Case Study

American University: Exploring CMS Migration

How to decide if it's worth migrating a complex legacy CMS

When should you and how do you migrate to a new CMS when you have tens of thousands of resources, articles, and services available through your current platform, while minimizing risk and increasing utility for users and stakeholders? Over the lifetime usage of a CMS, it will become a repository of a large amount of documents and many supporting integrations offering various data, resources, and services. This creates a very intimidating environment for an organization when they start considering if migrating, or continuing to invest in the current CMS, is the best course of action. In an increasingly digital age, American University found themselves in this position. The complexity of making new content was getting higher and higher, and this meant simple things like brand refreshes, or trying new ways of organizing content, was much harder.

The Challenge

Over a 10+ year period American University has heavily invested in making their CMS, coupled with extensive integration, the de facto go to for all things American University (AU). As needs grew and changed, various systems were introduced to handle domain specific tasks and integrated with the CMS. These integrations usually required customizations within the CMS templates and content types to create the expected user experience which increased the CMS complexity. Over time the growing complexity of the CMS slowed the development of new features, while maintenance became a primary focus. A desire to address that high maintenance burden and its complexity came to the fore. This required a detailed understanding of currently available products and of the commitment and level of effort needed to migrate. With this knowledge, they could determine if migration to a new CMS was appropriate or if they should continue investing in ongoing enhancements, updating, and further integrating the current CMS. More and more staff time was dedicated to keeping things running vs innovating and moving forward, and many ideas were discarded or not pursued due to the effort required.

Our Approach

PTKO was brought in to develop and conduct the necessary assessments to determine if a CMS migration was appropriate, thus freeing up AU staff to continue their daily activities with minimal disruption while the assessment took place. Given the age of the CMS and amount of important content created over the years, it was hard for their staff to have objective and honest conversations internally about the value of content, and there was a default mentality to keep all content rather than go through the difficult process of triaging what really was valuable.  This put PTKO in a uniquely valuable position as an independent and unbiased entity with the ability to help the various content and technical stakeholders dispassionately evaluate the existing content and its value while minimizing the risk of causing offense.

Over the course of the engagement, PTKO conducted extensive interviews with stakeholder teams at American University, technical, managerial, and editorial to identify the things that they both liked and disliked about the current CMS. At the same time, we were able to put hard data available about the CMS as well as its usage to triage the content that absolutely had to be migrated first.

Clarifying the value proposition

ParsonsTKO helped the American University team change conversations about how they would deal with “lots” of content and templates into practical estimates of the effort required that could be used to put financial dollar values on the effort.  This framing allowed them a better lens to more objectively consider the value proposition of their vast content holdings.  Through the use of a number of tools designed to determine the level of effort needed to migrate the CMS templates and combined with the triaged migration plan we were able to determine an overall level of effort based on time and cost.