Migrating to a new Web Content Management System

Over the last two years I’ve noticed several clients starting projects to migrate to new web content management systems (CMS). The maturity of enterprise CMS systems has steadily advanced with automated features and benefits. The time necessary for designing new web pages and publishing them has shortened, and most importantly, the development cycle has diminished or even been eliminated. Many modern CMS systems include built-in Mobile and Tablet support and many have advanced links to other analytical data that enables measurements on the impact of web assets in connection with social media. These new CMS systems help companies quickly make adjustments to content and design. For these reasons, it is not surprising that many organizations are investing in upgrading or migrating to newer systems.

My work as an IT consultant has included numerous CMS and Analytic web portal application development projects since the 1990s. The systems I build are based upon existing systems, which include IT along with people focused manual processes. My experience has taught me the importance of communication among all of the project participants; which include the business owners and sponsors, users, and development team. Felix Simon a Senior Consultant for Avalon Consulting, LLC, wrote an excellent article explaining CMS migration strategies and steps The Not So Complicated World Of Web Content Migration. In this post, I write about initial analysis and perspectives that a migration project offers. This post focuses on migration rather than upgrading, but even with upgrades you may want to follow the suggestions.

Before migrating to a new CMS system there are simple questions the project team should answer and share with everyone involved. The answers to these questions help the team plan level of effort and prioritize features.

When migrating to a new CMS system, you’ll most likely migrate some or all of the existing content. You’ll also want to keep certain existing features, such as a special workflow. It is important to note, implementing a new CMS involves a development process focused on leveraging the new platform even though there is an existing system. The new CMS will have its own unique characteristics and will most likely behave differently than the old. Try to avoid simply replicating the existing system. The new CMS project presents an opportunity to cleanup outdated content, change the design and navigation of the site, and dismiss dated functionality not required anymore.

Where are you today?

Think about the current CMS and list the strengths and weaknesses. Conduct a content audit and collect statistics. Try to find popular templates and components in the existing CMS. Try to find the people who are frequent power users and ask them about their work. What do the users think about the strengths / weaknesses of the existing system? An audit should include web analytics on which pages are viewed and how often. Write a short document with the findings and share it with everyone involved. The goal is to get a clear picture of the advantages and disadvantages of the current CMS. The content audit will reveal pages or even sections that may be disregarded or changed. This information helps to guide the implementation of the new CMS.

Where do you want to be tomorrow?

This is usually a fun question for the users. Encourage the users to make a wish list based upon the disadvantages noted previously. Then challenge them to prioritize the wish list.

It is important to note that the existing CMS has strengths. The new system may or may not share these strengths and replicating behavior could be difficult. This is where options are helpful because the new CMS is unique and most likely built on a different platform.

I notice sometimes that companies make the decision to implement a new CMS and simply try to replicate the old. In essence, the company is saying “here’s our CMS system, now go do this in the new software”. This type of approach fails to recognize the unique history that most IT systems possess. What was built yesterday may or may not work similarly in the new system and frankly might not be needed. This leads us to the final question.

How do we get there?

Sometimes project teams fail to document and share answers to the first two questions of where they are today and where they want to be in the future. As a consequence, the team loses sight of the long-term goal of the migration process. Sometimes project teams immediately jump into answering “How” they are going to implement the new system, which leads to increasing complexity and scope, delaying timelines. Stay away from technical details until everyone clearly understands the current system and priorities for the new.

If you are migrating to a new CMS, remember that the new system will have its own unique behavior strengths and weaknesses. The existing system provides important benchmarks, and there will be content to migrate. It is important to remember that the migration process will require a development cycle focused on the new CMS and unique to the new platform. This is an opportunity to change things for the better. Avoid taking all of the existing content and functionality and simply replicating it in the new.

Will Thayer About Will Thayer

Will Thayer is a Principal Consultant Technologist at Avalon Consulting, LLC. Will has more than 20 years’ experience in planning, strategy, development, and training. His expertise includes web application development, big data analytics, NoSQL, management information systems, and system development life cycle practices. As an Adjunct Professor at the University of Denver, Will taught graduate and undergraduate students for 5 years. His research in Open EDI and XML EDI has appeared in books as well as trade periodicals. Will lives in Evergreen, Colorado where he enjoys skiing, hiking, biking, and camping in the Rocky Mountains with his wife and children.


  1. Companies now require flexibility and visibility in all the platforms, including mobiles. This is one of the main reasons due to which companies migrate to new CMS. Get a content audit done by your IT consultant or your development team; this will give you a clear idea on migration. As Will rightly suggests, avoid taking all the existing content and functionality by replicating it in the new CMS.

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