Selecting a CMS, and whether to include Drupal in your shorlist

Having closely observed and participated in web content management system (CMS/WCM) tendering and procurement process for the last few years, it has been disappointing that RFTs still lead with functional requirements matrices.

CMS Feature Matrix

While these matrices might allow CMS selection committees to tally up weightd scores and rely on reassuring numerical totals; the resulting 'solution' typically doesn't solve real business and user needs.

When selecting a CMS, an organisation needs to look closely at the types of usage scenarios. A list of features and functionality does not adequately reflect your organisation's true requirements, nor does it allow you to compare how usable individual CMSs offerings are for a given feature.

For example?
"Track changes in information".

Is a version saved every time a change is made, or does a user need to manually flag a new version? In a log of potentially hundreds of changes, what is the benefit of storing these records? Can you compare versions side by side?

User stories and usage scenarios

The alternative to feature matrices is observing business processes and implementing a CMS that supports these as naturally as possible.

In which case, when searching for a CMS, verbally describe these processes using 'user stories'.

Usage scenario example

Outside of the system, an editor emails a reporter a writing assignment. The reporter researches the topic and composes the article in Microsoft Word. When it is near completion, the author pastes the copy of the article into a web entry form. The form strips out extraneous MS Word formatting but preserves basic formatting such as paragraph breaks.

Alternatively, the reporter can compose the article directly in the content entry interface. Using the in-page WYSIWYG editor, the reporter applies a limited amount (as configured) of styling directives including CSS styles, bold, italic,images, tables, and bullets. The executes a spell check within the rich text area.

The reporter searches for and embeds re-usable images within the body of the article. Caption and credit information are re-used from the source image assets but can be overridden within the context of the article.

The content entry form has fields for structured content attributes such as 'title,''author,' 'keywords,' 'description,' 'press date,' 'section,' 'category,' and 'related stories'. The section selection control is populated by a centrally managed list and is used to display dynamic lists of articles on the section front pages and other dynamic components. The 'related articles' field is used to manually select specific articles to display in the related articles display component of the article detail page.


Features demonstrated
- WYSIWYG editing
- Word formatting
- Associating related articles and images
- Controlled vocabulary
- Embedding re-usable content objects in the article body

Source: Seth Gottlieb, a leading CMS selection consultant,

What are similar organisations using

Reaching out to similar organisations and companies, to discuss what they found did/not work for them also helps determine which CMSs to consider for your own implementation. Factors to consider:

  • When they implemented their CMS, technology may have moved on since
  • Training and education go a long way towards adoption
  • Speak to the users, not just the project champions/leads

Industry reviews and rankings

This step precedes publishing your request for tender and soliciting quotes - research what is CMSs are on the market and have been evaluated by third-party market research firms.

Gartner's social software in the workplace

Gartner's externally facing social software

Gartner's web content management systems


Where is Drupal in all of this?

You may notice Drupal makes it onto the social software Gartner quadrants, but not onto the WCM ranking. The minimum threshold for that evaluation was $10M in revenue, whereas Drupal, an open source solution with a diverse ecosystem on non/commercial supporting companies, does not offer a single view of its finances.

Factors to consider:

  • Can Drupal support your usage scenarios
  • What is the total cost of ownership, i.e. take into account per server licensing fees, per user licensing fees, training, implementation and development
  • Case studies and deployments of Drupal in comparable organisations
  • A strong Drupal product roadmap looking 12 - 18 months into the future