The Elusive Definition of an Enterprise CMS

Many web CMS vendors and open source communities describe their web content management (WCM) systems as enterprise. But what does enterprise mean in this context? Are there web CMSs out there that are not enterprise? Does it even matter? Is it beneficial for organizations to invest in an enterprise web CMS, or is it just a fancy marketing buzzword that carries little meaning?

What Is Enterprise Software?

Broadly speaking, “enterprise” simply means “business”—a company or an organization with business goals. The opposite of an enterprise is an individual, someone with personal interests, preferences, and needs. So enterprise software is software that’s designed and built for an organization rather than an individual.

What Does Enterprise Mean in Sales and Marketing?

In marketing, “enterprise” typically implies quality, maturity, and premium price. You can put it in the same category as “leading” and “world-class.” These claims might be justified—or they might not be. It’s marketing, after all.

In sales, “enterprise software” refers to products that are purchased on the basis of business and technical requirements, not personal preferences. A manager, or a number of stakeholders, must be persuaded to invest in enterprise software. Sales cycles for enterprise software last 6–9 months on average and require sales representatives with an intimate understanding of the products they sell. Sales professionals also rely on pre-sales technical support at key stages of the sales process in order to showcase the suitability of the product in a convincing manner. Inevitably, the time and effort that go into the long sales process contribute to the higher price of enterprise software.

What Does Enterprise Mean in Relation to Web CMS?

In WCM, the meaning of “enterprise” is more ambiguous. It’s easy to see what an enterprise web CMS is not. A perfect example of a CMS that isn’t enterprise-level is a blogging platform, such as Squarespace or Medium. A blogging platform is a simple solution that can be used to create, edit, publish, and manage web content. It is designed to meet the requirements of an individual or a small business out-of-the-box. Customizations are difficult or impossible, user roles and permissions are simple, and the system tells its users how things should be done. The user has two choices: Take it or leave it. There’s very little in between.

However, an enterprise CMS is flexible and complex. It can be adapted and configured to fit the needs of a large organization with numerous departments, business units, content contributors, and large volumes of content. If you are a large organization looking for an enterprise-level CMS, you should expect the following:

  1. Maturity—Enterprise-level CMSs are robust and mature. They work as intended and are largely bug-free, stable environments. Sometimes, organizations assume that investing in robust, mature platforms will elevate the quality of content. This is not true. The system doesn’t produce content—people do.
  2. Flexibility—An enterprise-level CMS is more of a framework than an out-of-the-box, off-the-shelf product.
  3. Scalability, reliability, and performance—An enterprise-level CMS should be scalable and able to cope with growing website traffic and an increasing number of content assets, without an adverse impact on performance and reliability.
  4. Integration—An enterprise-level system should provide ways to integrate the system with other enterprise solutions.
  5. Governance—Linear and non-linear workflow, granular user rights, and user permissions are essential requirements for a large organization. Audit logs, versioning, and archiving can also be important, particularly in highly regulated industries.
  6. Security—CMS platforms are common hacking targets, so solid security methodology and security certifications are important.
  7. Ongoing technical support—Reliable, responsive technical support should be available either from the vendor (typically priced at around 20% of the license fee) or a service provider specializing in support and maintenance of the chosen web CMS.

Some vendors add other tools to the mix in an attempt to make their solution look more enterprise. Marketing automation, customer relationship management (CRM), ecommerce, multilingual capabilities, and analytics are sometimes bundled up with the web CMS. Although these tools and features can be useful to some organizations, they are not universally required in every organization and don’t necessarily make the web CMS enterprise-level.

Service providers that work with open source web CMS solutions sometimes also use the term “enterprise” simply to differentiate between the paid professional services and a free, community edition with no support contract.

What Is ECM?

Enterprise content management (ECM) muddies the waters further. ECM has very little to do with WCM. It is a practice and a set of tools for managing all of the content in an organization—not just web content, but also documents, records, digital assets, or any other data.

The term “ECM” can be particularly confusing when it comes from web CMS vendors. Software vendors such as Oracle, OpenText, and Liferay compete in the web CMS space, but focus their efforts on selling a suite of products. In this case, ECM isn’t just a bigger or better version of a web CMS—it’s a suite of products for a broad range of requirements.

More recently, players such as Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive started to redefine what ECM actually means by putting emphasis on the collaboration and file-sharing capabilities. In short, ECM and enterprise WCM systems are two terms that may sound similar, but are worlds apart.

If an enterprise web CMS is a mature, robust, and reliable system—that’s also flexible and well-supported—does this mean that enterprise web CMS platforms are generally better quality and a better choice for all? Not always.

Enterprise web CMS can be a burden for organizations that do not have complex WCM needs. To determine if a web CMS is a good fit for your organization, test drive the system using tasks that are performed daily by your content editors. There is no solution that is best and fits all. But there is a system out there, enterprise or not, that is the best choice for your organization and requirements.