Tools Always Matter

The decision of what tools you select to support your online work isn’t one to be taken lightly. And in an age of ubiquitous app stores, all kinds of software as service, and nearly inescapable access to the cloud, that decision becomes more difficult than ever based on the volume of options alone.

(Mix in some organizational politics for good measure, and ensuring that you and all other end users actually have the right tool for the right job may seem like a pipe dream.)

In particular, your choice of what content management system to use for your website is certainly not immune to these perils. In fact it may be even more susceptible, as the tool you use to maintain your web presence (theoretically) should keep pace with the ever-advancing technology of the web—not just for aesthetics, and not just in a superficial attempt to keep up with the new hotness, but for a host of very good reasons related to security maintenance, usability, and accessibility.

But unfortunately many CMS-related decisions are made for the wrong reasons. My favorites (personally witnessed on multiple occasions) include “our other website runs on X CMS, so we’ll use it for this site too” and “because communications/IT/some consultant/etc. said so, that’s why.”

These reasons aren’t wrong in and of themselves, but when they fail to take into account user needs (both internal and external) and business goals, you’re setting yourself up for an expensive problem down the road.

I’ve written before that a CMS is not a panacea—in other words, no piece of technology no matter how expensive it is (repeat: no matter how expensive it is) will solve your content problems for you. However, a misfitted CMS will indeed create a host of new content problems that in turn compound the ones that already existed. Not the least of these problems include users who out of necessity bastardize the CMS’s built-in features or hack out solutions to problems that can’t be solved by the system’s native functionality.

The idea of a right tool may seem like an overly amorphous, ambiguous, and even unattainable concept, especially when the decision of what constitutes “right” must be made by more than one person. But the thing that never changes about “the right tool” is that in order for it to feel right, you shouldn’t really notice that you’re using it. The tool should be a low-friction conduit for completing work.

However, when tools don’t work, their existence becomes very obvious, resulting in a productivity time-suck, an invitation for clunky user hacks, and an unsustainable content ecosystem destined to collapse under its own crufty weight.

At the same time that an ill-fitted content management system can force users to concoct creative means for using it in unintended ways, it can simultaneously foster perverse attachments to it. I’m talking about path dependencies. The choices that you make about technology now dictate the kind of decisions you can feasibly make later.

Entertaining and relevant sidebar: The QWERTY keyboard is the essential example of path dependency. It was originally designed to slow down typists to prevent them from jamming early typewriters, and while better iterations of the keyboard have materialized over the last century, we’re hopelessly hooked on QWERTY’s sub-par design.

Tools matter. They matter a lot. They matter now as they pose impossible hurdles to culling inefficiencies in your workflows, and they matter in an even more painful way later when entrenched work processes and prohibitive conversion costs prevent you from upgrading to a new tool.

So choose your tools wisely.

Posted in: Technology

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