An enterprise CMS is a content management system that meets the needs of enterprise-class companies. To break it down, a content management system (CMS) is a software solution that enables content stakeholders to write, edit, approve, publish — and otherwise manage — digital content without writing code.
There are many different users of CMSes, each with unique needs. So there are many kinds of CMSes on the market.
To illustrate that point, consider a consumer or a small company with simple needs. They only have one or two content stakeholders and a single content channel, like a website. They likely use simple workflows and processes and have basic security needs. They will be well served by a small-scale CMS like WordPress.
Enterprises have more complex needs. The typical stakeholders are multiple cross-functional teams distributed across business units and regions. They manage digital content for omnichannel marketing for several brands. They connect with customers speaking different languages in a number of locations.
When they begin looking for a CMS, most likely they’ll already have an established ecosystem of internal content tools. There’s also the enterprise IT landscape to consider, where the new CMS would have to integrate with processes both new and pre existing. And it’s highly probable that the enterprise will need very granular security features, too.
That means a small-scale CMS solution won’t cut it. An enterprise needs a more powerful, flexible, and extensible solution. A headless CMS is one option, a composable content platform is another. Contentful is both.
How do you know if you need an enterprise CMS?
If your organization is growing, and using a small-scale CMS is costing you time and money, then it might be time to look at an enterprise CMS.
There are many ways that an organization can outgrow its small-scale CMS. Here’s one of the most common ways: Your organization has been using a small-scale CMS for many years. But as you continue to grow, that CMS platform is starting to slow down content creation and management processes.
Maybe the CMS doesn’t offer functionality for publishing content to your new web app, or it won’t let you build the custom approval workflow you need for a new kind of content. That means you need to get developers involved. This is time-consuming: Your stakeholders generate a ticket and then wait two weeks for an engineer to get through the queue and publish the content or create the new workflow.
As your organization gets larger, this bottleneck slows more and more work. It also makes you slow to adapt to market change, making you less and less competitive over time.
The importance of enterprise CMS for large organizations
So, what does an enterprise CMS offer a growing enterprise that small-scale CMSes can’t? The benefits can be divided into three key areas.
Certification and know-how
Enterprise CMS providers are very different from small-scale consumer CMS providers. Enterprise providers have the standard ISO certifications. They’ll have a better understanding of your organization’s needs and ways of working. They’ll even have in-house development and in-house security for quick responses when necessary.
When you choose an enterprise CMS, you are also choosing to work with a company that is enterprise-grade in its own right.
A robust enterprise CMS offers your large organization powerful content creation and content management tools. That means a wide variety of functionality that can help you optimize every facet of your content processes, including user permissions, automation workflows, plugin integrations, security rules, templates, and so on.
If that sounds vague, don’t worry; we’ll get into the details of these features in the next section.
An enterprise CMS should offer enough flexibility for 90% of large organizations right out of the box. But no two enterprises are the same, so it would be impossible for any CMS to meet every need.
That’s why the best enterprise CMSes also offer your enterprise the ability to make changes to the platform as needed. And do it without too much work from your developers. So the CMS works exactly as you need it to.
Crucially, enterprise-class content management would enable your organization to make these changes in a safe way. Contentful, for example, supports deep changes and extensibility in a way that won’t turn your platform into an unsupported version. You can be sure that your customized platform won’t break when Contentful is updated throughout the year.
Key features of an enterprise CMS
As you saw in the previous section, an enterprise CMS should offer the flexibility and customization to meet most of your needs from day one. And grow with your organization as your needs change.
That means the best enterprise CMSes on the market will offer deep, flexible functionality in the following areas.
Multi-channel, multi-brand management, and localization
By definition, every CMS will offer tools for publishing your content — that’s their whole purpose. But every CMS is not created equal.
A small-scale CMS will be very website-focused. As a result, it will have relatively limited content management tools, maybe enough for handling a single brand and one or two websites.
But an enterprise will have much bigger, more complex needs. You likely have multiple brands. Maybe they have the same content, but you modify it slightly across each brand’s channel because the brands are aimed at different demographics. An enterprise CMS should offer flexible management tools to support this.
It’s likely that you also have multiple channels. That might include an array of web pages, social media accounts, voice channels, mobile apps, in-store signage, and more. These channels serve customers in different countries, speaking different languages. An enterprise CMS should be able to support this too.
An enterprise CMS should offer extensive functionality for managing a wide variety of content types across several brands and channels.
Contentful, for example, enables this kind of omnichannel, multi-locale content strategy. It offers the ability to define content structures and models that suit your enterprise’s needs and ways of working.
Advanced user and access management
You may start to recognize a trend here. An enterprise has complex needs, and an enterprise CMS should offer the power and flexibility to meet those needs. The same applies to user roles and security functions.
A small-scale CMS offers user roles for security and compliance, but they are often fixed. You might get an author role, an approver role, an editor role, and so on. But a user can only have one role. That means you can’t set their permissions granularly, giving them one kind of access on one page and another kind of access on another.
An enterprise CMS offers much more granular control over user roles, and enables the creation of custom roles in addition to any standard ones.
In Contentful, for example, you can set a stakeholder’s permissions as specifically as you need, down to the level of a single field. You can set permissions for a user such that they can only modify one type of content. Or, they can only modify SEO content that is written in the Japanese language. Or they can only change metadata on blog posts for one specific brand.
With controls this detailed, you can ensure that stakeholders only have the access they need and the rest of your enterprise CMS is secure.
Custom workflows and approval processes
Just as no two enterprises are the same, no two teams within an enterprise are the same. A large organization will have many teams across several departments working on content. Each one will have its own unique workflow requirements for content management.
One team may be OK with the standard approval workflow, where a piece of content is written, an editor approves it, and then it’s published. But it’s unlikely that this workflow meets the requirements of every team in your organization. Another team may need to get legal review before publication. A third team may need to approach the approval workflow differently for each type of content they publish.
The best enterprise CMS should offer the flexibility to customize your workflows so they fit the way your teams work.
An enterprise will tend to have much higher volumes of traffic coming to its website than a smaller company. Often, this traffic will come all at once, for example, right after the launch of an anticipated new product.
Where a small-scale CMS is not designed to handle this traffic properly, an enterprise CMS platform will scale automatically using cloud-based computing. The best on the market will offer 99.99% SLA (service level agreement), so you can ensure your customers have an uninterrupted content experience regardless of demand.
The best enterprise CMSes on the market will also offer scalability to meet this demand on the content creation side. They will make it simple to add writers, editors, and approvers as necessary to produce the digital experiences that your customers expect.
Versioning and content history tracking
As your enterprise grows, your content management and content strategy operations get increasingly complex. You create more content daily. That content is spread across more channels, relating to more brands. More stakeholders get involved. It becomes exponentially more difficult to track versions or find who is responsible for the content.
That’s why it’s important for an enterprise CMS to offer tools that enable good governance, or big-picture management, of content across the organization.
An enterprise CMS should offer flexible, user-friendly ways to track who did what, to what content, and at what time. For example, it should be easy to look at a blog post and quickly answer questions like:
What version is it?
Who wrote it?
Who added the metadata?
Who owns it?
Who published it?
When the content needs updating, whose responsibility is it to make changes?
The best enterprise CMSes on the market will make it easy to determine who is responsible for what content so you can stick to your content governance plan and maintain a high level of quality.
This is a big one.
As your organization has grown, you’ve adopted various technologies, plug-ins, and other tools to customize workflows and business processes. Maybe you are storing your digital assets in an excellent asset management system, or you have a personalization tool, issue-tracking platform, or CRM that works well.
A good enterprise CMS should integrate cleanly and easily with these existing tools. So you don’t have to reinvent the way you work just to solve your content challenges.
Which enterprise CMS is best for you?
Since your enterprise is unique, the first step toward deciding on an enterprise CMS is to determine your content needs and find a platform that meets those needs. That much is obvious.
But there are a few extra factors you might want to take into account.
Is it a headless CMS?
As we’ve explained in another educational article:
“A headless CMS is a content management system that separates the presentation layer (where content is presented) from the backend (where content is managed). A headless CMS allows you to manage content in one place and be able to deploy that content on any digital channel you choose.”
Compare this to a traditional CMS, where “content is tangled up with code and locked in silos, making reusing content — and creating modern digital experiences — next to impossible.”
Enterprises cannot afford to continue building on a monolithic legacy CMS if they expect to deliver on an ambitious omnichannel content strategy. The journey begins by going headless and decoupling the frontend from the backend, then realizing your fullest potential with a composable content platform.
Is it API-first?
Though every enterprise CMS is designed to meet the needs of an enterprise, some leading CMSes do it entirely within the context of a monolithic architecture. That means they bundle a variety of business functionalities into a single platform.
With a monolithic CMS, you can’t swap out your tools as needed. For example, you won’t be able to exchange the built-in digital asset management (DAM) tool for a better option. What they offer is what you get.
An API-first philosophy offers much greater flexibility.
It puts application programming interfaces (APIs) at the very center of its design. This makes it trivial for your developers to build out custom integrations. With an API-first design, you can integrate whatever platforms, plug-ins, and other tools you want into a custom tech stack that works for your enterprise.
Is it future-proof?
A content platform that’s both headless and API-first has one more benefit: it prevents lock-in to make your enterprise future-proof.
For example, take Contentful. As a content platform, it is completely agnostic to the channel where you decide to share your content. That means you can change and adapt to new content trends. Certainly, no one expected to publish content to indoor rowing machines, but Contentful’s headless architecture can enable you to make that transition with ease.
And yes, you guessed it, Contentful is also API-first. This means you can easily integrate your own tool for each business function. That makes it simple to swap out a DAM, for example, if your enterprise finds a new tool that better suits your way of working.
As you can see, an enterprise CMS offers many benefits. The greatest, by far, is flexibility.
Your enterprise is complex, with large numbers of stakeholders, teams, brands, channels, and content types. An enterprise CMS offers the power and flexibility you need to optimize your content operations so you can react quickly.
Additionally, the best enterprise CMSes will grow with you. Rather than offering you something rigid and fixed, they will change with you as your needs change. So you can be sure that your enterprise can always do its best content work, whatever the future brings.