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Learn how CMS works and helps individuals and businesses.

Content Management Systems (CMS) allow users to store electronic data in a number of different formats including document files and web content. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Content Management Systems (CMS) allow users to store electronic data in a number of different formats including document files and web content.

Content Management Systems (CMS) allow users to create, manage, modify and publish electronic content in a variety of media or formats. The data can be stored and published as Web content, e-mail, document files, video and audio files (including images) and data records. CMS can be incorporated into larger Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems, which combine technologies to manage a large variety of an organization's otherwise unstructured information. Web-based content management systems allow users to deliver information to Web sites without having to develop technical skills, such as HTML or FTP.

CMS Users

CMS has been adopted by a wide range of users and organizations, from individuals to businesses, professional groups and schools. Businesses use CMS to update information that changes frequently, such as prices and available products, organizational policies and meeting schedules. Home users may simply use CMS to post blogs or update their Web sites with personal announcements, family photos or even resumes and portfolios. Organizations and clubs use CMS to post meeting minutes or publicize upcoming events. Schools use CMS to update catalogues and academic calendars, announce class cancellations or post test results. Colleges and universities increasingly use CMS to enable students to collaborate and update assignments.

Types of CMS

Content Management Systems range from simple software applications to network servers running a host of applications. CMS applications might enable users to use blogging software or networked calendars or work with more sophisticated programming tools, such as PHP and MySQL. Web portals, such as search engines and Internet service providers, extend typical Web page capabilities by offering additional features, including RSS feeds, news and stock updates, printable pages, Internet searches, e-mail and newsgroups.

Infonomics Magazine provides a number of case studies on the wide-ranging use of CMS for Enterprise Content Management. For example, county governments streamline social services by coordinating records and reports with infrastructure maps and geographical information systems. Medical centers automate records so that staff will have instant access, even after hours. Investment banks use software agents to detect trends from accumulated data and alert managers before potential problems occur. Environmentally conscious businesses monitor workflows and reduce environmental footprints.

Choosing a CMS

Firms electing to adopt CMS to manage their information should consider researching carefully before investing the money and development time necessary to convert their documents. The ideal CMS would be accessible, usable, manageable, searchable and flexible. The system that offers the most features may not be the best operationally. Larger organizations might want to consider how well the system functions over the visual look of the documents produced. How well the developer handles updates may be as important as the current features, including how well updates tend to function and what support the developer provides. Finally, organizations should acquire systems their non-technical support staff can update.

Publish lists six considerations for choosing a CMS. The system should:

  • Have exemplary platform capabilities
  • Web management features
  • Vendor viability
  • Collaborative content availability
  • Portal integration
  • Platform consistency

Differences Between CMS and Wikis

CMS shouldn't be confused with Wikis, even though both are designed to manage large amounts of information. Wikis might be considered one content management tool designed primarily for collaboration; the purpose is to allow users full access to any page's content. Wikis can be used in classrooms or to create international databanks and encyclopedias. They function as simple hypertext databases allowing contributors a great deal of freedom in content organization. Pages can be created by following relatively simple rules for text formatting and creating links to other pages. Although Wikis maintain document histories and some sites monitor and restrict contributions, Wikis generally allow contributors to edit, append or even delete other collaborators' contributions.

By contrast, a CMS is largely proprietary and controlled. Public input might be welcomed through news groups, polls and bulletin boards, but members outside the organization rarely have access to the managed content. The stress is not on the full-freedom to edit but on fast and reliable access to diverse content.

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