When old CMS software happens to good people

James H's picture

One of my current work assignments has taken me into the Public Sector for the first time in my 25 year career. It's not an easy place to be these days but I tend to favour challenging environments rather than those that are all going swimmingly well, as I personally find it more fulfilling and enjoy striving to make a difference. Fortunately I am surrounded by a thoroughly likeable and dedicated bunch of people who have clearly been going through times of great upheaval and uncertainty with political change and the major cuts in public spending. It is refreshing to be working within organisations with good information management processes and practices and I admire the folks who work faithfully and tirelessly to keep everything in order and accurate for local residents - often working to maintain approaches that seemed like a good idea at the time but have since fallen out of favour. Quite often those who are supposed to be supporting them are making their jobs even harder.

They also have my sympathies though. Excellent information management is not a glamorous activity, often under-rated and under-resourced. Unfortunately, when you have to spend many, many hours using software tools that should have been updated 5 years previously then the activity can become a real slog.  This excellent article from almost 10 years ago highlighted basic user likes and dislikes and opportunities for improving web application usability. Sadly my colleagues have to struggle with these types of issue daily :( I have heard the words 'clunky', 'dated', 'frustrating' and 'unreliable' regularly in meetings over the last six months and have complete empathy with the feelings expressed from those times when I have fallen out of love with the tools I have to use extensively.

For me it underlines the danger of getting locked in to proprietary software environments, particularly when there is likely uncertainty over future funding. The real dilemma is that the longer the process of upgrading is put off, the bigger, harder and more off-putting it becomes - the proverbial 'elephant in the room'. This particular elephant is pretty big having grown to tens of thousands of pages through the investment of years of editing time. It would appear to be well rooted and entwined with other systems through heavy bespoking too, which will undoubtedly add to the expense and timescales involved in an upgrade. At a time when Local Authorities in particular are needing to be agile and responsive to change being trapped in the past is an uncomfortable place to be.

This unfortunate situation also illustrates well why it is in the interest of software vendors to keep their customers on newer versions of their software. Being trapped on such old software does not do much for 'brand' perception.  While on one hand I may know through my own involvement in the CMS market that this particular solution has evolved in new ways over the last 5 years or so and still occupies the furthest top right space in analyst quadrants, the poor folks having to use it day in, day out have their own collection of descriptions for it - 'Tirdion' being one of the kinder ones ;) As an advocate for Open Source solutions however, such a situation makes my job a lot easier and I am pleased to report that on the latest web developments Drupal/Symfony/Apostrophe combinations, deployed in agile ways, are now starting to help free these good people from the utter drudgery of an over complex solution that should have been consigned to the recycle bin and emptied away at least 3 years ago.