Republished January 31, 2019

More often than you might suspect, we work with provider organizations that originally embarked on an agency-led web project that have since made the decision to select a CMS and replace their existing site(s) because of some combination of factors. Most often, the organization has come to realize that their web presence is unstable or under-performant; their sites have been prone to security breaches or attacks; and – more often than not – the open source CMS used by the agency is not being updated or enhanced and has therefore failed to help them achieve their more strategic and ambitious marketing goals. In other words, either something really bad has happened, someone is complaining or they recognize that their website has become very dated and stale, leaving them at a competitive disadvantage.

In partnering with these new clients to create a highly differentiated and compelling web presence, we inevitably learn a lot from their team about why they originally made the decision to go with an agency-led open source solution and why, with the benefit of hindsight, they now regret their decision. In order to help others facing a similar decision skip these painful lessons and jump ahead to the happy ending in which they find a successful long-term CMS partner, I thought I would share their insights with you in the form of a top five set of questions. Here goes…

The Top 5 Questions to Ask When Considering an Agency-Led Open Source CMS:

1. Will you always stay with this particular agency?

If you might leave this agency at some time, you lose a whole range of things:

a) The money you paid to set up your content management system (CMS)

b) The key data on your consumers captured by the agency

c) Their expertise in managing your content or your site

For this reason, even if you’re hiring an agency, there may be great benefits to you in selecting your own technology and asking the agency (and the next agency) to operate on your selected platform.

2. Is independence important to you? Do you want to manage any of the content yourself, either now or over time?

An agency will implement one of a number of basic CMS systems out there because they are going to do what's easy for them and what they know. Most often they will leverage the lowest cost, open source CMS with which they have the most experience, but rarely is that solution the best one for a healthcare organization with some very specialized needs.

When you choose your own technology, you can take ownership of the selection process to ensure that the tool offers all the features and functions that you need, that it will be easy for your team to use – regardless of your level of technical savvy – and that it is backed by a company who understands the high privacy and security bar of healthcare, a company who will be there to support you independent of your relationship with an agency.

3. Does the agency option have a method for measuring ROI on the site’s ability to deliver a dynamic or personalized web experience? Do you have a data collection and management strategy?

If you have a set of prospects or patients you are looking to market to in a systematic way and you want to build a rich set of data on who those people are, you need to own the data captured in your CMS system yourself. Here, we're not talking about the data in Google Analytics – we are talking about all of the data that an advanced CMS system captures on anonymous and known visitors.

If you have a data strategy and execute it, it will deliver huge value – you can then deliver relevant content (improve conversions) and deliver relevant media (lower cost per conversion). This data is applicable across every consumer interaction – email, social media, web, existing portals, CRM, CSR reps, etc. Every day you don't put your data strategy together and start capturing that data is a day you are squandering value.

4. Will the agency keep the software platform current?

Remember that an agency is doing a one-off project for you – they are not maintaining your platform. This means an agency will rarely employ technology experts who understand how to maximize site performance, ensure stability and security and keep the software current.

So, over time, an agency-led CMS will always leave you with a tough decision when you’re ready to take the next step and you have to do an upgrade, rewrite outdated code or replace the CMS altogether. Choosing your own technology platform gives you greater control over the budget required for these inevitable needs.

5. What will happen if your site goes down or gets hacked?

Generally speaking, an agency is going to put some random software on some random servers. If there is a DDOS attack, your site will go down. Period. If a hacker gets in, your site will be down (or worse, your data will be compromised, putting you in the headlines). If there is a lot of traffic or the agency makes a mistake, the site goes down. If your organization believes that your website/web experience really matters and cannot afford for it to go down for a few hours (or days), then an agency-hosted direction is not for you.

In summary, years of experience have taught me that while most agencies are well equipped to host a simple site for a small business, agency-led sites are not a viable alternative for a healthcare organization that must hold itself to higher standards in regards to privacy and security, uptime and availability and providing a stellar online customer experience.

If you’d like to learn more about finding the right partner for your next CMS investment, download our sample CMS RFP to help you focus in on your needs and other relevant questions you need to be asking.