A content management system (CMS) is a software program that allows publishing and formatting of digital content in a consistent and structured manner. It supports collaborative publishing, allowing varying levels of access to different content managers. It also ensures content is structured consistently, which is critical to improving how government exposes and shares information and data. A CMS makes it easier to deliver digital information anytime, anywhere, on any device, consistent with the open content principles of the Digital Government Strategy.
Click a note to go to a step in the CMS selection workflow process:
Decide if You Need a CMS
A CMS makes the content publication process much easier and more efficient. It can save time and money, improve customer service, and help your agency publish open content. This business case for CMS lays out strategic business benefits for implementing a content management system.A CMS provides many advantages over static HTML content:• You can quickly update and publish content directly in the CMS without support from technical staff
• Because a CMS typically has an interface similar to a word processing program, you don’t need to know markup language to add or edit content
• Design templates can ensure that the “look and feel” of your site remains consistent
• You can give contributors controlled access to the system, so some people can create, but not publish, while others have full control to create, publish, or delete content
• You can improve search engine optimization and create open content by building forms to collect content and metadata elements in a structured, organized way
Using a CMS also facilitates open content and responsive design by making it easy tostructure your content—by creating content in “chunks” (vs. “pages”) which can be reassembled or aggregated in different ways, to meet specific user needs.
For example, if you post a catalog of items as structured content, the same information can be adapted to render correctly on different screen sizes and devices, so people can view the same catalog on their phone, tablet, desk top, or other device, and it will display in a format best suited to each device. Because a CMS gives you a standardized way to create and tag content, you only need to create the content once, but create it in a way that allows you to adapt it for many different needs.
• Two sites that do this well are USA.gov and AIDS.gov. If you view each of these sites on your PC, you can see all the content available on the homepage, optimized for a large screen. View the same site on your mobile device, and you can see that top taskcontent is presented prominently, in an easy-to-read format that’s been optimized for smaller screens.
Review Types of Content Management Systems
Content management systems come in many flavors, from proprietary, commercial tools with all the bells and whistles, to home-grown systems developed in-house, to open-source tools with a community of dedicated developers working to continually improve the product. Because there are pros and cons with any of these tools, the system you choose should reflect your agency’s goals and objectives.
• Wikipedia lists many types of open-source and commercial systems and frameworks
• A W3Techs report ranks content management systems by popularity
• The CMSCritic website has a huge list of content management systems, each with a brief description
• CMS Review provides a feature list and resources to help select the right CMS
• Real Story Group evaluates 35 CMS vendors, from complex to simpler solutions (note, some free info, but mostly paid)
The Case for Open-Source CMS
Open-source content management systems provide several advantages, the two most important being the ability to customize to your specific needs and support from active developer communities. Open-source software is generally free or has low-cost licensing fees, so an open-source CMS could provide substantial cost savings to agencies initially over licensing fees for a commercial product. Open-source systems also generally provide a lot of freedom to let you customize the system to meet your specific needs.
Open-source software is typically supported by a dedicated community of developers who share code and contribute modifications to continually improve the product. Open source offers the potential for collaboration across agencies to develop systems specifically tailored to government needs. Popular open-source systems widely used across the federal government include WordPress, Drupal, Joomla!, and Plone.
One downside to open source is that you generally need technical expertise on your team to maintain and keep it up-to-date. If you choose an open-source CMS, the initial cost may be low, but you’ll likely need to budget for technical resources to maintain it over time.
Using an open-source CMS doesn’t necessarily mean you’re automatically publishing open content, as required by the Digital Government Strategy. You need to configure any CMS you use to publish structured, open content.
Some resources to help you better understand the open-source CMS landscape:
• BitNami.org—open-source software for app development; a good introduction, if you want to try a smaller scale open-source tool before committing your entire website to open source
• Forrester Report Finds Enterprise Embracing Open-Source WCM—CMSWire article on the growing popularity of open source