When Your Business Needs a CMS and When a Portal?

Marina Astapchik
IT Trends Research Specialist
April 26, 2012

Nowadays there are several thousand products that can be categorized as content management systems. At the same time, there exist a huge number of tools that are claimed to be portal solutions. Therefore, making the right choice is not a trivial task.

In fact, every business that takes care of its web presence has to decide what solution will best fit its needs — a CMS or a portal. The choice here depends on the business drivers and user needs. Experts say that standard CMS products cannot integrate legacy applications well. They also lack strong personalization and customization features, and rarely can serve as the foundation of executive dashboards. On the other hand, a CMS can do workflow very well and greatly help in managing large amounts of content. Portals are designed and intended to be used very frequently and intensively, since the portal is typically a gateway to various web services. Therefore, users of portals are ordinary expected to attain a high level of proficiency. One more factor to keep in mind — the price. Portal solutions are usually more expensive and complex than many CMSs.

It is very important to be consistent and examine business necessities in detail before making a choice in favor of this or that solution. Therefore, such technical requirements should be taken into account: ease of customization, load-balancing, content creation and management, integration with other services (databases, web application services, etc.), platform independence, performance (possibility to put the system under heavy use), scalability (possibility to expand and upgrade the system in the future), conformity to open standards, availability (readiness of the technology for actual production use), favorability of pricing and licensing terms (implementation, maintenance, support and system upgrade costs).

What can a CMS do?

A CMS or a content management system, like WordPress, Drupal or Joomla!, may become necessary to help organize and automate the process of content sharing. You need a CMS if your collection, management, and publishing processes take too much time to be performed informally. You can estimate whether a CMS is a suitable solution according to the following guidelines:

  • There are many open-source CMS tools that also have numerous ready-made templates and themes.
  • A CMS can be the very system when you don't need a very complex foundation to automate the maintenance of your content. Thus, people with little or no programming experience can manage this process without great difficulties.
  • Starting out with a CMS will enable you to develop at your own pace while keeping the content properly administered. Having a CMS in place, you will also be able to add to your site such common functionalities, as a blog, a photo album, a forum, a chat room, etc.

The widespread out-of-the-box CMS solutions, as the mentioned above, may be a very good entry point into web presence, but as your business grows and website requires more sophisticated features and services, you might find it hard to fit your ideas and needs into what such solutions typically offer.

A successful portal

Portals usually offer more active and dynamic services compared to the passive services provided by traditional plain websites. Generally, the process of building a portal can be divided into four steps: define, design, develop and deploy. And what defines a successful portal?

  • The portal knows its users. A good portal can recognize all of its members (authorized, active users) and provide resources and services to them in accordance with their roles, interests, preferences, and permission rights. The more portals know about their members, the more personal and useful they are.
  • The portal should be "yummy". Good portals are sticky. They have attractive features and useful extensions, and generally encourage users to come back again and again.
  • The portal is well used. Good portals are regularly visited and used. Low usage of a portal can be a clear indication of certain drawbacks, for instance, bad design or poor maintenance. It can also indicate that the portal does not meet the functional or technical needs of users.

The final choice between a CMS and a portal should, however, be based on the estimation of the specific project requirements and business perspectives.

Industries and Technology Areas:

Industries: software development, web development, content management system (CMS)

Technology Areas: web development, content management system (CMS), web portal development, software development

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