Professional Services Consultant – Web Content Management

<>May 2008

By Christine Mitchell


I work for a market leader in software for higher education. One of the products is a Web content management system (CMS), which is intended to give non-technical customers the ability to manage content for both their portal and Web sites. My job is to facilitate the implementation of the CMS at the client site post-sale. This involves approximately six months of both on-site and virtual classroom sessions. Sessions will cover everything from launching the project to going-live. This position is critical to the company in that professional services account for a large part of the revenue gained from a CMS sale. This is a billable position and an accurate time sheet must be submitted each week.

My job involves between 50-75 percent travel to the U.S. Canada and the Middle East. A typical day will depend on whether I’m on the road or working from home delivering services remotely. A typical travel week in the U.S will mean heading out on Monday, working on site until late Thursday and traveling home Thursday night or Friday morning. If I travel overseas, I stay at least 2 weeks due to travel time and cost.

A typical remote week means walking down the hall to my home office and spending the day on the telephone, in front of the computer, delivering services via WebEx. The client decides whether the service is remote or on-site. Remote services are less expensive since there are no travel costs. Typically, the engagement will be a mix of the two, with the more technical services to smaller groups being delivered remotely and more people- oriented services to larger groups being delivered on-site.

So what is it exactly that I do? I always begin with educating the client about the product. Since most people don’t know what a CMS is, this is fundamental. It involves general sessions standing in front of several groups delivering a PowerPoint presentation tailored for the group. I must have strong public speaking skills, PowerPoint skills and the confidence to speak in front of both small and large groups of both technical and non-technical audiences.  I need an excellent understanding of Web content management concepts and how much information to give to different types of groups.

Client education also involves giving a high-level demo of the product to non-technical audiences and a separate session for hands on lab with the technical audience. Skills needed for this are in-depth knowledge of the product and the ability to translate the product into terms an audience will understand. Critical skills are not only the obvious technical skills but also the ability to read the audience, to make sure they understand, to make sure you interact with them in a way that they don’t feel stupid for not getting it the first time around. CMS is very complex.

This will be followed up in subsequent sessions with the nitty-gritty work of planning the content migration into the new CMS. I will do a heuristic review of their current Web site and recommend simple usability improvements that can be made during the inevitable redesign. A content inventory will be done and existing content will be mapped into the new system. We will also analyze their current content to see if any of it can be re-created as re-usable content, or "chunked" content, in the new system. I’ll plan with them the structure of the CMS for work areas, groups, users and roles. I’ll analyze and incorporate their security needs into the system. I’ll review their current processes to see what, if any, approval workflows they’ll need. I’ll plan with them the information architecture to improve the navigation of the Web site.

Once the planning phase is complete, I work with them to build out their system from the plans and teach them how to re-create the process on their own after the project is done. Once the system is built I will train their trainers and their initial group of CMS editors. Then the product is launched after a final go-live review of everything that has been done.

Other technical skills needed are an advanced understanding of Web technologies, Web servers, application servers, XHTML, and CSS. I need to be comfortable around, but not fluent in, JavaScript, .jsp, .asp and .php.  My job is a functional consultant, not a technical consultant. I don’t program the system but I need to understand how to use code libraries to create templates.

Soft skills include the ability to listen rather than talk, patience with non-technical users, and above all the ability to simplify technical concepts for a non-technical audience. In doing this job, you absolutely must be flexible. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t need to know what you’ll be doing every day and likes to travel, this job is for you.


Mathew Schwartz is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Cambridge, Mass.