Why Content Management is a con

The Web is awash with a myriad of content management solutions, but
they don’t necassarily help employee efficiency.

Web Sites can contain thousands of pages. Maintaining this amount of
information can be difficult, and a costly expense on your employee’s time. The
individual(s) who is responsible for the task of maintaining a web-site will
need to be able to publish new content, maintain existing content, delete old
content and manage access to content. This onerous task tends to occur in a
Content Management System (CMS). A CMS is an application that manages the
creation, maintenance, publishing and access of content, typically, web-site
data. One would think that such a system (which ranges in price from Free to
tens of thousands of pounds) would reduce the cost of entering and maintaining
web page data.

I think they’re wrong.

Consider an average web-site, of about 100 web -pages. This site has static
content (privacy policy, downloadable content, etc), dynamic content (news,
photographs, etc.) and a shop. A CMS solution is used to manage the site.

Your Cheque, Sir.

In its initial stages, the Web Site is conceived either by an external client
or within an internally sourced idea or project. We won’t attach a cost to this.
Note that these are internal costs, so £600 per developer-day markup is not
considered. I’m charging this at salary rates, as many web-sites are internally
generated and managed.

After conception comes design. Design requires initial mock-ups to be
created, test-cases for usability (*** up your ears, Designers) and concept
pages. A decent Designer retails at about £25,000 – £30,000 per annum. Let’s say
two weeks were spent on the designs start to finish, so that is £1,041 (£25,000
divided by 12 months divided by 2 weeks).

Following design, we need to settle on our CMS solution. This requires input
from the design team, the development team and management. Take one designer at £25,000, a developer at £25,000 and a manager at £35,000. A series of four
meetings, each with all parties present, lasting for an hour would then probably
cost us about £100. But let’s add another £100 expenses, such as accommodation
for sales reps, flights, etc.

We have our CMS! The cheque has gone through. An enterprise level CMS can
start cheap and end expensive. Let’s say £20,000 for a professional, mid-range
enterprise solution.

CMS solutions can be very complicated beasts, and we need to make sure we are
going to get the most out of it. We need training. And training isn’t cheap. We
need to train our editors so they can edit the content and our developers so
they can extend on the CMS to provide custom content. A training day is going to
be about £600. Probably a week of those should see us right. Add £3,000 – think
of it as an investment in your people.

Let’s just stop and recap our costs so far:

  • £1,000 for designer time
  • £200 for sales meetings
  • £20,000 for our enterprise content management solution
  • £3,000 for training our team for 5 working days

Cost so far: £24,200

The CMS now needs to be installed and configured. Most are pretty simple to
set up, just copy it on to your web server, change some configurations and
you’re off. I’ll probably write this cost off…

This CMS allows editors in different departments to create and maintain
content according to their role, each of these copywriters might earn between
£18,000 – £25,000.  Great! Users feel empowered, they are given training on the
CMS, which ultimately enhances their careers and content is no longer subject to
the bottleneck while IT publish “low priority” content in the midst of their
“high priority” development.

We have an empty CMS, we now need to get the design working
and navigation working within the site. This can be horrendously complex or
stupidly simple, depending on how the CMS application was written! This is going
to need the techies on this task, and a few days of techie time comes in at £70
per developer (again, I’m quoting salary rates, not charge rates). I think we
could probably do with two on this one, so the training for the two techies can
be used to the max. That’ll be £210 please, Sir, for 2 developers over 3 days.
(I think I am being quite conservative here, it certainly took me longer to
figure out using some of the CMS’s I have used!)

Our site is now structurally implemented, but is quite, quite empty. We
have a whole bunch of specified content. Some of the content is pretty simple,
in terms of Title and Text; other content requires a bit more effort. The title
and text content is about 50% of the site. We can hand that right over to our
copywriters straight away. So 50 pages to our team of two copywriters will
probably cost £250, assuming each page takes a half hour to type in and

Now we have the clever stuff to implement. We need to implement photographs,
according to photographers license permissions and relavance of content. We need
to publish news feeds according to topic and have that dynamically presented in
a moving ticker tape. We need to integrate into our back office to implement a
shop and provide dynamic company information, such as stock quotes and contact
details of staff on the move. Well, no content management solution will do *all*
that (not out of the box anyway), so we are going to have to budget some IT

We have two developers at our disposal. They are quoting about 4 weeks to do
all this content, end – to -end, though I suspect they are applying the “IT
multiplier”, which gives them time to make a few mistakes (they tell me they are
essential proof of concepts that didn’t work out) and recover within their
project plan. That gives us 15 days of 2 developers @ £25,000 pa – a snip at

We’re nearly there, but before we do, we’d better test this thing. Better add
a week of testing and proofing. So that is 5 days by one person @ £25,000 pa
which gives £350.

My developers are moaning they need a new server to accommodate the new CMS,
but I ignore them on the grounds of budget constraints and they had a new server
last month. So, let’s work out the bill:

  • £24,200 (balance brought forward)
  • £210 initial development (site construction)
  • £250 copywriter time to get the “static” content in place
  • £2,800 development time for 2 developers working on the more advanced
    extensible aspects of the CMS
  • £350 … oh yeah, testing and proofing by one person for a week.

Gives us a nice figure of £27,810.


My argument is that if we take away that content management solution, we are
no worse off. So let’s dismantle this web-site.

Saving: £0 on Designer time

Our artistically-oriented designers are separate to the CMS, so we can’t cut
corners here.

Saving: £200 on Sales meetings

No more wining and dining to spend our money means we have more money to
spend internally, and it doesn’t waste anybody’s time.

Saving: £20,000 Content Management

The web site has a lot of content that was edited in the content management
solution, but what content really needs that level of functionality? We know
that 50% of the content is relatively static, so surely a flat form of
Title/Text should do for this? And what of the dynamic content? Seems to me we
had to develop something for that anyway, so what have we gained? £20,000,

Saving £3,000 Training

No Content Management System : No Training. Investors In People is valid for
the rest of the year, anyway, I’ll think of something else they can be trained
on. “CS231: Conscientious working”, perhaps?

Saving £210 Initial construction

We’re starting to get technical now. My developers tell me that they want to
use ASP.NET, which comes with some raw aspects of content management built-in, something called Master Pages and XSL. Anyway, apparently, it won’t be too big a problem to build a site from scratch, But it will cost more of their time. They
tell me about a week to write an basic web site and content tools using their
existing .NET skills.

Cost £700 for initial development phase

Saving: £0 Copywriter time for “static” content

We still need the copywriter team to put the content in to the site, so we
make no savings there. Maybe I could lean on their manager to get them to work

Saving: £0 (?) on Development Time

The dynamic content will definitely need developer time now we have no CMS in
place. Probably about the same time, to be honest. Although, I’m told that
because the developers don’t have to work within the requirements of the CMS
application and are free to work as they like, within their own framework, it
might even finish earlier. I’ve promised them a beer if they can pull it

Saving: £0 on Testing and Proofing

We cut no corners here! No matter the content management solution, it must
still work!

Let’s consider our revised bill:

  • Saving: £0 on Designer time
  • Saving: £200 on Sales meetings
  • Saving: £20,000 Content Management
  • Saving £3,000 Training
  • Saving £210 Initial construction
  • Cost £700 for initial development phase
  • Saving: £0 Copywriter time for “static” content
  • Saving: £0 (?) on Development Time
  • Saving: £0 on Testing and Proofing

That gives me £5,100.

That’s a saving of £22,710.

If Content Management Systems still sound a good idea, then go for it. I’m
all for their convenience and reliability. Buying a CMS, you know the testing
has been done, you will have support and you are investing in your staff.

My argument with CMS’s is not only their prohibitve cost, but also that they
offer a false economy in terms of developer time as much as cost. Consider a
Shop in a CMS. Ordinarily, this could take a developer a couple of weeks to
implement a basic shop and get it into a testing stage. But this is a scenario
where they hold all the cards: they control the database, the data structures,
the code, the presentation. Everything is theirs. They know how it all works and
can work with it accordingly. That is not the case in a CMS. A CMS brings with
it constraints in terms of security, presentation, content availability, etc.
Each CMS access it’s data in a different way, some present more hoops than
others. You actually reach a point where it takes longer to develop for a CMS
than without.

Seems to me that it is cheaper, AND quicker to write a web-site without a
CMS. With great components from the likes of Telerik, and you can build your own
basic tools behind your web-site to facilitate users’ interaction with data and
content. This surely is where Web 2.0 should be taking us … a leaner, cheaper