companies that want to buy a CMS have many choices, but these systems tend to force organizations to follow a particular workflow or framework. This can be expensive and time-consuming to modify to create outside-the-box digital products and unique, interactive web pages. As a result, developers must hack existing code, and these customizations make the CMS difficult to scale and prone to breakage, especially when updating the system.

All of this assumes that the organization has in-house development talent in the first place. Companies that don’t have these resources — and companies that have deployed these resources to other, more critical tasks — must rely on the vendor or an agency to make changes. This takes time and money, and significantly slows a company’s ability to respond to shifting customer demands.

Assemble your own digital experience stack

Neither the build nor the buy model works very well in a dynamic business environment. Companies see the need to reinvent their websites as products, and to build these sites using the same best practices they use when building other software applications. DIY and out-of-the-box CMS solutions just can’t cut it.

This is where the assemble option comes in.

To provide the kind of agility product teams need, organizations need to move away from the model of websites as monolithic systems that get increasingly complex over time. They need to adopt a microservices approach that composes web apps using separate services that seamlessly work together to create a unified user experience.

For example, a website could be composed of a messaging service powering chat, a translations service for localizing content, and an authentication service for account login and a data handling service, all seamlessly tied to the front end. In this model, changes can be made to a single service without impacting the others.

Cloud-native, API-first, “headless” CMSes are progressing toward this goal. To realize the true power of platform software, we need to think more about PaaS, and less about CMS.

That’s where content infrastructure — a specialized platform as a service — comes in. It enables organizations to quickly assemble their “dream team” of services to manage their content. Content infrastructure’s role in this digital experience stack is to unify content in one place, making it ready for developers to handle with code. It also provides a simple and customizable web app that lets creators write or edit any content without going back to developers to ask for content changes.

This liberates both teams, developers and content creators, to do their work in parallel and deliver faster in an agile development framework.

To deliver modern apps and websites on demand (or, better yet, in anticipation of demand), organizations need a platform that powers the flow of content to any number of digital products and applications, one that provides a central content repository to unify content from disparate sources, and one that offers tools to easily access and manage their ever-evolving content.

The model of assembling a digital experience stack also enables teams to create modular, reusable content components, with APIs governing how content can be accessed, viewed, handled and delivered.

Companies need to build, ship and iterate on digital products faster. By choosing to assemble a digital experience stack, companies can create an ever-growing portfolio of new websites and web experiences — faster than ever.

Contributed by Paul Biggs, of Contentful.

CMS & Marketing / Buy, build or assemble? That is the CMS questionLast updated on July 8, 2019
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