7 criteria for evaluating an agile CMS (RFP template included)

7 criteria for evaluating an agile CMS (RFP template included)

A good content management system (CMS) is more than just a simple website builder — it also forms the backbone that is responsible for delivering seamless digital customer experiences across a multitude of channels. With hundreds of CMS options to choose from, it’s easy for an organization to get lost in a sea of competing features while evaluating different vendors. Selecting the right CMS depends on an organization’s business needs, goals, and use cases.

Forrester Research recognizes that an agile CMS enables brands to deliver modern, digital experiences. Read on to learn how to choose an agile CMS and to learn more about its benefits.

Download our sample RFP template to help you make an informed decision. It also includes a list of important questions to ask vendors as you’re doing your research on finding the right CMS for your business.

What is an agile CMS?

An “agile CMS” is a term coined by Forrester Research to describe a flexible and extensible CMS solution that offers both developers and marketing practitioners a common set of publishing, workflow, and collaboration tools to iteratively create, curate, and deliver content across channels and campaigns.

7 key criteria for choosing an agile CMS

Traditional content management systems often mean enterprise teams end up working in silos with different tools and platforms for marketing, IT, and other practitioners. To combat this, an agile CMS needs to have the following:

1. A holistic approach to managing enterprise content

Holistic content management requires understanding that different teams need to manage a variety of content types in multiple locations.

Look for a CMS that unifies content operations into a content hub — a singular location where all teams can find and manage enterprise content. This makes it possible for a marketing team to manage a product launch by orchestrating unified content delivery across websites, mobile apps, campaign engines, commerce tools, internal systems, support portals, and knowledge bases from the same platform. Such an approach enables efficiency and content reuse across the organization as different teams can easily find and leverage content that has already been created.

2. Collaboration and planning tools

To operate with agility, companies should provide marketing and IT teams a single collaboration platform that integrates with their tools and serves all stages of the content creation process.

Such a platform should enable automated workflows between content creation, project management, digital asset management (DAM), and distribution tools and processes.

Look for a CMS vendor that facilitates cross-functional collaboration by giving all teams one place to plan, execute, review, and deliver work.

3. Flexible deployment options and usability

An agile CMS should be flexible enough to deliver content to both existing and emerging channels.

Flexible deployment options and usabilityIn recent years, headless content delivery has taken center stage. Decoupling the back-end and front-end systems makes it easier to deliver content via APIs faster and at scale. Organizations with strong IT and development teams often favor this approach because it gives them control over the brand experience and freedom to use their preferred languages and frameworks. However, this also means that headless implementations are more complex since significant technical expertise is required. And in the absence of a front-end user interface, marketing teams need to rely heavily on technical teams for even the simplest tasks.

For these reasons, many organizations prefer a flexible deployment model that blends the benefits of traditional CMS and headless CMS — one that supports both marketers and developers with API-first content services to deliver content at scale and easy authoring tools, such as editing single-page applications in a what-you-see-is-what-you-get interface, to create experiences. While such hybrid options are available, very few vendors can actually provide a truly unified experience (despite what their marketing materials might say).

An agile CMS should be able to support all deployment options, offering flexibility and scalability without sacrificing ease of use for all your teams while also reducing the cost of content operations.

4. Sophisticated personalization capabilities

While discussed heavily for several years now, content personalization is a topic that continues to remain challenging for enterprises. While some CMS solutions provide rudimentary rules-based personalization capabilities, these approaches do not scale when there are hundreds of audience segments and thousands or millions of customers.

Personalization at scale requires artificial intelligence (AI) that can consume and act automatically on vast amounts of analytics and data. Whether it is to dynamically allocate traffic to the winners of A/B testing, provide hyper-personalized offers to shoppers, or reallocate experiences based on constantly evolving segmentation, a CMS with strong AI capabilities can help increase agility greatly since teams are then freed from the manual analysis, setup, and optimization needed to achieve similar results.

5. Extensible architecture and integrations

An agile CMS must have the ability to integrate with existing enterprise tools and allow companies to configure it at a granular level to suit their business needs. This includes integration readiness with content creation platforms, data platforms, analytics solutions, marketing automation, campaign management, advertising platforms, work management solutions, commerce engines, and several others.

When built on a truly extensible architecture, such a CMS can easily scale and remain future-proof as companies grow and change, resulting in significant cost and time savings down the road.

Look for a CMS that gives you the ability to change how the platform works all the way from the UI to logic while retaining the ability to receive regular updates even if changes are made to the application.

6. Strong market presence

While having a strong customer base is a requirement for any vendor evaluation, it’s imperative when looking for a CMS. Given how complex and distinct every enterprise CMS implementation is, a vast customer base with case studies across several geographies and verticals demonstrates that a vendor has the tools, processes, and support organization needed to solve unique challenges. Success in dealing with different situations can save significant amounts of time and effort in the long run, helping organizations remain agile.

7. Global partner network

A global partner network gives buying organizations access to trusted advisors around the world who have a track record in customer success, strategic expertise, and the technical prowess needed to handle different challenges.

When evaluating an agile CMS, look for a vendor that has a strong partner ecosystem, ranging from agencies and system integrators having expert and certified talent to technology partners like software vendors that extend the functionality of the chosen CMS via integrations.

Selecting the right CMS

Evaluating a CMS is challenging in the face of the hundreds of options that exist in the market today. It is important to choose the CMS that aligns with your specific business objectives, supports your organization’s growth, and makes it easier for the entire organization to manage content collaboratively, all while providing a seamless customer experience across multiple channels.

Once you’re ready to start your search for the best CMS for your organization, you can use our sample RFP template and read through market research guides assessing top CMS vendors, such as The Forrester Wave for Agile Content Management Systems, to help with your evaluation.

Nikunj Merchant is a part of the AEM Sites product marketing team and leads product marketing efforts for our content and commerce offerings. Before Adobe, Nikunj worked for a series of high growth companies in roles where he predominantly led product marketing and demand generation. He is fascinated by the psychology behind human thought and action, and he loves doing deep dives on why companies make the decisions they do. He also happen to be a massive sports fan (Arsenal, Lakers, Ferrari, Federer, Indian cricket team, Team Liquid), and can spend hours debating why "HIS" teams/athletes are the best. Always excited to connect with new people on LinkedIn!