Is Your CMS an Expert, or Just Pretending to be One?
Ten years or 10,000 hours.
In his 2008 book Outliers, that’s the minimum amount of practice Malcolm Gladwell said it takes to become an expert in something. I’ve seen this number quoted regularly as evidence for the need for putting in time to master something, rather than just claiming expertise.
We built the first websites in higher ed using content management systems (CMS) and, in those days (way back in the late 1990s!), the choice of tools was limited. The available CMS options were either not robust enough or too complicated for the task at hand and very expensive. We recognized that we had an opportunity to develop our own CMS:
- We had talented developers who could build a pretty cool CMS (in fact, some of our code did become part of a commercial CMS, just not our own).
- We had a clear vision for how important a tool a CMS would be.
- And, of course, having a “product” would mean recurring revenue as clients continued to pay us for support, upgrades, new releases, and customization.
Yes, it was all tempting. Very tempting. But we passed on the opportunity — and I’m so glad we did. One of the main reasons we declined to develop our own CMS is related to Gladwell’s “10,000-Hour Rule.”
It’s called focus. The hard truth is that every business needs to ask “What do we do best?” and then work very hard to do that thing as well as absolutely possible. mStoner aspires to be a great company and so we focus on our key areas of experience and, I dare say, expertise, which are strategy, consulting, content, and design. While a third of our team is developers, for us, software follows strategy, as do content and design.
Theoretically, we could still develop a CMS. But there’s a hitch: very, very (!) few companies that do strategy and design well also excel at product development. To become a product-focused company, we’d have to become a different company. Shift our focus. Add more, and different, staff. Develop a different kind of mindset. Aspire to greatness in another area, one where we’d have a long way to go to our 10,000 hours.
And we’d have to compete with companies that are really experts in content management. I asked two of our CMS partners to estimate the development time they’ve invested in their systems. Lance Merker, president and CEO of OmniUpdate, Inc., responded, “Your question is an interesting one. I ran the numbers and quickly calculated over 150,000 hours of development that have gone into OmniUpdate’s OU Campus.” And Piero Tintori, CEO and founder of TERMINALFOUR, said, “I did a quick calculation and got 135,240 hours!”
See? Experts. So don’t look for that mStoner CMS any time soon.
Why does this matter? Because today a CMS is mission-critical, a key component of a contemporary management infrastructure. I don’t want an mStoner client to cheap it out by choosing a CMS that can’t support a robust web presence.
I know it’s tempting to purchase a lightweight CMS. And the promises of the salespeople for these things are so seductive: It’s new! It’s uncomplicated! Licensing a bright shiny object is always tempting, but that simplicity can be a trap and low price is often not a bargain once you calculate hidden costs. Not that the sales guy will help figure them out. I know, I know, that sounds like an expert talking. But then mStoner has completed more CMS implementations in education for more different kinds and sizes of institutions than any other company. Does that qualify me as more than an amateur?