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A year ago, I left a company that I cofounded to work in advertising. It wasn’t the most orthodox decision, given that my company had grown year over year. We specialized in implementing content management systems and worked with many of the greats, including AEM and Sitecore. We were really good at it – one of the best in the business.

But after years of implementation, I began to see a pattern. Content management systems, once seen as the “big solution,” were failing to live up to their promise of ease and simplicity; they were killing creativity.

Implementing a content management system is traditionally seen as a value play. After all, content management systems promise ease-of-use and significantly reduced maintenance costs. Organizations are attracted to the out-of-the-box (e.g. “free”) features of a CMS and naturally expect the system will serve as the centerpiece of their digital platform. But there are a lot of challenges that come with a content management system.

In my opinion, we need to move away from them – here’s why:

1. Content management systems aren’t client-friendly

At my former company, the majority of our projects started with the selection of a CMS, occurring prior to UX and design. This puts technologists in an awkward position as they make technical decisions before understanding the creative objectives. This invariably leads to creative and technical challenges later in the project when they try to retrofit an idea into a CMS that isn’t always up for the challenge.

At the end of development, clients often expect to be trained on the system and handed the keys, thus relieving the system integrator (namely, us) of their duty. In practice, handoff of the system rarely succeeds because content management systems aren’t intuitive. It’s true that creating page content can be done without a developer. But creating a page, optimizing imagery, tweaking the layout, adjusting the publishing workflow, etc. aren’t tasks that non-technical staff can easily take over.

2. Content management systems struggle to keep up with digital trends

The rapid growth of AI and conversational interfaces like Amazon Echo has changed consumer expectations. Creative and technical teams aren’t going to wait for content management systems to catch up when innovation is at their fingertips.

I recently read a tech mag that proclaimed AI as the “end of code.” And while it remains to be seen if that statement will turn out to be, the AI era is upon us. At my current job, we’re on our 5th AI project and we’re only scratching the surface. Each project was custom built to meet creative and performance expectations.

3. Custom-built solutions are back

For many years, the idea of developing a custom-built solution instead of a CMS was considered “old school.” People would say, “why pay a developer to update a banner on the home page when I can do it with my nifty content management system?” Times have changed. The truth is, custom solutions — those that integrate with AI platforms as well as internal systems —  are faster to develop and deploy.

Custom platforms keep technical and creative exploration at the forefront. Creative brainstorms can avoid the dreaded, “the CMS doesn’t work like that” conversation. Technologists and creative counterparts are free to explore ideas without the constraints of a one-size-fits-none application.

Most coding languages support libraries to quickly build custom content management features that meet the unique needs of the organization. This means creating these features isn’t as difficult as we were led to believe so many years ago.

In advertising, CMS’s are still prevalent. But agencies see them for what they are — a small piece in a bigger puzzle. They don’t let the limitations of a CMS hold back a great idea. Instead, the role of CMS’s continues to diminish as automation and AI take center stage. Still, content management systems will continue to be useful for small businesses looking for a web presence or ecommerce. CMS’s like Squarespace and Wix are the perfect fit for them.

I think this is the way the CMS story is supposed to play out. Digital will never be satisfied with a single way of doing things. If that were the case, we’d still use Geocities and Infoseek. Admittedly, I kind of miss Geocities, but that’s a different article.

Marc Gowland, EVP, Executive Creative Technology Director, Deutsch.

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