Content Management Systems

A content management system (CMS) is a computer application that allows publishing, editing and modifying content, organizing, deleting as well as maintenance from a central interface. Such systems of content management provide procedures to manage workflow in a collaborative environment. Wikipedia

In this article we will focus on web content management, and will only touch upon broader content issues at the end of the document.

A content management system (CMS) is critical to the success of almost every website and/or blog, yet many organizations and/or business owners are not familiar with this technology.

The business problem
You have a website, or intranet. It has grown organically over time, and while it is very useful, it is far from perfect.

Much of the content is out-of-date or inaccurate, it’s hard to find things, updating the site is complex, and the appearance is becoming dated.

You don’t have much technical skills for web content creation or management and you want to save money - DIY.

Thankfully, these problems are what a content management system is specifically designed to solve.

CMS: A working definition
A content management system (CMS) supports the creation, management, distribution, publishing, and discovery of corporate information.

It covers the complete lifecycle of the pages on your site, from providing simple tools to create the content, through to publishing, and finally to archiving.

It also provides the ability to manage the structure of the site, the appearance of the published pages, and the navigation provided to the users.

Note that we are focusing on the most common use of a CMS: to manage web content. In some circles, these systems are therefore called web management systems (WMS).

Content management systems can be much broader than this, but we won’t touch upon these aspects until later.

Business benefits
There are a wide range of business benefits that can be obtained by implementing a CMS, including:

- streamlined authoring process
- faster turnaround time for new pages and changes
- greater consistency
- improved site navigation
- increased site flexibility
- support for decentralized authoring
- increased security
- reduced duplication of information
- greater capacity for growth
- reduced site maintenance costs
- Beyond these, the greatest benefit the CMS can provide is to support your business goals and strategies.

A CMS is also a popular choice for people with non technical backgrounds who want to build a web site and manage it on their own, versus hiring some one to maintain it.

The functionality of a content management system can be broken down into several main categories:
- content creation
- content management
- publishing
- presentation

Content creation
At the front of a content management system is an easy-to-use authoring environment, designed to work like Word. This provides a non-technical way of creating new pages or updating content, without having to know any HTML.

Content management
Once a page has been created, it is saved into a central repository in the CMS. This stores all the content of the site, along with the other supporting details.

This central repository allows a range of useful features to be provided by the CMS:

- Keeping track of all the versions of a page, and who changed what and when.
- Ensuring that each user can only change the section of the site they are responsible for.
- Integration with existing information sources and IT systems.
- Most importantly, the CMS provides a range of workflow capabilities.

Once the final content is in the repository, it can then be published out to either the website or intranet.

Content management systems boast powerful publishing engines which allow the appearance and page layout of the site to be applied automatically during publishing. It may also allow the same content to be published to multiple sites.

Six Popular CMS Platforms

Easily the most accessible and possibly the most commonly used, the strength of WordPress is in its quick installation and the massive user and developer community that results in a vast array of plugins and enhancements for the platform.

A quick trip to the Joomla website will reveal the claim that millions of websites are running on the software, and the reason for this is simple – it is extremely customizable, suitable for pretty much any purpose.

You need little or no coding knowledge to use the best CMS applications, and ModX is a strong example of this. With over 100,000 websites ranging from enterprise-scale businesses to sole traders, ModX is easy to use, allows non-technical staff to create content and affords various advantages such as using multiple styles on the same page.

With a minimalist, direct admin interface and flexible design engine, TextPattern is another ideal solution for producing blogs and corporate sites alike.

Based on the Ruby on Rails framework, RefineryCMS embraces the same conventions that have made that platform a success, adopting a strong focus on the end user when developing the user interface and providing an easy hook to add new functions and redesign both the front end and the admin screens.

A popular free and open source CMS, Drupal is often one of the first choices when building a new website. Like many of the other tools listed here, Drupal can be scaled for personal blogs or enterprise mega-sites, and like WordPress there are thousands of modules that can be added to increase functionality.