What CMS Is Best for You?


What is the best car? When you ask this question most people will respond with the usual suspects: Porsche Carrera, Ferrari Enzo, Lamborghini Diablo, etc. These are all fantastic cars. But if these were the best cars, why do participants in the Dakar rally not use them and why do families prefer a minivan when they go on vacation? The answer is simple: Because they are expensive and not meant for any terrain or more than two people.

When you are deciding on a content management system you go through the same decision process: You have a certain budget your organization is willing to spend. There are a set of functional requirements that the solution needs to meet, such as the ability to manage web content, documents, video, compliance workflows, etc .; and finally there are non-functional requirements to be met as well: The level of security, the number of users and so on. The good news is that there is a large variety of content management systems in the market.

We have specialized in two types of systems: Web content management (WCM) and Enterprise content management (ECM). In general, ECM systems consist of different modules that encapsulate specific functionality. In mature ECM systems these modules include Document Management, Web Content Management, Records Management, Collaboration, Workflow and Business Intelligence. As you can see, web content management is only one single aspect of enterprise content management. Does this imply that standalone web content management systems are ready for the enterprise? Absolutely, but they serve a more narrow use case than complete enterprise content management systems.

What are existing WCM and ECM solutions? I realize that this is the section where I will lose friends and make some enemies, but I will give it a try.

Web Content Management Systems (WCM): Since a couple of years there are three web content management systems that have gained enormous traction: WordPress, Joomla and Drupal. They are all free – under license and written in php, yet they target different audiences and address specific use cases.

The strength of WordPress lies in its simplicity and exceptional ecosystem of third party add-ons or widgets to use the WordPress terminology. If you want to create a rather simple yet state-of-the-art, SEO friendly website which is integrated with social platforms such as Facebook or Twitter using WordPress is an excellent choice. It is easy to setup and to maintain and is supported by most low cost hosting providers.

Joomla is similar to WordPress when it comes to its simplicity to install and maintain, but it also lends itself towards creating more ambitious projects due to its robust MVC architecture. This includes complex ecommerce sites and the use of Joomla as a learning management system. Joomla's library of add-ons is not as extensive as the WordPress one, yet it still contains an enormous amount of these plugins.

We have made the experience that Drupal is the most versatile platform. But with that amount of versatility comes the cost of maintainability. A Drupal system is targeted towards a tech savvy audience; there is a steep learning curve if you want to become a Drupal wizard. However, once you have mastered Drupal you have the ability to create a wide variety of solutions in a short amount of time. The speed of the development is backed by a large library of third party add-ons, called modules.

Enterprise Content Management Systems (ECM): A couple of years back enterprise content management systems were only adopted by large corporations and the government, mostly due to high cost of implementation and licensing. A lot has changed since then. ECM has become a commodity fueled by the introduction of Microsoft SharePoint and free – under license software such as Alfresco. These days even smaller law firms are using solutions backed by ECM systems.

There are many good reasons why you want to use an ECM system: Did anyone in your organization ever lose or delete some content for example a document by accident? Or did you ever collaborate on a document and your changes got lost? Does your organization have complex workflows to ensure quality of certain content? Do you need the ability to store content in an encrypted form? I could go on with these kinds of questions; in case you said yes to any of the above questions, this could have been avoided by using an ECM system.

Our organization has specialized in two ECM systems: Microsoft SharePoint and Alfresco and I will tell you why. No matter whether you hate or love Microsoft; SharePoint 2010 is a great ECM system and offers some features that you won't find in many if any other ECM solution in the market. All the different modules of ECM systems I mentioned earlier, from Document Management, Web Content Management, Records Management, Collaboration, Workflow to Business Intelligence are included in a complete SharePoint 2010 solution. This can even include project management capabilities. In contrast to other systems (EMC Documentum, etc.) SharePoint is not focusing on power users but on every day users and it shows; if implemented right SharePoint has a very high adoption rate among end users in companies. After all, a good system is a system that people use. You should be aware that Microsoft leverages its complete technology stack. You will have to purchase not only SharePoint but also Windows Server operating system and SQL Server.

In case your organization is not able or not willing to pay a significant amount of licensing costs, you can still get a robust, state-of-the-art ECM solution when you go with Alfresco. Alfresco has been created by a team of ex-Documentum members including John Newton, the co-founder of Documentum as well as John Powell, former COO of Business objects. Highlights of Alfresco are the content repository, the access through CIFS and the implementation of the complete SharePoint Protocol, which enables users to use all the nice SharePoint tools that have been integrated into the Office Suite. One weak point of Alfresco is its web content management abilities and that only from a web client perspective. However, it is possible to integrate Drupal with Alfresco and thus marry the strong web content management capabilities of Drupal with the robust Alfresco backend.

The brief overview I gave here is obviously not complete and when you go to the Drupal or Joomla community many members will tell you that whatever I mentioned in the ECM section can be achieved by tweaking Drupal or Joomla respectively. From my experience, these people are probably right, but the difference is that neither Drupal nor Joomla were ever designed to serve as an ECM system. You may be able to get the functionality but not the robustness. No matter how many modules you install, these systems remain excellent web content management systems only. You wouldn't mount three spoilers on a Honda CRV and sell it as a racecar either.

So what CMS is best for you? I have no idea but I'll be glad to assist you in making right decision.


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