Tools and Technology
Due Diligence in Selecting Technology for CM
The Rockley Group, Inc.
"How do I convince my management to spend money on CM tools?" That's a common question that people ask when we're talking about business cases. Part of the answer lies with the process of selecting tools and being able to show "due diligence".
I love the term, "due diligence". I first heard it when I worked for a software company whose growth strategy revolved around the acquisition of complimentary software companies. The term was used to describe the effort made by our executives to ensure they knew exactly what they were buying. But what is due diligence? Merriam-Websters' online dictionary  gives the following definitions for the two parts of the term:
due: required or expected in the prescribed, normal, or logical course of events
diligence: the attention and care legally expected or required of a person (as a party to a contract)
Not a lot of help and a little redundant. The following definition from La Piana Associates, management consultants for non-profit and similar ventures, is pretty clear:
What is due diligence? Due diligence is the process by which confidential legal and financial information is exchanged, reviewed and appraised by the parties before a merger (or other legally binding) agreement is finalized. The essence of the due diligence process is an effort to make everyone on the negotiation committee, and by extension everyone on the board, as aware as a prudent board member can be of any liabilities the other party may bring to the table. The desire is to create a "no surprises" situation so that when, say, six months after a merger's effective date, a balloon payment on a loan must be met, no one can claim that the matter was hidden. 
"No surprises" is good, but this definition is specific to acquisitions and mergers. A more generic description comes from the Corpa Group, a private investigation firm:
Due Diligence is really a form of risk management most commonly known as doing your homework before you invest. 
For selecting technology, you need to exercise due diligence in identifying the candidate software and then demonstrate (show) your due diligence to convince your management that you have made the right decision, with no surprises!! The nastiest surprise, and the one you most want to avoid, is when the technology doesn't really do what you want.
Know what you need the product to do
You can subtitle this "Focus on functionality." To put it simply, your primary goal in selecting technology is to understand the functionality that you need in a content management system and then find which systems can deliver it. Lots of companies go into their tool selection processes without a good understanding of what they need and are then "seduced" by really cool functionality that really doesn't help them. For example, personalization is a popular buzzword for web content right now, so web CM vendors who say they offer personalization functions get lots of attention. But many companies don't really know how they need or want to present personalization to their customers.
The correct sequence for matching functionality needs against tools is this:
- Develop a vision of how you need to create, manage, manipulate, translate, and deliver content
- Determine the functionality that you absolutely need to deliver the minimal accepted subset of that vision
- Determine the functionality that would help you to deliver beyond the minimal subset (these are the should have/nice to haves)
- Create a functional specification that documents the needed and desired functionality
- Begin comparing the delivered (promised?) functionality of the potential solutions against your needs to establish candidates
- Short list the most likely candidates and dig into the details; that is, confirm the functionality delivered against your needs
- Select the best candidate and push for a pilot
In addition to separating the mandatory functionality from the nice-to-haves, you can apply a weighting factor to desired functionality to help with the decision. It will help you to rank the value of the nice-to-haves. If you apply a numerical value to functionality, you can add up the available functionality in a product and calculate a score.
You can also provide scoring to mandatory functionality, so that out-of-the-box is given a higher score than extensions.
IT departments have often been accused of taking over technology projects and focusing on the technology (toys) and ignoring business requirements. This may or may not be your experience. Either way, include IT in your selection process. (For some companies, this is mandatory.) They can help you in a number of different ways.
- They've probably been involved in software selection projects before, and can therefore help you through the process. This is invaluable if you are participating in tools evaluations for the first time.
- They can help identify any required standards and technical requirements for your environment, such as database, language (coding), hardware, network.
- They can help identify any support requirements that may be associated with the tool.
- They can help set up tests and evaluations.
Know what is out of the box
Do not settle for simple "Yup, we can do that" answers from vendors. Understand the functionality that is delivered "out of the box" and what requires customization or extensions to be built into the product. Many products offer a basic functionality set as out-of-the-box functionality, but then provide programming interfaces that can be used to extend that functionality to meet specific requirements. So make sure when you ask vendors if their product delivers certain functionality, or can accomplish some specific sort of task, that they tell you whether it is default behavior, configured behavior, or behavior that must be coded in as extensions.
Get customized demos
If your email inbox is anything like mine, you probably receive lots of invitations to attend webinars for CM products. They can be very educational. They can also be misleading. Remember that the vendors are using these forums to showcase the key features of their products. The vendors focus on the features/functionality that show their product in the best light and which will be attractive to the widest prospect base. But, everyone has different needs in content management. When you are researching systems, ask the vendors for a custom demonstration, one that shows the system do what you want it to do. Most vendors are quite willing to set up web sessions and demonstrate their system. Also, ask them if it is possible for them to demonstrate using your content. If they're hungry enough and it's not too difficult or time-consuming to do it, they will. You might go so far as to create scenarios typical of your authoring, publishing, reuse, etc. processes and have vendors demonstrate that scenario, using real content.
Don't hesitate to ask the vendors for references to other companies who are using the product to solve similar problems. Some of the best information that you can get about products will come from the people who are already using it.
In addition to sharing their product knowledge, references can also tell you about the vendors. Ask them about their experiences with the vendor. Have specific questions prepared for the references, ask all references the same questions, and compare the answers. Ask questions like: Have they been responsive to needs? Has support been effective? Quickly offered or slow to arrive? Ask direct questions like, "What issues did you encounter?" "How long did it take them to respond to issues?.
Understand that "easy to use" is subjective
What is easy to use for one writer or one company can be difficult to use for others. If a reference says that they found the software easy to use, make sure you know "when" the software was easy to use. Was it easy to use right away? Or was it easy to use after the training was complete. Or, was it easy to use after extensive modifications to the interface Find out if their users have a similar technological sophistication to your own. Find out how they are using the system.
Push for a pilot
The CM software market is a buyer's market right now. With anywhere between 200 and 700 companies touting a "content management" product or solution, there is a lot of competition for your dollars. That gives you some leverage. Use it. Push the vendors to work with you through a pilot or proof-of-concept where you get access to their system for minimum dollars to test your key assumptions. You probably won't be able to get commercial products for free, but you may be able to negotiate limited access to the software for the cost of support or services for the period of the trial.
Investigate both the product and the vendor
Your management will be looking to ensure that you have a good understanding of both the tool you want to buy and the vendor selling it. The larger the sticker price on the software, the more interested they will be in the long-term viability of the vendor you have selected. No company wants to buy a million dollars worth of software from a company may not be there six months after the purchase. Collect financial reports, including quarterly and annual reports. Look for articles in the financial press that can show that your vendor is likely to be around for many years to come. Your executives will be concerned about long-term support.
Create a formal proposal
Finally, when you feel confident you have given the selection process due diligence, create a formal proposal/report out of your selection. Your executive might only want to read the summary, but they will definitely want to see something that shows the extent of your research. It is the proof of your "due diligence." Your proposal should include:
- Executive Summary
- Summary of issues with the effective cost of not fixing them
- Summary of your selection methodology
- Required functionality with key and nice-to-haves differentiated
- Short list of systems with positives and negatives identified
- Your recommendation
Your proposal might also include a list of all of the candidates reviewed with a comment on why they were rejected.
Your executive will be much more likely to approve your CM purchase if you show the same sort of due diligence that they do when approaching business deals. This means being methodical, organized, thorough, and complete. You must consider both functionality and vendors.