Coexisting with a suboptimal system


At “Vulture Chicks LLC,” a leading venture capital and research firm, both technical content and marketing content are posted to the public-facing web site. The web services group has installed a content management system dedicated to web content, and they want both marketing and technical content to be stored and managed in the web CMS. The marketing group is working inside the web CMS, and it is a good fit for their requirements.

The problem

The web CMS does not provide features that the technical content team needs. Most critically, technical content is reused across various documents in ways that the web CMS does not support. In addition to web site content, the technical content group also creates output in PDF. Currently, the technical content group is authoring in a different system and then copying and pasting to move the information into the web CMS.1 The process of copying and pasting information is taking up a huge percentage of the technical content team’s time.

The technical content group is being “encouraged” to move their authoring efforts into the web CMS. This would allow marketing and technical content to coexist in a single system, thus reducing the number of systems that need to be maintained. But the technical content group is resisting the change because they do not believe that the system addresses their requirements.


The solution

The best solution is to set up a content management system that meets both groups’ requirements equally, but it is too late for that option. The new web CMS was expensive, and displacing it now is going to be politically impossible. Instead, the technical content group must coexist with this system. There are several options:

  • Work within the web CMS, and adjust the workflow to what the system will support. That would mean eliminating PDF as a supported output format and eliminating most content reuse. The PDF requirement is negotiable, but the lack of support for component-based reuse (topics and paragraphs) is a showstopper.
  • Work within the web CMS, but customize it to provide the features that the technical content group needs.
  • Set up a separate system for the technical content group, and configure it to format and publish information that matches the web CMS output. This has the advantage of providing a system that meets the group’s requirements, and the disadvantage of requiring two separate systems.

    Separate systems for technical and web content

None of these solutions is particularly appealing.

After detailed analysis and discussions with a committee of Vulture Chicks executives, the following facts emerge:

  • Customizing the incumbent web CMS to support component-based reuse would cost approximately $150,000.
  • Customizing the web CMS to support better PDF output would cost approximately $30,000.
  • The 10 staff members in the technical content group are currently spending 20 percent of their time moving information between incompatible systems.
  • Of the 10,000 pages of technical content, 25 percent is currently reused.

Based on this information, Vulture Chicks makes the decision to leave the technical information in the current (separate) system rather than forcing the technical content group into the web CMS.

The business case

Maintaining redundant systems is never a preferred option. In this case, however, the marketing group chose a content management system that meets their requirements (strong templates and branding, web analytics, the ability to schedule content publication to coincide with product launch dates) without any consideration for technical content requirements (support for component-based reuse, PDF output in addition to HTML, strong versioning support).

Table 1. Comparing unpleasant options
Web CMS Dedicated technical content system
Customization for component-based reuse $150,000 (already supported)
Customization for PDF $30,000 (already supported)
Set up formatting to match web CMS (already supported) $20,000
Cost to maintain second system (10 hours per month @ $100/hour) $12,000 per year
The component-based reuse is the biggest problem here, so it is worth asking how much value it adds.

Table 2. Cost savings and revenue generated
Item Cost savings and revenue generated (per year)
Time savings from reuse, 2500 pages (30 minutes per page @ $50/hour) $62,500
Cost of copying and pasting (20 percent of 10 staff members’ time, 4000 hours per year) $200,000
TOTAL $262,500

In short, the copying and pasting process is an enormous cost and must be eliminated.

Table 3. Comparing business cases
Web CMS with reuse/PDF Web CMS without reuse/with PDF Dedicated technical content system
Customization for component-based reuse $150,000
Customization for PDF $30,000 $30,000
Set up formatting to match web CMS output $20,000
Loss of reuse $62,500
Cost to maintain second system (10 hours per month @ $100/hour) $12,000 per year
TOTAL $180,000 $92,500 $32,000

Based on these numbers, a dedicated technical content system looks like the best of a bad set of options. One hidden cost is that the marketing and technical content groups will not be able to share information easily across systems. At Vulture Chicks, the potential reuse across those groups was minimal, but at a different company, that factor might change the business case calculations.

1 I know we’re going to be accused of inventing ridiculous, melodramatic scenarios here. My imagination isn’t that good. This…stuff really happens.


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