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What is a Content Management System?

A Content Management System (CMS) is critical to the success of almost every website and intranet, and yet many organisations are not familiar with this technology.

In this article the focus is on web content management, and will only touch upon broader content issues at the end of the document.

The business challenge

You have a website, or intranet. It has grown over time, and while it is very useful, it is far from being perfect.

Much of the content is out-of-date or inaccurate, updating the site is complex, and the appearance is becoming outdated.

Worse yet, you've lost track of all the pages on the site, and by having all the changes made by your skilled webmaster, the updates are piling up in their in-tray.

What was on the site last week, or last year? You couldn't say because you have little control. In the back of your mind, you know that this could leave you in a difficult position if a customer sues, but there isn't much you can do.

If this sounds grim, you are not alone. In fact, it's the natural consequence of maintaining a site using manual tools such as Dreamweaver or Frontpage.

Thankfully, these problems are what a CMS is specifically designed to solve.

CMS: A working definition

A Content Management System (CMS) supports the creation, management, distribution and publishing of corporate information.

It covers the complete lifecycle of the pages on your site, from providing simple tools to create the content, through to publishing, and finally to archiving.

It also provides the ability to manage the structural layout of the site, the appearance of the published pages, and the navigation provided to the users.

Business benefits

There are a wide range of business benefits that can be obtained by implementing a CMS, including:

  • Streamlined authoring process.
  • Faster turnaround time for new pages and changes.
  • Greater consistency.
  • Improved site navigation.
  • Increased site flexibility.
  • Support for decentralised authoring.
  • Increased security.
  • Reduced duplication of information.
  • Greater capacity for growth.
  • Reduced site maintenance costs.

Beyond these, the greatest benefit the CMS can provide is to support your business goals and strategies.

For example, the CMS can help to improve sales, increase user satisfaction, or assist in communicating with the public.

Anatomy of a CMS

The functionality of a content management system can be broken down into several main categories:

  • Content creation.
  • Content management.
  • Publishing.
  • Presentation

Each of these will be explored in the following sections:

The CMS manages the entire lifecycle of pages, from creation to archival

Content creation

At the front of a content management system is an easy-to-use authoring environment, designed to work like Word. This provides a non-technical way of creating new pages or updating content, without having to know any HTML.

The CMS also allows you to manage the structure of the site. That is, where the pages go, and how they are linked together.

Almost all content management systems now provide a web-based authoring environment, which further simplifies implementation, and allows content updating to be done remotely.

It is this authoring tool that is the key to the success of the CMS. By providing a simple mechanism for maintaining the site, authoring can be devolved out into the business itself. For example, your marketing manager maintains the press release section, while your product manager keeps the catalogue up to date.

Content management

Once a page has been created, it is saved into a central repository in the CMS. This stores all the content of the site, along with the other supporting details.

This central repository allows a range of useful features to be provided by the CMS:

  • Keeping track of all the versions of a page, and who changed what and when.
  • Ensuring that each user can only change the section of the site they are responsible for.
  • Integration with existing information sources and IT systems.



Content Management Systems boast powerful publishing engines which allow the appearance and page layout of the site to be applied automatically during publishing. It may also allow the same content to be published to multiple sites.

Of course, every site looks different, so the CMS lets the graphic designers and web developers specify the appearance that is applied by the system.

These publishing capabilities ensure that the pages are consistent across the entire site, and enable a very high standard of appearance.

This also allows the authors to concentrate on writing the content, by leaving the look of the site entirely to the CMS.

The CMS fully automates the publishing of your site


The Content Management System can also provide a number of features to enhance the quality and effectiveness of the site itself.

As an example, the CMS will build the site navigation for you, by reading the structure straight out of the content repository.

It also makes it easy to support multiple browsers, or users with accessibility issues. The CMS can be used to make your site dynamic and interactive, thereby enhancing the site's impact.

Beyond the web

So far, we have concentrated on the creation of HTML content for corporate websites or intranets. While this is the strongest aspect of most content management systems, many can do much more.

Central to the power of many systems is the concept of 'single source publishing', where a single topic can be published automatically into different formats.

This could include printed formats (PDF, Word, etc), wireless/hand-held formats (WAP, etc), or XML.

This article is extracted from http://www.steptwo.com.au

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