CMS Implementation: How to Find the Right Digital Agency Partner
Many companies, especially those with well-established IT teams, feel they can handle a CMS implementation on their own. A vendor’s certified partners, however, can bring a lot to the table, from deep technical expertise to in-depth knowledge of the platform and higher-level strategic guidance. So long as you choose the right partner that aligns with your business, that is.
To help you make the right choice, we’ve turned to three Magnolia Certified Partners - Cundari, Laughlin Constable and Productive Edge - for their insights into the best way to go about selecting a partner for your CMS implementation.
Why Go With a Certified CMS Implementation Partner?
By working with a certified partner, you're leveraging the fact they've "invested in learning how the platform should work," stated Paul Brienza, Chief Technology Officer at Laughlin Constable.
While your internal tech team may know the platform's technologies like Java and Spring for Magnolia, there are details only certified partners understand through experience. Tom DiCicco, Client Director at Productive Edge explained, "there's technical knowledge that you need to know on the platform from an architecture and just general development standpoint that will set you up to ensure that you're building the solution the right way."
Dominic Garaci, VP of Technology and Interactive Solutions at Cundari, agreed that there are some aspects of a platform that can only be learned through experience. “An implementation partner is trained and skilled in the underlying technology of the platform,” he explained, “but also trained in the correct processes and best practices that the platform demands.”
Another huge aspect is that implementation partners are familiar with the latest features of the platform. "[Implementation partners] are able to guide a client on things that they should be thinking about or recommendations of how they should build out or update their platform to best suit their business," explained DiCicco.
Certified partners are also aware of the latest software updates and can guide you through the nuances of upgrading major and minor software versions.
How to Choose a CMS Implementation Partner: 5 Factors to Consider
When choosing an implementation partner, the request for proposal (RFP) is critical to the process. According to our implementation partners you should look beyond specific technical capabilities, however, and consider other factors like experience and collaboration.
1. The connection between the partner and platform
It's crucial that you see real-world examples of the work the implementation partner has done with the platform. DiCicco said you should look at "case studies and implementations, and [understand] the scope of that implementation." This gives you an idea of their level of expertise and which specific areas the partner has built solutions around. You want a partner that’s had many successful projects with the platform that are similar to your business requirements.
2. How the partner views projects
You want a partner that doesn't just ask what you want them to build, but that asks questions about your consumers, products or services, and unique business goals. It's not just a technical implementation, but a way to transform how your business delivers digital experiences. That’s why it’s essential that the partner views the initiative as more than a technical project. DiCicco advised, "it's extremely important as you build out these large-scale engagements that everybody is aligned to those principles and they're thinking about them."
3. The partner's integration and migration experience
The partner needs to be familiar with the tools and technologies in your overall enterprise ecosystem. "From an enterprise perspective," explained Vitesh Radhakisson, Lead Architect at Productive Edge, "no CMS project or DXP project is run in isolation." You need to understand the partner's experience working with other systems like CRMs, eCommerce systems, and any other information systems. They must have the understanding necessary to integrate with these systems and build complementary solutions alongside them.
“If you're migrating from another CMS, ask your partner how much experience they have with your legacy content management system," added Brienza. Their expertise with migrating content and data from a legacy system could have a significant impact on the success of an implementation project.
4. How the partner has used the platform in the past
While the certified partner may have deep experience and technical knowledge of a platform, it's critical to understand what type of projects they've completed. They may have only built marketing websites or may have more in-depth experience with personalization or headless integrations. You want to look for a partner that has experience successfully implementing solutions similar to what your business needs.
5. The partner's organizational culture
Finally, there has to be a cultural and organizational fit between your company and the implementation partner. "You want to have something outside of just this being a pure technical relationship that binds the two teams together," Brienza said, "and we typically look for some sort of a cultural connection there." There should be some commonalities around objectives, methodologies, and communication amongst the two companies.
The 5 Signs of a Solid CMS Implementation Partner
When evaluating partners for your CMS implementation, there are various signs that indicate whether they will be the right fit for your organization.
1. They offer sound strategic and technical guidance
Good implementation partners can drive high-level strategic initiatives. "Things like customer experience mappings, content strategy, etc.," described Radhakisson, "those high-level services are generally a good sign that the partner has a holistic understanding of [your] needs."
Along with strategic initiatives, the partner should offer sound technical advice. Garaci explained, "a good implementation partner is a partner that can take the business needs and effectively translate them to architect the platform, so the build meets and exceeds all the brand's requirements."
2. They focus on your customers
In addition to high-level services, the partner should be able to articulate how they've solved business problems using customer-centric IT solutions. They should explain "how their solutions are really customer-focused and solving customers' problems," added Radhakisson. Beyond that, he believes partners should tell how they use best of breed like technologies like Magnolia to create these solutions.
3. They collaborate with your internal team
Another significant sign of an excellent implementation partner is how they view collaboration with your internal teams. The partner should be able to articulate how an engagement works and the methodologies they'll use like Agile or Scrum.
The partner should also encourage bringing the teams together for the continual alignment of goals throughout an entire implementation project. "It's important for the partner to bring people to the...sprint planning sessions, sprint reviews, daily stand-ups, etc.," said Brienza, "that will contribute to the conversation and actively participate in the discussions. Frequent interactions help keep the project on track and facilitate a better working relationship.
4. They have a historic relationship with the platform
Beyond that, the best partners have a good business relationship with the platform itself. "Look for a partner that's active within the community, that has the certifications, [and] that have been involved in conferences on that particular platform," suggested Radhakisson. The partner should be working with the platform to continually educate themselves on the latest features, architecture and technologies to better guide their clients.
Brienza agreed, "If your partner believes in education and training that's going to cascade itself into the project that they're doing for you."
5. They help you gain an understanding of the platform
The right partner should not only help with the implementation but enables your team to manage the platform itself. At Productive Edge, "we want to make sure that [the clients are] learning along with us, so they have the knowledge to support the platform," explained DiCicco.
The implementation partner should offer ongoing support and training so that you're not left in a position where you don't know how to support or update your CMS. Post-engagement support "ensures the partner is dedicated to the client’s business and the ongoing success of the project," stated Garaci.
In the end, DiCicco concluded, "You want a partner that understands your business." The best partners aren't passive, but come to you and say, "these are things that you should be thinking about to transform your business,"
An excellent certified partner can build a solution that's best for your specific business and prepare your teams to manage the CMS autonomously. And further adapting your CMS to customer demands post-engagement is critical to leveraging a platform to drive business success.