CMS Upgrade Advice from a Developer
Does this sound like you? Your website is up and running, you’re out of a redesign or digital transformation, and you’re feeling ready to sit back and let things run on their own. While it’s tempting to relax after developing a new site, it’s actually a great time to start planning for maintenance.
A website is like a house: there’s always some form of maintenance you need to be doing. If you don’t want to be that worn-down, dilapidated house on the block, updating your website and CMS is vital.
In technology, change is a constant. In a modern CMS, continual updates are being made for new features, bug fixes, better security, improved accessibility, and browser compatibility. On top of that, browsers are being updated, third-party APIs are creating new releases, and the framework your site runs on requires maintenance upgrades.
Proactively planning to keep up with these changes will help keep your site running smoothly and be less messy. It’s also much more cost-effective than waiting until something goes wrong. Waiting to upgrade until you’re forced to by security or compatibility issues means that the upgrade process will not be as well planned as a proactive upgrade. The project will be on a less flexible deadline that may not be ideal for the organization.
As a Lead Developer, I understand the bigger picture of upgrades and how it fits into overall site maintenance, so I’m answering five common questions I get about CMS upgrades to share my knowledge.
1. Why does a CMS need to be updated regularly?
Suppose you don’t upgrade your CMS and CMS-related functionality regularly. In that case, you can essentially paint yourself into a corner where there eventually is no path to upgrade, and you get stuck with obsolete technology that no longer works.
Upgrades might seem so frequent because your website doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s not just the CMS when upgrades are occurring. There are also browsers, APIs, and the tech stack. When your developer tells you an upgrade is required, and you think, “didn’t we just do one?” it doesn’t mean they’re lying to you. There’s a myriad of updates that will occur throughout the year. Here are a few:
Improvements and New Features
As new features come out, you’ll want access to them. They could improve things like site speed or user experience and keep a site up to date with customer expectations of technology.
Loss of Product Support
Most products have a lifespan during which it will continue to be supported. If your website is running on a product or platform that has reached the end of support, you run the risk of an emergency issue requiring a full upgrade to resolve it. Even if a product is still being supported, a support team’s first recommendation is generally to upgrade and check whether the issue still exists.
These are upgrades you don’t want to ignore. If a security vulnerability has been found in your system, it can mean sensitive data from your organization or your users is accessible to hackers. This can be a major liability and is in everyone’s best interest to take care of right away.
Ability to Upgrade Other Parts of the Tech Stack
If the CMS doesn’t support the latest versions of your web stack, your web stack can’t be upgraded. This leads to security risks and the inability to integrate products that require the latest versions.
2. How should an organization plan for CMS upgrades?
Understand your products and your website ecosystem. Are there major version upgrades needed for CMS, products, or any APIs? Try to create version roadmaps to keep an eye on what you’re on and when new versions become available.
Map out the websites:
- Software framework (e.g. .NET)
- Integrated third-party APIs (e.g., CRM, SSO, IMS)
Once you know what technology stack you are currently using and the versions of each, you can create a roadmap. Your roadmap should list major version releases coming up for your CMS and any integrations, and specifically, note any upcoming features that you would like your website to support.
Once you have it all mapped out, try to identify opportunities. Is there a month where you could tackle all of your upgrades when you core business might be slower? Unless it’s a must-have feature or security release, try to avoid upgrades during your busy time.
3. When should an organization update its CMS?
Outside of major upgrades, you should ideally budget at least 5 to 10 development hours per quarter to keep things up to date and verify there are no new security vulnerabilities or deprecated functionality you need to worry about. For any upgrade, developers will need to verify that all necessary plugins and integrated products are supported before starting.
Additionally, think of the following as trigger events. If any of these events pop up, it’s time to think about upgrading your CMS:
- Security patches
- New, desired functionality is released
- Major version release is stable
- You are planning on implementing new code on the site
These are in order of urgency. A security patch is something to do immediately or as recommended by the release notes. Desired functionality that your business has been waiting on might also be urgent. A stable release should be a bit more predictable.
If you’re planning a redesign or other project, you should also consider upgrading. This will help ensure you’re building on the best foundation possible and won’t waste time and budget to fix the new code to support an already available version.
4. How can organizations plan for upgrade costs and convince leadership it’s worth it?
Ultimately the benefits of website upgrades depend on what your organization values most. Is it a priority for your site to remain stable and secure? Do you want to have the best experience for your editors? Will you be redesigning the website and want to reduce duplicate work? Is it better to have a predictable budget with fewer unexpected costs? Regardless of which matters most to you, these are all great reasons to plan for regular maintenance updates on your website.
If you need to convince the organization that it makes financial sense, put it this way: it is more expensive to dig out of a bad upgrade path than to pay as upgrades come up. Like that house I mentioned earlier, minor improvements over time are more cost-efficient than having to tear down the house and start over.
Additionally, any time you add new features to a site, ignoring upgrades gets more expensive. Any new features you add to the website built on outdated technology can add to the cost of upgrades in the future. When the underlying technology is not upgraded, you may have breaking changes in your new code, adding to your upgrade cost. Upgrading first will give any new development more longevity and decrease the amount of code that will need to be upgraded.
5. What can go wrong if I don’t upgrade my CMS?
At Adage, we’ve seen multiple examples where delaying CMS upgrades caused issues for organizations down the line. Here’s some typical problems that can arise:
- Older versions of a CMS were no longer supported in modern browsers forcing content editors to use the CMS only in specific older browsers. Result: Negative user experience for the editors.
- A CMS issue was preventing certain content updates in a load-balanced environment, and after spending time troubleshooting, we found an obscure bug in the CMS. Result: Troubleshooting became expensive and could have been avoided had the site been up to date.
- The tech stack for the web server needed to be upgraded for security reasons, but the CMS version was too old to support it. Result: The security updates had to wait on an unplanned CMS upgrade, leaving the server less secure for longer.
- Third-party software integrated with the website needed to be upgraded to get the latest features, but the code libraries for integrating with the latest version were not compatible with an older CMS. Result: Waiting for an unplanned CMS upgrade before getting the latest features of the e-commerce software.
Having a plan for regular upgrades can reduce the cost and headaches of unexpected maintenance needs. Now that you are well informed, it’s time to develop a plan and prepare for regular maintenance. Check-in with your Adage development team, or reach out to discuss your unique needs.