What is a CMS?

During the numerous interviews we've conducted over the last few years, one of the questions we've continued to ask is “How do you define the term, CMS?”. We often ask this question because each person within the industry has their own interpretation of what it should mean.

Here is a collection of some of the responses we've received to this question:

Joseph Wykes, President of Percussion (interview):

Over the last few years there have been many shifts in how people use this term. We have WCM for web, WEM for experience or engagement management “suites” etc. Most of it is driven by vendors trying to carve out a space for themselves in the market.

We are pretty comfortable with sticking to the term web content management as a definition that supports publishing content out on to the web. However, clearly the concept of “the web” has morphed from your static company site, to reflect new channels and communities like Facebook and mobile.

So today we think much more broadly about where that content winds up then the old year 2000 view of the web. But at the end of the day, companies need to push content (and much more than ever before), in many forms, out into many more digital channels. For now, and the foreseeable future, a web content management system is your best platform to achieve that goal.

Navin Nagiah, CEO of DotNetNuke Corporation (interview):

Linguistically, it means any system that helps you manage content – creating, storing, indexing, archiving, publishing, and distributing content.  I think both ECM (Enterprise Content Management) and WCM (Web Content Management) are content management systems.

There is a distinct difference between the two today.  ECM is what is internal to an organization. It is about managing information and processes inside a company. It is about document management and records management.

WCM is about managing the publishing and distribution of information.  In one sense, WCM is about revenue and ECM is about net profit or the bottom line.  WCM is about maximizing reach, while ECM is about internal process efficiency.

However, as people use web applications and portals for managing internal information such as document repositories and Web 2.0 tools such as wikis for collaboration and content creation, it is possible the lines between the two systems will blur over time.

Michael Siefert, CEO of Sitecore (interview):

I feel compelled to say that I sincerely dislike the term. CMS does a really good job of defocusing everyone on what is important, namely measurably driving your online success. Content doesn’t help you do that. Management of content doesn’t help you do that either. And system surely doesn’t.


Secondly, the term is ambiguous since it is used as a cover for both the area of ECM (Enterprise Content Management) and WCM (Web Content Management). From a business perspective nothing could be farther apart. ECM should help you be more efficient in your internal business processes. WCM should help you measurably driving your online success. A lot of businesses unfortunately still believe that it is a great strategy to centralize the management of all content in a CMS. There is a big difference between the processes of creating and managing a legal contract, to creating persona optimized content that will dynamically drive a personalized experience for the marketing department. The only thing in common here is that you can use a keyboard to author your text.

Even with this ambiguous term, Sitecore is selling CMS for a broad range of clients with great success. We will change the name when the customers, market and analysts are ready to suggest a new industry term.

Bill Rogers, CEO of Ektron (interview):

A CMS is no longer about just managing a piece of content on your Web site. A CMS should be able to allow a non-technical user to manage any asset on a Web site that they wish to interact with, whether that is a piece of content, a picture, a video or information that is pulled from other sources. The CMS should allow marketing teams to launch online campaigns and manage rich internet applications. As I say, in the future Web sites will be mash-ups of information and functionality pulled from multiple locations. A scalable Web CMS solution should be able to display and manage that information regardless of where it is coming from.

Matt Mullenweg, Founder of WordPress (interview):

I’m not crazy about the term content management. I don’t wake up and say “I want to manage some content today!” I want to blog. I want to podcast. To the extent WordPress is a competitor in the CMS space I think it’s because we try to re-examine common assumptions that traditional bloated CMSes make.

As you can see from the various responses, a CMS can be defined in numerous ways. It truly depends on each individual's unique vision for what the term should mean.