It’s not Umbraco, it’s the implementation that sucks!


So as I was sitting on yet another delayed train pondering life and how Govia Thameslink could have made such a total and utter balls up implementing their new timetable and a thought struck me...  

If you’re reading this article sometime in the future when the cats have taken over from humans as the master race, then I’m talking about the inability for the old masters, the humans, to place a train at one end of a track, add a driver, get the driver to leave at a specific time and drive the train to its destination via some other places on a fairly straight track to a specific timetable. I know it’s difficult for you feline overlords to understand how that can be so difficult, but hey, that’s why you’ve taken over civilisation I guess!

Anyway, as I was pondering it struck me that, there are a number of similarities between the horrific implementation of the new change everything 20/20 timetable and some of the CMS implementations we’ve seen recently. And, this doesn’t seem to be restricted to just one platform. It would seems that there are a lot of bad implementations out there, no matter the application!

Systems are reliable, it’s how we implement them thats the problem!

A train is a train. It has wheels, an engine, some seats, maybe a toilet if you’re lucky and if you’re extremely lucky and do need special assistance to get around the network in a wheelchair, you may even have disabled access facilities.

When delivered from the factory, it's placed on a track to be driven by a driver to a pre-agreed timetable, and that it seems is where it all breaks down and goes very, very wrong.

As soon as, what you’d assume were ‘experts’ attempt to implement a system to use the train, that wonderful piece of machinery turns up late, or sometimes not at all, suffers breakdowns due to bad maintenance practices and generally the impression to the customer one of total frustration and annoyance.

So how does this relate to CMS projects?

So, when it comes to implementing a CMS or indeed any system for that matter there are parallels that can be drawn between the above scenario and the way that we've seen CMS projects implemented.

Content management systems, like trains usually do a great job out-of-the-box. That goes for Umbraco and most of the other systems out there. You can edit content, move pages around, publish at a certain time and do all the cool stuff content editors need to do in their daily lives. Just as they need to get to work on time, they need to add content easily and effectively.

However it would seem that, when left to someone who doesn’t really know what they are doing, or worse, they say and they advertise themselves as 'experts' but they still get it wrong, then frustration and annoyance for the end user grows and grows. The confidence in the platform diminishes and disappears as quickly as a pizza in a room full of developers.

Unfortunately however, this problem seems to happen a lot more frequently than you’d expect. We are contacted almost weekly by companies seeking one of our Umbraco Health Checks, wondering why their website is running so badly and unfortunately it’s usually down to bad implementation rather than the system.

Our health check involves a full review of everything including the hosting architecture, Umbraco configuration, back and front end code quality, deployment practices and a whole heap of other things! It has given a wide range of companies a view on what the problems are and how they can be improved usually with minor tweaks here and there over time to gradually fix, test measure and improve performance, without the need to do a full rebuild. Gradually bringing happiness and tranquility to the lives of companies who are tearing their hair out and blaming Umbraco when all along it was just down to a bad implementation.

As another example, a company recently contacted us about migrating their site onto Umbraco. They had spent an eye wateringly large amount of money on a well known 'enterprise' CMS 18 months ago, a lot of functionality doesn't work, the search needs 4 servers to run and content appears, disappears and reappears when a production deployment happens. The site is fundamentally a brochure site with 400 or so pages! Again a really bad implementation!

So lets stop blaming the system!

The problem with all the above is that it gives the system, Umbraco or otherwise, a really bad name. It turns web editors and whole companies off meaning they then want to replace the system as quickly as possible, when the system itself has done nothing wrong at all. And this is damaging for everyone - the client, the implementation partner and the CMS vendor. 

I have no doubt that over the next few months Govia Thameslink (if they survive!) will be working extremely hard to make sure their implementation improves significantly! I am sure they will gradually and iteratively improve the service, fixing and tweaking the timetables and making sure that the basics are done properly and the trains are not blamed for the problems we as customers are having and then I'll be able to get to work on a train that I know is going to appear when it's supposed to!