At Work: Finance and IT - IT intelligence

Sue Fidler argues the case for understanding content management systems.

In the muddy world of IT and web development, the acronym is king, with 'experts' vying to bewilder and bemuse those not in the know.

CMS is one such abbreviation. Although it's often heard, it's not always understood. But it isn't hard to grasp and, because the CMS provides the basis for most modern websites, it will benefit your organisation if you take the time to understand it.

What is a CMS?

CMS stands for content management system, a 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).

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. Buyer beware.

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.

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.

- Sue Fidler is director of communications and solutions at the Charity Technology Trust.

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