What is a Content Management System (CMS)?

Written by Joe Bella

CMS stands for content management system, a piece of software that manages the contents of a website. It breaks the content into different areas, including the template (which is the basic design of the pages), the text, the images, the functionality and the background stuff (meta tags and data capture).

The term Content management system is often heard but not always understood. However, it isn't hard to grasp and, because the CMS provides the basis for most modern websites and it will benefit an organization if it takes the time to understand it.

A CMS controls a database that holds parts of the website and the script that pulls them back together - hence the phrase 'database-driven site'.

Anyone with access to the CMS can build and load content from anywhere at any time with no technical knowledge.

Each package has been built by the company that sells it, or has been adapted from a package such as MS CMS. So each one is different and there are no standards for how they look, what they do or what bits and pieces are included.

For example, a CMS can be written in Microsoft-based or open source languages.

Some allow you to edit everything, others open a small window to allow you to change text and images. Some come with a built-in editing tool, some don't. Some are accessed from your web pages, others you log into separately.

Electronic content management, which automates the process of storing, searching for, and reusing data in a centralized way, has been gaining ground in major corporations around the world for years. From enterprise resource management (ERM) and customer relationship management (CRM) to human resources management (HRM) and other enterprise systems, organizations both large and small are now using such systems to pull huge chunks of disparate information into centralized databases--allowing a handful of colossal skyscrapers to stand where hundreds, if not thousands, of small buildings once stood.

A second wave of interest revived the web content management (WCM) market in 2005, as the demands of operating web sites forced companies to improve their content handling. Since companies initially deployed WCM in the late 1990s, enterprise content management (ECM) vendors acquired WCM capabilities, which became one of the core technologies of ECM suites. Managing web site content often requires stronger functions than many ECM vendors offer, so firms still turn to standalone WCM vendors to improve their deployments.

Consider your needs carefully. Who is going to do the editing and what skills do they have? Aim to find a CMS that does as much as possible within its standard offering on a system you can afford.

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