I think of myself as a WordPress advocate. A fanatic at times but in general a cheerleader for the simplicity and extensibility of the WordPress platform. It really is a flexible platform with a rabid following. It has the largest community and most installs of any CMS bar none. It’s also very easy for anyone to use – well almost anyone. I still run into the occasional person that thinks it’s back-frontwards. But it didn’t reach the level of popularity it enjoys today without doing something right. So I was a tad surprised at myself when I had a chance to vote for WordPress as a viable CMS for our university – George Mason University – and I voted against it. Let me start a bit further back.
I was hired as the Web Services Manager for George Mason University in December of 2014. Part of my immediate duties included taking on a university wide website overhaul project. This project is loaded with land mines. The goal of the project is to provide a common CMS to the entire Mason community. A community that have fended for themselves for years and with some having invested and successfully implemented a web presence without anyone’s help – thank you very much!
To say there is some trepidation about this project and what it means for the work they’ve done is to put it very mildly. There is a lot of fear and with all of the unknowns about what will be chosen for a CMS and what processes, guidelines, rules and governance will be instituted, there are a lot of questions. And rightly so.
I was a part of the CMS selection committee. Our job was to choose a CMS that best fit the university’s needs. I came to GMU after the committee had already formed and 5 CMS candidates were selected to give presentations. The five selected CMS platforms were Adobe Experience Manager, Kentico, Sitecore, Drupal and WordPress.
I’m not going to review these in detail here. I had high hopes for WordPress – my favorite CMS. We had a representative of each commercial package come in and present their solution to us. We had a vendor that worked with Drupal present their solution using Drupal and we asked Automattic to speak with us about their VIP services. All of the presentations gave us a reasonable idea of what their solution could do for us with some examples that related to what we were looking for. I was shocked when the WordPress VIP rep presented. He was ill-prepared, asking a lot of questions that had been answered in the RFP or could have been answered in advance during the open questions period. There was no evidence of preparation and his presentation fell flat. No. Really. It fell flat on it’s face. The rep that spoke with us about WordPress VIP services relied very heavily on the WordPress reputation and flexibility. You could hear crickets in the room at times because we all sat there stunned at the presenter didn’t provide concrete examples – even if only on paper – of how our needs could be met or exceeded by a WordPress solution.
I know that WordPress could be used to build what we need but the presenter did such a poor job of reaching my colleagues, I was embarrassed to have talked WordPress up so much. When we asked questions that were in our initial RFP and clearly stated in the meeting regarding key features that are important to us, the answer was simply a “yes it can do that.”
If any CMS vendors happen to read this please pay attention. If you want to sell a CMS, you need to answer the client’s questions and needs clearly and efficiently. Schmoozing and glad-handing may work for an HVAC salesmen but it doesn’t work for me and my co-workers. Universities have been known to be gullible and to buy solutions without fully understanding the impact and limitations of what they’ve purchased. This is changing. Here at George Mason University, if my team or those I work with in the Mason community are involved in a tech solution selection, you’d better be sure you’re prepared. Have examples of something you’ve done that demonstrates you understand what we’re looking for and that your solution fits our needs. Build a working model to demonstrate with if you need to. Simply telling the client “yes it can do that” doesn’t cut it.
BTW – I completed the contact form at Automattic with a direct note to Matt Mullenweg stating the above and telling him it would be their best interest to put together some form of sales package designed to answer the needs of universities and other organizations that have a need for centralized control using a CMS. Not that they had to have a ready made answer for all situations but they need to have examples and maybe build working models in advance of a presentation that are a step above “yes it can do that.” I haven’t heard back.
It bothers me that a solution I know could do the job, one that I’m very familiar with, had to be let go. A solution that I champion and love. But I couldn’t, in good conscience, vote to use WordPress when there was so little effort to make the case for using it and the Automattic VIP services. Simply a case of bad salesmanship and a lack of willingness to go the extra step to win the client’s confidence. I’m disappointed in how little effort Automattic put into matching their solution with our needs. It was, I’m sad to say, a waste of our time.