Kentico the mule of development

I have talked before about how Content Management Systems(CMS) are getting so good, that it means they are doing more of the work so you don’t have too. Instead of doing the donkey work, you can be improving the whole application and doing the most advance features. However over my time of working with such a CMS called Kentico I have found some pro’s and con’s of this mode of working, so I wanted to share my thoughts of if it is a favourable idea to be working on these CMS’.

Kentico’s power

First off an overview of what Kentico is, in case you have not heard of it. Kentico is a C#.NET Swiss army knife of a CMS as it can do Content Management, E-commerce, Online Marketing and basically most of the work for a developer.

Some of the features are:

Kentico uses the name ‘Page Types’ for its content templates. In these you describe the format of how this content should be held, like a database table. You tell it what the field is called in the database, the size, the data format and things like the caption the Content Editor sees. When the Content Editor then adds new content and chooses that Page Type, they are presented with a form with these fields to enter the content. What it then means for the developer, is they have a standard format of how to pull different content from the CMS and not just get a blob of data. (Find out more http://www.kentico.com/product/all-features/web-content-management/custom-pages)

As well as just getting well formatted content, you can use ‘Web Parts’. Web Parts are like functional modules that get used on a template. These can be things like a navigation bar that is on each page, but you can also have different types on each template. Also these can pull content from the database using the Page Type like a news feed or list of blog posts. (Find out more http://www.kentico.com/product/all-features/web-content-management/webparts)

However the Web Parts are added by the developer and are only a single instance of the Web Parts. What we really want is the Content Editor to be able to choose what pages have what modules and for this there are ‘Widgets’. These are instances of the Web Parts, which means you create a Web Part and then the Widget references it. When the Content Editor uses the Widget it takes a copy of the Web Part that it stores on the Page. The control it gives is for the Content Editor to decide what module shows where, when and how. These can get very complex to give more control to the Content Editor or the Developer can keep some control by limiting the functionality of the module. (Find out more http://www.kentico.com/product/all-features/web-content-management/widgets)

The other great content editor control is to build forms, yes full forms. With the CMS you can use a bit of a WYSIWYG to construct a form with various types of fields and then get them submitted to the database. These can also have customisation to send emails to the user or the administrator, create A/B split testing of forms and the editor can even customise the layout of the form. This will spare some hours building custom forms each time with the same validation, same submitting pattern and same design. (Find out more http://www.kentico.com/product/all-features/web-content-management/on-line-forms)

You can read more about all the features in depth and download a demo from the Kentico website. [http://www.kentico.com/product/all-features]

Tell me why?

Other than just showing you the brochure, I wanted to explain what makes using a full customisable CMS like Kentico brings.

In my opinion DevOps is all about empowering the next person to do more with less work, for example an Operations Engineer could make it easier for a Developer to spin up development environment. This kind of this means the Operations Engineer can keep doing other work and the Developer can get on with their work faster. This is the same thing with Kentico and the Content Editors. The more generic and bespoke Web Parts you make, the more the Content Editor can do without the assistance of the Developer, which then leaves the Developer to get on with other work like improving the systems.

When you have a bespoke website that you need to do all the changes within the code, then the Developer needs to do all the leg work for even the smallest change. If the Content Editor wants a box moved to another location of the page, then that’s a boring task for the Developer. However with a CMS like Kentico, the Content Editor will be able to move this by themselves.

I would rather this kind of work pattern as for both Front End and Back End development, as I want to be working on the next great and latest thing, while also looking to improve my code and the testing. This work pattern removes them small tasks that interrupt your work, plus also if you work in Scrum like myself then it takes up your sprint points working in the more Developer heavy pattern.

As mentioned above its not just moving Widgets and custom Web Parts that make this CMS great. It is also the fact that the Content Editors can create their own forms. I remember having to built every simple form from scratch each time, but this now puts the work in their hand, but also in a simple way. I also say simple forms, but it is as simple as you the Developer wants to make it. As you can customise or custom build the Form Controls that build up the form and the Form Web Part that is the base of loading plus saving the form, then you can make them as complex as you want. If you want the form to be in different style, then build different Form Widgets. If you want multiple fields that result in a single field of content, like an Address, then build a custom Form Control. The ideas are only limited by you the Developer or the Content Editors ideas.

The downsides I have seen are where the Content Editors have a lot of great simple ideas. I have been given tasks of adding a new type of button or adding a new content area to a Widget. Although we are empowering them, we also still need to provide the tools to them, which aren’t always the most inventive ones. There is also a balance between empowering them and giving them the code. You could expose all the customisable features of the Web Part, like a button so the colour, size, wording, features but then it’s a huge amount of work for one button. This would then put them off using it, however the other way of closing it down can then put more tasks on you.

Another challenge is what you can customise and what you should. Kentico’s recommendation for when you are customising anything, is if it is default to Kentico then clone it and customise the clone. This is so if or when you need to upgrade the CMS, you haven’t broken anything that the upgrade will use, plus it could get over written when the upgrade is then place. Even though Kentico is full customisable, the method in which it performs some task might not be how you like and at best practice you need to leave them how they are.

Final thoughts?

Although there are downsides to using a CMS like Kentico, I think any method of using a CMS will have its downsides. I feel with this set up I am more looking at improving the code, myself and the product, rather than doing the same task each time.

What CMS do you use and do you think it helps you become a better developer, comment below?

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