How NASA Chose a New Content Management System

Nov 21, 2012

A case study on how NASA is choosing a new enterprise content management system (CMS).

The Challenge
A round CMS icon needs a new enterprise CMS. They’re facing issues such as software obsolescence, inconsistent website governance, and a large amount of unstructured content stored in flat HTML files. Their current system is almost a decade old, and the vendor no longer provides technical support. They need an enterprise solution that will enable offices throughout NASA to collaborate on content creation, instead of having each component create content in isolation. They also have around three-quarters of a million pieces of content, and it often isn’t structured to enable syndication or sharing.

The Solution

Moving to a new CMS will provide NASA with an opportunity to flesh out their content strategy and improve their publishing model. They’re analyzing content relationships to understand who and what will be affected; considering user roles, templates, information architecture, and workflow conventions. They also need to manage both static and dynamic content, and balance flexibility with standardization.

They’re also investigating how a CMS can help automate their content lifecycle. Since NASA doesn’t typically retire content—they leave it online for historical purposes—content must be clearly dated or labeled to show what’s historical or archived vs. current information. This process is currently manual and time-intensive, and ROT (redundant, outdated, trivial content) is getting in the way of viable search results, and hurting usability.

To identify the best CMS for their needs, they’re working with vendors to set up testbeds for simple use cases, and have involved both content and IT staff to test sample implementations. They’re interviewing other agencies that use each tool, to evaluate how easy it is to perform simple content management tasks. They recognize that any CMS, either open-source or commercial, won’t be ready-to-use off the shelf, but rather comes “some assembly required,” and they’re prepared to do some development to optimize for their specific needs.

An important breakthrough was the realization that, instead of trying to recreate their current processes in the new system, they needed to focus on outcomes, and what they’re trying to accomplish. A system that can automate or streamline common content management tasks frees up time for them to be more innovative, and cultivates a culture of constant improvement.


Implementing a new CMS will make it possible to present all NASA content together, regardless of its original source. NASA also hopes to improve website governance and content collaboration across the organization. While they’ve published “collections” and used RSS and widgets to syndicate content for many years, by moving their content into a structured database, they’ll be able to open and share even more information with the public, via APIs and other technologies.

Key takeaways:

  • Develop a content strategy before you worry about the CMS. Then you can identify the tool that best meets your business needs—instead of having to adapt your work process to fit the tool
  • Don’t write requirements based on existing processes or use cases, or you could end up duplicating current inefficiencies
  • Ask questions and focus on desired outcomes, to take advantage of advances in technology
  • Talk with vendors (and with others who already use a tool) to get a balanced perspective
  • Involve both content and tech teams in the testing process to make sure the system works for both teams
  • Be prepared to do some development to adapt the tool so it works for your specific needs