Should the Public Sector pay for Content Management Systems?

About 3-4 years ago I used to think that the requirements of a Local Authority or Public Sector Agencies around content management system (CMS) were pretty complex and could only really be supported by purchasing one of the many high end products out there in the market.

I must stress at this point that i am referring to Content Management or Web Content Management – This is not a post about Enterprise Content Management (ECM) which is at a higher level and includes a wider range of functions and features including:

•    Document management for check-in/check-out, version control, security and library services for business documents.
•    Document imaging for capturing, transforming, storing and managing scanned images of paper documents.
•    Records management for long-term archiving, automation of retention and compliance policies, and ensuring legal, regulatory and industry compliance.
•    Workflow for supporting business processes, document review and approval, routing content, assigning work tasks and states, and creating audit trails.
•    Web content management for controlling the content of a Website by using  specific management tools based on a core repository. It includes content creation functions, templating, workflow and change management, and content deployment to web servers.
•    Document-centric collaboration for document sharing and supporting project teams and discussion threads.

I do believe that the public sector and local authorities need to take ECM seriously and must consider how they provide the functions above, but i find it very difficult in a public sector role to justify the likely expenditure around a single ECM system, for which there are some big players. My view and i stress this is my view is that in the current climate the public sector needs to consider how it delivers the “value” these tools promise by taking advantage of the open source platforms which exist out there. If we had a public sector developer community around some of these technologies then we would in effect create a sustainable approach. If your organisation has already invested in the large providers of this functionality (IBM, Open Text, SAP and Microsoft) then i wish you luck in realising the benefits of that investment.

But i would suggest that you could actually achieve this architecture through open source products and a Web Oriented Architectural (WOA) approach. You will still need to consider the integration aspects but open source products are far more likely to integrate (openness is key) then the big supplier products (no motivation to integrate).

Since I have moved into ICT and started to look at the Architectural view of the infrastructure a lot more, it is now becoming clear to me that if any local authority or public sector agency thinks there CMS requirements can not be met by one of the open source products such as WordPress, Joomla or Drupal doesn’t really understand how there Web Architecture can be utilised to deliver greater cost savings and value and increasing agility and flexibility.

This post is not going to be music to any vendor/supplier of web content management as i really don’t think the public sector can justify the expenditure on these products in the current climate – Unless there current technical architecture actually works against implementing a cost effective and open source product. If this is you – go and speak to your ICT colleagues about why you can’t at least consider these tools?

I’ve been doing a piece of work recently about reviewing the architecture around our Corporate Website and it is a very complex area – I have started to focus on what the requirements are for a CMS and what an effective Architecture would look like. This has led me to seriously think about the open source options around the CMS area, this doesn’t mean that we are proactively making decisions in the council at the moment as we need to get our wider web architecture right first – however my current view is that tools like WordPress and Joomla specifically could be key parts of our future web architecture.

The advantage of these products is that we are increasingly seeing people use these types of products outside of work or as a way to bypass the existing corporate platform because there is a lower skill level to entry and development. This approach coupled with the excellent developer communities that exist provide dynamic platforms for employees to publish content far quicker, more effectively and with less corporate ICT intervention. This for me is a critical aspect and is a major plus for these products. Like most local authority web development teams, they are often bombarded with requests for work from large scale application integration to minor template tweaks – with the ever growing pressure on resources we must start to devolve the responsibility into the business and to those people who are comfortable and capable to develop these tools. This would therefore allow the core team to focus on the larger scale products and deliver more value.

So this leads to me think, if these tools can provide value and meet all of our needs around CMS then why would or even how could any public sector body justify a large expenditure in this area in the current financial climate.


5 thoughts on “Should the Public Sector pay for Content Management Systems?

  1. As someone who has run tender processes for government buying that kind of thing, my advice is to get the requirements analysis right, and avoid specifying your procurement criteria in the vendors’ language. High-end, so called ‘enterprise’ products have usually been engineered to tick lots of boxes but also to create lots of add-on selling opportunities for the vendors.

  2. I don’t think CMS should be a must pay, there are various programs available out there but you should consider that web designers should bring this to web masters free of charge so they can save money and make changes themselves.

  3. Here’s an irony.

    Some of the “paid for” CMSs being used by some LAs are built upon existing OS CMSs – such as those you mentioned.

    You wouldn’t know unless you bought it and were able to unscramble and decipher the code they supplied you.

    These canny suppliers “add value” for your niche.

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