I heard a couple of designers going on about CMS-based web sites being the next big thing. Which means this will be the next thing everyone recommends, whether appropriate or not.
A simple rule of thumb is content management strategy and a CMS go together. In general, don't have one without the other.
CMS systems can be used to manage a lot of media: text, images, sound and video. Strategy concerns using media and CMS effectively towards some objective. Without objectives, you may get an unsuitable CMS that only makes the site construction easier for the 'designer.'
Unfortunatly construction is not design. Design isn't about getting the technical end done and cashing the check, it's about user effectiveness. Ease of construction does not mean ease of use.
The business case is about execution: adaptability, precision, and communication. A CMS is supposed to be adaptable. This means you can add a module simply by turning it on. You can use a CMS to reinforce style and procedural guidelines. Each user can have different levels of access, meaning the user does not get functions they'll never use. Perhaps even more important, a content strategy fosters barriers between silos.
One eGovernment site wanted better citizen access and responsiveness. They used their CMS as a way to speak in a clear, consistent way as a responsive single city government ...not a bunch of fiefdoms. Forums, a standard feature of many CMS packages, provide a means of communication. But only by having city government involved in the forums does the kind of positive message of proactive responsiveness get sent.
Another eGov install set up an inventory of available property searchable by developers. By streamlining policies and process, the city effectively communicated how seriously they took business development. The CMS serves as more than a database, it enabled the city to provide the kind of site selection tools only available to large businesses. For example, locating businesses where traffic from one store would be a natural synergy for others. Next step: Exploring collaborative buying opportunities between these natural joint venture partners.
By using the CMS as a hub one company reduced printing costs. By switching from output to puplishing-on-demand, roughly twenty brochures and other sales collateral were reduced to the four pieces the sale force actually used. The objective wasn't to install a CMS -- it was for new kinds of conversations to take place about how organizational assets are combined in new ways
Unfortunately a CMS can not do these things without a content strategy session. The "M" stands for management, not magic. For this, make sure you consult with a designer offering several packages fitting different end-user applications. Avoid technicians who concentrate on one package, or seem too technology centered. When the technologist start leaving out human factors, start looking elsewhere.
-- What do you want to accomplish?
-- Who will produce what kind of content?
-- Who will the users be?
-- Do you need to refine or refocus requirements?
You might be shocked to learn many companies have never seriously discussed the idea of how information and data differ. Strangely enough, these are the companies have the worst luck implementing technology-only 'solutions' to problems. Having such a discussion can shed new light on your most pressing problems. If the strategy discussion never turns to issues of information design and architecture, forget the CMS.
The CMS can be the next big thing for web construction and business effectiveness, but it has the potential to be just another vacuous buzzword. Content managment is a strategy first, and technology a distant second.