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Goodbye CMS, hello online communications platform

Engel Schmidl /

Top attributes for a what? Yes, it’s yet another new term for increasingly befuddled smaller business operators, but an important one.

Just when you were coming to grips with the benefits of a Content Management (website editing) System (CMS), there’s yet another new term to know and understand.

But an Online Communications Platform (OCP) is really just a refresh on the “old” CMS.

Beyond editing

The reason the term CMS is no longer accurate is that these systems now impact on a range of factors beyond just editing your website.

In addition to “WYSIWYG” (what you see is what you get… Don’t ask) website editing, Online Communications Platforms (OCPs) also allow you to manage a whole range of really useful capabilities beyond your website. Things like:

  • Managing customer records via Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools
  • Broadcasting targeted, personalised, graphical emails
  • Conducting surveys and running reports from them
  • Reporting all kinds of interactions with your website and email marketing
  • Selling stuff securely online
  • Running an extranet (password protected area)
  • Interfacing with your choice of social networks

And the ubiquitous much, much more.

But there’s a side benefit of all of these features, and that it is that they are all integrated into the one platform.

System integration means productivity gains

This rapidly growing benefit means that instead of keeping disparate stores of sales, customer and other data up to date via painstaking and, ultimately, unproductive manual transfer processes, all data sits in the one repository and funnels into the various data capabilities like sales records, email communications statistics, survey results, financial records and more.

The greater the number of systems that can be integrated, the more productivity you gain.

I’ve seen whole departments of staff dedicated to the upkeep and transfer of data. Whilst not wishing anyone out of a job in a challenging employment market, its wastage that few businesses can afford.

But features and integration are not the only factors that you need to consider when choosing an OCP.

Other features to consider

In no particular order, other aspects to consider are:

  • Security – particularly if it is in “the cloud”
  • Support
  • Scalability (ability to add new features affordably)
  • Price
  • Performance
  • Ease of use
  • Vendor longevity (are they going to be around for a while?)
  • Upgrade regularity
  • Homepage dynamism (ability to bring new content to your website front page easily without having to re-design it)
  • Compatibility with your related data systems
  • Search engine friendliness

The importance of these attributes will differ from business to business, so it’s important to understand which will most affect yours.

Whilst it might mean even more time is required to research your online requirements, it’s time well spent because failure to do so may mean you quickly outgrow your system and are, all of a sudden, up for considerable upgrade or development costs.

The great news – as with all software – is that these valuable features are becoming more and more affordable, allowing you to behave like businesses with much deeper pockets.

In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.

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