CMS – The Knowledge Workers Industrial Revolution?

Last week it was reported in the UK press that journalists for a local newspaper are going to strike over the implementation of a Content Management System.

I found this really interesting and it sparked a Twitter conversation with the most learned of my fellow content management professionals – Philippe Parker (@proops) and Zahoor Hussain (@izahoor) and I started to feel that 140 chars wasn’t cutting it and was inspired to blog.

There is a feeling of an industry coming of age in this story, that the implementation of our industries software has a marked and profound effect on organisations, this ‘C’ level attention I’ve been talking about recently.

I have used the industrial revolution analogy in the title as clearly one of the benefits of implementing a CMS system is around efficiency. The most basic ROI of doing more with the same or maybe less resources – the same crude metric for implementing spinning looms instead of spinning wheels – that revolutionised the textile industry and therefore presumably the clothes we wear today.

In addition easier to use tools enable artists with no craft skills to create stuff – move to today where even I can upload my company logo or a witty message onto a website and some machine somewhere will reel off a T shirt for me – I don’t need to know how to spin, sew, screen print or any of that stuff.

I can extend the analogy slightly further, in that the  industrialisation of making stuff created a more consistent quality product that was available to the masses. Much like CMS systems, being easier (and cheaper) to use than hand crafting html, with their spell checkers, accessibility compliance, metadata tagging, XHTML standards, navigation management  and work-flow processes – create better, more consistent content, delivered efficiently, at an acceptable price (maybe!) for the masses.

I feel sorry for the vendor involved, caught up on the front line here (and in the full contact sport that is being a CMS vendor, someone will score a cheap shot on this). I am fairly sure the Luddites really didn’t give a stuff about the make of loom they were destroying during their futile effort to hold back change.

(Clearly I could be wrong, it might be about the product and the journalists might be striking because the vendors product UI makes their eyes bleed – but I doubt it!)

Of course, there is something more subtle going on here than just Luddites burning computers and this blog post by Roy Greenslade – a journalist from the the Guardian Newspaper – touches on a lot of great points. The issue is far more complex than I could cover in this blog, in an industry widely commented as facing huge threats and change.

But, reading the Greenslade article you get an insight into not just the industrial relations faux par committed (the bit that’s making the mainstream news) – but also, reading it as a Content Management Professional (as Philippe and Zahoor pointed out in their tweets) about the CMS implementation Pandora’s box they have opened.

How many times have we seen CMS projects, with a super bit of software, lovingly moulded and crafted by some great folks in a project to fit their perception of the business – ultimately fail as there was no buy in from the people that use the thing?

A process that works best starting from the procurement – I’ve seen great projects, ambitious projects – build fantastic foundations for success by getting those stakeholders into the process early. Do know you what? Those projects are the ones that beat the widely quoted industry average of a 3 year project/software churn.

Those very efficiency savings and ROI figures don’t look so rosy if you factor in the real possibility of the users  hating it (even if they don’t officially go on strike) that only 50% of the team will adopt the software, that this will be the peak as those numbers dwindle as they either scrape together budget to do their own thing, continue to use existing tools, email you their content in word documents or work on a way to replace the system. Seriously, user adoption is the most critical factor in the success of a project, post the ticker tape parade of go-live.

That’s where my analogy falls apart, this is not the industrial revolution, we’re not implementing new machines, operated by less people with lower skills, – OK so they just don’t need to be HTML craftsman, but they still need to be good writers – as Greenslade puts it in his blog –

it is clear that “content” is not a substitute for “journalism”

I am not suggesting that in a single blog post  I have the answers to, what is obviously a complex issue for the Johnstone Press – but at face value, the story does highlight that implementing a CMS is an opportunity, but one that in every organisation must be considered seriously.

Whilst it does perhaps open up journalism or publication to the less skilled masses (as I demonstrate by writing this) –  a CMS is not a content loom churning out more content, it relies on the quality raw material.

That raw material is reliant on good quality, knowledgeable people that needs to be respected as you build the machine – it is, if you like a better spinning wheel, requiring deft operation by a knowledge worker – not by a sooty faced Victorian child.

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