Sitecore Implementation Notes

Le kiosque de Sitecore
Image by Frédéric Harper via Flickr

I’m coming up on 2 years of working with Sitecore, a .NET Content Management System (see my post titled “Some Thoughts on Sitecore CMS” for previous thoughts on the subject).  These two years have been interesting, challenging and exciting and educational.

Since I’ve written about Sitecore in the past, I wanted to take some time to circle back around and share some additional thoughts on Sitecore CMS implemention.  While my experience has been with Sitecore, these are general types of CMS questions, thoughts and strategies and could be applied to any other platform.

Before I get into Sitecore, let’s look at CMS implementations in general.

CMS Implementation – 4 questions

For a few minutes, forget about the technology.  Don’t even think about tthat until you can answer these questions:

1.) Why do you want or need a CMS?

This seems like a simple question…but if your answer is to ‘manage web content’, you haven’t completely thought through the strengths of a CMS. Content Management Systems provide much more than just content management; they provide a means to push content ownership out to the subject matter experts.  This holds true for all CMS platforms, whether Sitecore, Ektron, Umbraco, Interwoven, Drupal, WordPress (yes..it is a great CMS) or one of the many others.

2.) How will you allow content owners to actually own the content?

When you get your CMS in place, how will your organization push out ownership of the content? What processes can you put in place to allow you to open your CMS to the all content owners. And…yes…i used the word ‘process’.  Don’t overdo it though!  :)

3.) Who “owns” the CMS?

This is a loaded question.  While the CMS is a content platform, is it owned by the IT group?   Sure, the platform itself is an IT platform and needs IT services to keep it running, but should the IT group ‘own’ the platform?   {My answer: No – the business unit(s) should}

4.) Do you have a web & marketing strategy?  Who “owns” this strategy?

This is one of the questions that seem easy..but it isn’t.  Does your marketing department own the web?  IT?  PR?  Who sets your web strategy?  Do you have a strategy?  How does your CMS driven web fit into your marketing strategy?

Answer these questions before you move into your CMS implementation program and you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble.  I’m working on another article that addresses these questions (and others) that should be part of an organizaiton’s technology selection strategy plan…look for that article in the future.

Sitecore CMS Implementation Thoughts

Now, its time to look at the technology. For those that don’t know, Sitecore CMS is a .NET platform.  If your organization is a Microsoft shop, Sitecore is a great fit for you.  You do have other options (Sharepoint, OpenText, etc) but my experience has me recommending Sitecore over all others in the .NET world.

Pre-implementation

Prior to selecting Sitecore (or any CMS), you’ve got to take some time to think about your processes & workflows.  Determine who will have the ‘final word’ on how content is published and where it lives.  Set some web standards (if you don’t have them already) and determine your content architecture & strategy.  Will you be reorganizing your content?  How about a new design?  Easy decisions right? :)

You’ve answered the four questions above and figured out the high-level stuff…that was easy right?  Not really…its harder than it seems but determining this stuff up front will help tremendously once you start implementing Sitecore CMS as it will driving your implementation strategy and plan.

If you’ve got the budget, hire an outside consultant to help you with this step in the project.  If you bring in the right consultant, they could also act as the overall CMS Program Manager (more on this later).

Implementation

Now that you’ve worked through the pre-implementation phase, what now?  Time to get your Sitecore CMS platform implemented.

What’s the first step?  Grab your development staff  and get some Sitecore Training to get certified.  This certification is much more than just a piece of paper…it gets your team to a point where they can understand the Sitecore terminology and best practices. This often overlooked step in CMS implementations tends to come back around and haunt the organization at a later date.  Spend the money up front and you’ll save money in the long run.

Implementing the basic Sitecore CMS system is a fairly straightforward process.  The hardware requirements are well documented and installation is straightforward.  Sounds easy right?  So far, it is.

You’ve found the hardware, configured it and run the Sitecore CMS installation program. Now it’s time to look at splitting your CMS implementation efforts into three parts: Development, Content & Training

  1. Development – Developing for Sitecore CMS platform isn’t too different than any other .NET development effort. Using .NET best practices, development isn’t too difficult, but the architecture of the platform is extremely important.  Take some time to think about your content and IT infrastructure at this point.
  2. Content – You’ve got a Content Management System (or at least one that is being implemented). Time to start implementing your content architecture plans and filling your sitecore tree with content.  This initial Content work should be done by a single content team…do not leave this work to your content owners.  Take this opportunity to reorganize your content as necessary.
  3. Training – In addition to developing out your website, applications and content, you’ve got to start introducing Sitecore CMS to your organizations’ users.    This means lots of meetings, training and discussions of what the CMS is and how it can help them.  One of the often overlooked pieces of a CMS implementation is end-user training.  Not only do you need to train the organization in the use of the platform, but also in the organizations web & content strategy.

As you can see, implementing a CMS platform like Sitecore is quite a large undertaking even for a smaller organization, but with proper planning and knowledge of Sitecore CMS, you’ll do fine.

Managing the Implementation

CMS implementations are much more than a ‘project’…you’ve got a Program here.  From my experience, an implementation in a medium to large organization requires a Program Manager to lead the different projects with project managers heading up each of the main thrusts of the project (Hardware, Development, Content, Training).

There are many different pieces to an implementation. You’ve got to worry about IT Infrastructure,  Software development, web design, web content and other topics. Spend the money upfront to get a good Program Manager (use an external consultant if needed) and Project Managers (you could use internal PM’s for this). If you approach this right (and have the budget), you can bring in a consultant to help throughout the project (from technology selection through final implementation).

While a CMS implementation is a large undertaking, it’s fairly straightforward if you have some knowledge in web strategy, technology, content, marketing and Sitecore CMS.  While there are a lot of technical issues to work through, the most difficult part of a CMS implementation is really the content strategy, user education and user adoption aspects…this is where experience and thought leadership comes into play.

If you’re looking to implement a CMS (Sitecore or otherwise), forget about the technical aspects of the CMS when you start out…look at the business first to make sure it is capable of sustaining your web & content strategy.  Understand the business needs first then find your CMS and implement the proper workflow and content architecture to meet the current and future needs of the organization.  This is a common sense stuff, but often overlooked when it comes to CMS projects.

There are many people & organizations  that can help…I know many of them and would be happy to help you find the right person or organization to help with your Sitecore (or other platform) implementation. Give me a call or email and I’ll do what I can to help.

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