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Buyer's Guide

by Craig Borowski,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: March 10, 2017

Content management solutions are divided between two categories: those that offer services for publishing content on a website, and those that provide infrastructure for organizing company documents. Add to this the variety of software for highly specialized workflows, such as case or contract management, and the process of selecting the right content management system (CMS) gets tricky.

This buyer’s guide is intended to make the process much more bearable. Here’s what we’ll cover:

What Is a Content Management System?
Common Features of a Content Management System
What Is Enterprise Content Management (ECM)?
CMS Use Case: Case Management Application
What Type of Buyer Are You?
Benefits and Potential Issues
Market Trends to Understand
Best Tactics for Selecting New Software
How Is It Priced?
Recent Events You Should Know About

What Is a Content Management System?

Content management systems are software solutions used to author, organize and store content for a business. “Content,” itself, can refer to a huge range of things: from documents for systems of record (e.g., birth certificates for a government agency) to invoices for a services company to working office documents, such as Excel spreadsheets. Moreover, “content” doesn’t just mean traditional, text-based documents—it can also refer to multimedia files, the written copy on a website or content generated on social media.

The CMS market broadly divides into two main product groups:

Web content management. First, there are CMS for websites, often specified as “Web-CMS (W-CMS).” As generally understood, a W-CMS helps create published and unpublished content within a website that is intended for public distribution. The W-CMS platform can facilitate a blog and an online store, among other types of Web-based content.

Document management. Second, there are document management systems, sometimes labeled “DMS” to distinguish them from W-CMS. A DMS deals, for the most part, with electronic or printed content that has not been created for public distribution. Some examples would be internal documents that help a company function (e.g., company reports), or client-facing documents that facilitate transactions, such as contracts and invoices.


iDatix's Scandox software for image capture and indexing

Common Features of a Content Management System

While some products in the CMS market are “integrated suites” (meaning they house multiple CMS applications all in one place), others are sold as “best-of-breed” systems (single applications). Below is a breakdown of applications that may be available either on their own, or bundled as part of a suite.

Further, since W-CMS and DMS solutions are architected to manage different types of content, they house distinct types of applications. Here are the application categories for each:

Application Categories: W-CMS

Publishing Facilitates online authoring and publishing, including features such as text editors, Web page creation modules, blogging modules and workflow management.
Ecommerce Helps you create and maintain an online store.
E-forms Helps create with transactional content, including forms for clients to complete when submitting data or conducting an online purchase.
Social networking Allows readers to interact with published content, including commenting and social sharing features.
Intranet A Web-CMS can be also used to create a private internal website for distributing content amongst employees.

Application Categories: Document Management Software

Document capture & image processing Helps you scan print documents and images and convert them into digital form.
Digital asset management Enables the upload, storage and organization of media, such as videos and photos.
Case management Helps you create documents for a business process, such as a claim, proposal, request or complaint. Workflow functions automate the process by generating forms, auto-populating fields and allowing for review and approvals.
Contract management Helps track and automate transactional content, such as mortgages, forms and commercial contracts, throughout the document life cycle.
Records management Helps with the organization, storage, movement, archiving and retrieval of company records.
Business process management Supports advanced document-tracking features targeted at high-volume, content-centric businesses. Often includes tools for workflow management and business intelligence.
Reporting & analytics Identifies and presents key insights extracted from a company’s unstructured content, including reports for government compliance.

What Is Enterprise Content Management?

Buyers searching for CMS solutions will often encounter the term “enterprise content management,” and a variety of products that fall under that umbrella. ECM is a qualifying term for CMS solutions that, in general, are designed for organizations with larger-scale needs.

There are a few ways to think of what makes a content management solution an “enterprise” tool:

Larger companies. "Enterprise" is a term often used to refer to very large companies (as opposed to SMBs, or "small to mid-sized businesses"). If a company is larger, it naturally produces a higher volume of content, and thus may require a higher degree of functionality. Conversely, “enterprise” vendors are those that have experience with, and have created systems to serve, high-volume content needs. Note, however, that an ECM solution may still be an option for smaller businesses that have a content-centric business model—especially since some ECM vendors have new pricing structures that provide a gateway for SMBs.

Company-wide scale. The term “enterprise” can refer to an organization that is structured as multiple departments that work together towards a unified business strategy. “Enterprise” content management, therefore, indicates a company-wide solution, as opposed to software designed for individual units or departments. Moreover, ECM can refer to company-wide strategies or best practices for content management.

DMS affiliation. Finally, most experts we talked to agree that “enterprise content management” is a term strongly connected to document management products; thus, enterprise content management solutions are less often affiliated with W-CMS, or website management.

Document management software demonstration video from EMC’s Documentum

CMS Use Case: Case Management Application

Let’s say you work for a large gym chain, where your company’s content is currently distributed between individual workers’ computers at local gyms, in electronic records on the company servers and in your centralized customer relationship management (CRM) system. When a customer calls to make a complaint, past interactions might be trapped in someone’s email inbox, in paper notes or only in employees' memories. Thus, even if the customer has called previously, you may have to start over each time a customer calls, which will slow issue resolution.

However, if you had case management software—a type of a document management solution—you could pull up the customer’s account and see every meeting, phone call or email exchange your team has ever had regarding that complaint. You might also see a record, such as a gym contract, attached to the case to help you decide how to proceed with the complaint in question.


An inbox in IBM Case Management Navigator

A case management system will walk an employee through a set process of dealing with a customer complaint, where at each step, they can task the next step to the most relevant employee. When a complaint is resolved, a manager or administrator can close the case. This type of software can benefit the entire company, providing ready access to reports that show key performance metrics and progress towards resolving open claims.

What Type of Buyer Are You?

To sort through the many content management systems and products that exist and start your comparison, it helps to identify yourself with one of the buyer profiles we commonly see in this market:

Upgrading from print-document processes. Many buyers are from small businesses that are evaluating a CMS for the first time. They are currently using a desktop application such as Microsoft Word, with files stored on individual desktop computers or as printed-out copies, and are looking to digitize records and modernize how the company’s documents are organized and processed. These buyers would need a starter to mid-range document management solution.

Large enterprise. Large firms tend to have multiple software systems that need to interact with the CMS, and may require extensive customizations. They may also have different departments that are already using a variety of CMS solutions, and want a global solution to replace these departmental systems. Generally, these firms are looking to ensure security, create a consistent process across the organization and conduct analyses to improve business processes. These buyers would need an enterprise content management solution.

Departmental buyers. Some buyers want to manage content only for a specific department. For instance, human resources may require a system that organizes confidential employee records and helps them onboard new employees. Meanwhile, sales teams may require applications that integrate with their customer relationship management software (e.g., Salesforce).

Highly regulated industries. Regulated industries such as banks, health care and government also have very strict guidelines for protecting sensitive documents. They also have substantial requirements around reporting. There are specialized CMS products dedicated to compliance, audit trails and reports that serve this market well.

Creating a website with greater functionality. Some buyers are looking for a Web content management system to create a website for their company for the first time, while others are searching for a system that can better leverage the Web either for online marketing or for business operations. These buyers want a user-friendly W-CMS solution that has the most up-to-date tools for engaging readers online.

Benefits and Potential Issues

Companies that adopt the right types of content management software may realize many benefits, such as:

  • Maintaining a secure documentation system, with reporting capabilities to comply with government standards.
  • Easily scanning and uploading printed documents for increased efficiency and digital recordkeeping.
  • Automating cases and claims with workflow software that keeps the process streamlined.
  • Engaging readers and clients through an interactive website.

Companies that fail to realize some of these core benefits often do so because they:

  • Select a document management system without first researching the way people currently create, share and store content to find a solution that fits best with existing practices.
  • Fail to properly train staff in the transition to implementing a new document management strategy.
  • Neglect to invest in the proper customizations and integrations that would make the content management system seamless with existing business processes.

Market Trends to Understand

As you compare content management software, it’s important to keep the following industry trends in mind:

Cloud-based CMS. The biggest trend is the movement of document management and Web content management to the cloud. While many companies may have used an on-premise company intranet for content management for some time, companies such as M-Files, Acquia and SpringCM are now offering an alternative in the form of cloud-based subscription options.

Collaboration. Today, content is often created by multiple authors—which means they need the tools to share, comment on and discuss work as they go. In the first year that Microsoft Sharepoint acquired the chat tool Yammer, for example, subscriptions for Yammer grew 55 percent, indicating that social and collaboration tools that integrate with content management solutions are becoming increasingly essential.

Compliance. The Managing Government Records Directive, signed into law in 2012 by the Obama administration, in addition to existing records regulations, may well fuel growth in the CMS market. These laws focus on banks, health and government organizations, and create strict requirements for digital recordkeeping, security and audits. Document management solutions can help highly regulated organizations in these industries comply with ever-changing government criteria and standards.

Best Tactics for Selecting New Software

Evaluating new content management software can be a daunting task—there are many variables to consider and hundreds of products from which to choose.

We recently surveyed software buyers across multiple industries to determine which tactics are most effective for selecting software. Top methods include checking vendor references, having agreements reviewed by an attorney, assessing financial viability of vendors and preparing a request for proposal (RFP).

selection quadrant

By sticking to selection tactics that fall in the "most effective" quadrant and avoiding tactics in the "least effective" quadrant, you can ensure your time is spent wisely in finding the right software.

How Is It Priced?

Content management software pricing generally falls into one of two categories:

Pricing Model Description Example
Subscription-based, or “Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)" A monthly or annual fee based on the number of users who access the system and/or the amount of storage space used. M-Files, Fabasoft, Alfresco, SpringCM, Sharepoint
Perpetual license fee A one-time, per-user or per-computer fee. Some products allow multiple users on a single license, while others require an additional license for each user. Updates, support and training may be a separate cost. ECM2 Documentum, IBM, OnBase by Hyland

Recent Events You Should Know About

Acquia named as Leader in Web Content Management Magic Quadrant. For the third consecutive year, Acquia is named by Gartner as a “Leader” in the Magic Quadrant for the Web Content Management category.

Epicor acquires content management software provider docSTAR. In January 2017, docSTAR, the New York-based provider of document management software, was acquired by ERP solutions provider Epicor. This is a move aimed at expanding Epicor’s collection of tools for digital business transformation.

BloomReach acquires Hippo to build intelligent digital experience platform. In October 2016, Commerce personalization platform maker BloomReach acquired web content management company Hippo, allowing BloomReach to offer an experience platform that uses data and algorithms to more accurately determine each visitor’s intent.


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