In a recent post, I shot down the myth that you can predict the ratio between web content management license cost and implementation services. (You can read the post here, but the summary is: There is no standard ratio. Like snowflakes, every WCM implementation and digital experience project has its own unique … personality, and cost. It’s not only about the technology.)

But for any application development professional who sources and implements these systems and strategies, you (or your friends in marketing) will inevitably get put on the spot by the person holding the wallet. Their question, “What’s this going to cost us, all-in?” is hard to answer. And no exec wants to hear, “I don’t know.”

We can provide a recipe for turning this question in a productive discussion that lets budget holders understand the Great Unknowns that accompany digital projects.   

Costs can balloon for many reasons on a WCM or DX project. Below are just a few reasons in the form of questions. Use them early on in the project/process to educate key stakeholders on the true costs of WCM- or digital-related work – the levers that get pushed and pulled, affecting cost, timeline, and outcomes. It may be your best defense when the money people start asking questions.

  • Who’s leading your WCM- or digital experience-related services? Will you spend internal IT staff time or money on external agency partners getting something built?
  • If you go with an external partner, is its cost fixed with specific deliverables defined or billed hourly until the work is done? What budget safeguards can you all agree on?
  • Is this project considered at your company to be “just a tech implementation” or will you be overhauling digital strategy – and are people ready to embrace and drive the change accompanying this?
  • Speaking of strategy, has anyone bothered to ask your clients what they want to do on your website? Are you designing for customers from the “outside in”?
  • Will you redesign the visual look and feel of your site? Is this part of a rebranding project? Or will you just keep the same old design?
  • Is your existing content still relevant? Will you migrate it over as-is or weed it out before migrating only what’s necessary?
  • If your content doesn’t make the grade, will your marketers and other internal subject-matter experts have to re-write it from scratch?
  • How about user testing with real customers before you go live?
  • How much mobile and social capability needs to be built into this project upfront?
  • Are you on a rushed timeline? Prepare folks to pay a tax on your rapid schedule.
  • Are there developers or agencies readily available to work (at reasonable rates) for the web content management platform you’re building on? Or will your WCM choice incur additional short- and long-term costs?

I could go on. (I'd love to hear your experiences with WCM and digital experience projects – software vs. services costs. Share your anecdotes in the comments.)

A big problem with WCM buyers and sponsors of digital experience projects is that they tend to enter their projects with a predefined expectation of cost – hence the search for the elusive software-services ratio. They may have heard a cost thrown out at a conference, or vendors have been whispering sweet nothings in their ears about how easy all this is. The lesson: remember the snowflake analogy. Expect variation. That’s the only constant.