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What is a Content Management System (CMS)?

Content Management System (CMS) and other spin-off terms definition(s)

CMS became a buzz word in the web development industry because of its benefits.

CMS stands for Content Management System. It is a term and has not been endorsed with a solid definition. A CMS can have multiple meanings depending on the scenarios and the person's or project objectives.

To add to the confusion, an organization named AIIM (Association for Information and Image Management) claimed the acronym ECM (Enterprise Content Management) and WCM (Web Content Management) as their creation and came up with their own definition that suites their organization's services. AIIM changed their definition of ECM a few times and submitted their definitions to Wikipedia, which is now published.

At the time of this writing, for most scenarios, when someone in the web development industry is talking about CMS (Content Management System), or ECMS (Enterprise Content Management System), he / she is more likely referring to either the first or second definition below.

In this article, I'll put the emphasis on the common CMS definitions and not the one created by AIIM. The detail of the purpose, use, and examples are all in the area of the commonly used definition.

Content Management System (CMS) common definition #1

The definition of a CMS is an application (more likely web-based), that provides capabilities for multiple users with different permission levels to manage (all or a section of) content, data or information of a website project, or internet / intranet application.

Managing content refers to creating, editing, archiving, publishing, collaborating on, reporting, distributing website content, data and information.

An example of a CMS application is a Web Application that provides the following administration, control panel or website management functionalities:

  • Create, Edit, Publish, Archive web pages
  • Create, Edit, Publish, Archive articles
  • Create, Edit, Publish, Archive press releases
  • Create, Edit, Publish, Archive blogs
  • Add / Edit events into an Event Calendar
  • Add / Edit Inventory (products), description, product specifications, prices, photos, etc.
  • Enter, Edit, or View orders and print packing slips and invoices
  • View reports and statistics site data
  • Create and Edit system users which have different permission levels to different section(s) of the above administration

Comentum CMS and eCommerce Example

Content Management System  definition #2

(This definition is similar to the definition of WCM (Web Content Management System) which is set forth by AIIM. )

In this definition, when someone refers to CMS, he / she is referring to a web application that provides capabilities for multiple users with different permission levels to manage web page (content) without the need to have HTML knowledge.

Below is an example of a simple CMS Application which provides web page editing capabilities:

Administration or Control Panel:
  • Create, Edit, Publish, Archive web pages
  • Create, Edit, Publish, Archive articles
  • Create, Edit, Publish, Archive press releases

Enterprise Content Management System (ECM / ECMS)

When someone refers to Enterprise Content Management System (ECM / ECMS), he / she may be talking about any of the following definitions:

1. A Content Management System (CMS) application with a credible track record designed to serve and support the needs of a large size organization or a large scale Content Management System.

2. An application with multiple functionalities that provides a full-scale Content Management System tailored for a company's organization and processes.

3. An application that provides the tools and capabilities to manage, store, and deliver content and documents tailored for a company's internal organization, workflow and processes. (AIIM's definition in brief)

Content Management System (CMS) Purpose

The main purpose of a Content Management System (relating to web) is to provide the capability for multiple users with different permission levels to manage a website or a section of the content.

For example, you can take a website which has Articles, Blogs, Press Releases, Store, Events and assign each section or a part of a section to user(s) to create, edit, and archive.

Content Management System (CMS) Pitfalls and Misconceptions

1. One of the largest misconceptions about CMS is that it is the main ingredient for a website's success. That is completely untrue. A CMS should make it easy for a website owner or webmaster(s) to manage and distribute content, but a website's success has nothing to do with CMS; it has to do with the quality of content, quality of services, marketing and many other factors that are outside of the realm of this article.

2. The second misconception about CMS is that it will eliminate a need for hiring a web developer or programmer to make changes to a website. That is not true in many cases.

Most CMS systems especially the Open Source CMS systems that are bloated to cover every possible functionality (whether needed or not) will require an experienced web programmer to make any customizations for tailoring to one's business objectives and for maintaining a large scale project.

A very good example of a bloated open source CMS system is Drupal. Most end-users are told that Drupal is the best and most cost effective solution for any website. That is completely untrue. It requires a web programmer to setup and customize a Drupal project, and due to its complexity and bloated nature, it will require an experienced webmaster or web developer to maintain and manage a Drupal site.

So, if you are a small business and the cost is a factor in developing your website, you may consider a CMS application that does not require a substantial number of programming hours for set up and on-going maintenance.

3. One of the important ingredients for a website's success is to build a brand that users can remember, revisit and tell their friends.

Unfortunately, most CMS systems are written by programmers. Programmers usually do not have the design, branding and usability experience. That is why most of the out-of-the-box open source CMS sites that have not been customized have no branding and personality.

Research for this article was completed November 15, 2010; information may change.

Bernard Kohan

Bernard Kohan is a mobile app and web application development and technology analyst expert. He is available to discuss any issues or questions you have about web development and the best choices for your company or project.

Bernard can be reached at

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