Watching the live birth of a CMS upgrade


Warning: This Editor's Corner may contain content inappropriate for children.

Last week here at FierceMarkets, we went through the process of upgrading our content management system. It was a fascinating case study for a person who writes about content management for a living--and it was a dose of brutal reality about what we face when we upgrade a major piece of enterprise software.

And it wasn't pretty at times, trust me.

It all began a couple of weeks ago when our fearless managing editor, Molly Walker, called an editor's meeting to go over the nuances of the new CMS. I was cavalier about it to be honest. After all, I live and breathe content management. I work on several different ones. How hard could it be?

We went over the new system and we were even encouraged to play in the sandbox version of the system. I scoffed quietly to myself. Sandbox? I don't need no stinkin' sandbox. As it turned out, I probably should have steeled myself for what I was up against, but I foolishly thought I could handle it.

Boy, was I wrong.

The tech guys are great, but they don't think of everything. That's because their job is to deal with technical aspects of the system, not the actual use of it and when I got my hands on it last Monday, I was in abject panic. (Ask Molly, if you doubt me).

There were many issues that first fateful day, far too many to relay in this short piece, but it wasn't a smooth transition, let's put it that way. I was in constant communication with Molly via Google Talk broadcasting to her my litany of issues.

She was, as Molly is, calm, cool and collected. I, on the other hand, was borderline hysterical.

I had a newsletter to produce and my system was full of bugs. When I complained to FierceMobileIT Editor Wayne Rash by email, he suggested I write in an external word processor. Even I wasn't foolish enough to try and write in the work-in-progress system, I told him. I wrote my first post in Google Docs and copied and pasted it in.

I gave it a category, added some tags, noticed a typo and fixed it. I clicked Save. Nothing. I clicked Save again. Nothing.

Now, job one of a CMS is to be able to save content to said system, right? Imagine my shock and horror when I couldn't do this simple act.

I sent a frantic message to Molly.

She (calmly I'm certain) relayed my problem to the technical team and we learned that by some strange coincidence, I had tried to Save the post just as the team was updating the system with a new bug fix. Apparently, it was just a case of unfortunate timing.

By Tuesday, things were running better and by this week, I'm finding few problems, which speaks well to our small, but dedicated technical team here at Fierce.

And there were even many aspects of the system, I've grown to like better than the previous version such as the HTML code toggle and the automated spell checker. 

This report is of course about my adventures on the back-end of the system where editors live and breathe. The real beauty of this system though is the shiny new front end we will debut this week.

We think the site will be more attractive, easier to navigate and definitely easier to read. It's a welcome change.

But for those of us who had to live through the live birth of our CMS change-over it was a traumatic and telling experience--and one that showed me just how hard it is implement these systems in real time. Whatever you do, don't try this at home. - Ron