Tuesday, December 21, 2004

CMS Exit Strategies

A while back I posted that I was hearing rumblings about Microsoft losing interest in their CMS product (MCMS, formerly NCompass). This "Ask Tony" article from CMS Watch is another datapoint that supports this theory and also gives some strategies for migrating off the platform.

Just two years ago, there seemed to be so much momentum around MCMS and, with a company as formidable and resolute as Microsoft behind it, MCMS seemed like a really "safe" buy. If it does turn out that Microsoft is shifting their strategy away from MCMS, it looks like the conservative buyer is running out of options. It is not enough to look at market share and company financials anymore. With all the turmoil in the marketplace, buyers need to think about substitutability in their content management technology strategy. And it's not just bankruptcy or sunsetting that you have to worry about. Other concerns are changes in product direction, the escalating support and maintenance costs, and just general product neglect.

Below is a list of questions that should be asked during a CMS purchase:

  • Do the licensing terms offer protection against the vendor discontinuing the product? For example, some smaller vendors put their code in escrow to protect their customers in the event that they go out of business.

  • Does the technology store the data in proprietary formats? If so, are there ways to get your content out?

  • If you decide to move off the platform, how much of the custom integration work will be lost?

  • Is the architecture monolithic or divisible? A component based architecture with open API's increases the likelihood that you will be able to gradually move off the platform with less pain by substituting components with better options. Products that run on top of standard open platforms (for example: J2EE or LAMP) have an advantage.

  • What kind of programming skills does it take to maintain their software? Beware of proprietary or rare scripting languages. Those skills are harder to find and also history suggests that products move toward standardization. Just look at how Vignette dragged their customers from Tcl to ASP then JSP. When given a choice of integration technologies, use the more standards based one.

  • Talk to long standing customers. Ask them about migrations to newer versions. Were they required by the vendor? Did they solve problems or add functionality? Was the functionality useful? Was the migration expensive and/or disruptive?


These questions often get overlooked during the excitement of a deal and the focus on feature functionality. It is hard enough to choose the best solution for your organization right now. Thinking about the future and events that you cannot predict and have no control over makes it even harder. But, whether your content is your product or it supports your product, it is too important not to have an exit strategy if things get bad.