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Best CMS for Government: Headless, Traditional, or Hybrid?

A hybrid approach to CMS is the best of both worlds — IT maintains flexibility while subject matter experts benefit from ease of use. 

Government agencies continue to feel the squeeze on budgets. Yet, as the phrase “do more with less” becomes cliché, local governments all the way through the federal government have difficulty reacting fast enough to the rising demands of customer expectations.  

Customers interact with government on new channels and devices all the time — mobile apps, smart devices, digital assistants, portals, and of course, websites — but this rapid evolution strains many organizations. Several companies are proposing new solutions to this growing problem, such as a headless content management system (HCMS).

What Is a Headless Content Management System (HCMS)?  

Before we jump into defining a HCMS, it is appropriate to recap what the industry means by a traditional CMS in the first place.  

Imagine a technology stack for a CMS in the same way as a human body. The head (which contains most of our sense organs) represents the visual layer of a website, the part most people engage. The torso (which contains the heart and organsincludes the parts of a website that keep it running. In other words, this is where the content is managed. Lastly, the legs represent the infrastructure  the elements to help you stand and move efficiently.  

A traditional web-oriented content management system ties together the front-end experience with the back-end administrative experience. This all-inclusive technology stack may provide many organizations with everything they need, but it can limit teams to doing things one way. 

On the other hand, a headless content management system removes the head in this analogy. This is achieved through a microservice-oriented architecture. Content-as-a-Service, or CaaS for short, frees your content from the visual layer, allowing technical teams to consume the structured content on any device much more efficiently. With it, you can create content and publish everywhere.  

A headless CMS sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Not so fast.

[Related Content: What Is a Government CMS?]

Headless vs. Traditional CMSThe Pros & Cons  

As mentioned, a headless CMS strictly tailored to developers is highly flexible and it will unlock some hidden efficiencies. At the same time it introduces efficiencies, it also brings inefficiencies better addressed by a traditional CMS 

The below table further illustrates both the pros and cons of choosing either a traditional CMS or a headless CMS. 

Headless CMS

Traditional CMS


  • Preferred by technical staff.
  • Fast deployment.
  • Create once, publish everywhere to any channel (web, mobile, IoT).
  • Choose tech / language framework for a given application.
  • Build rich web experiences differently.
  • Easy for non-technical staff.
  • Supports distributed teams.
  • Lets you control [Field] URL structure.
  • Preview lets you see how content looks instantly.
  • One-stop shop for best practices.


  • No URL handling or previewing.
  • No ordinary CMS features for content authors (like a landing page editor).
  • Not optimal for supporting multiple traditional websites.
  • Requires developer to begin a website or application.
  • Can’t create or push dynamic content; rigid and inflexible.
  • Not suitable for modern digital content channels (mobile, smart watches, marketing kiosks).
  • Long implementation times for even small changes.

What’s the Best Government CMS? A Hybrid CMS Empowers All  

Many organizations driving adoption of a headless content management system focus solely on the needs of technical users anxious to keep abreast with evolving front-end frameworks and microservice architecture. Contrarily, traditional web CMS is often the preferred choice by less technical personnel opting for the simplest, easiest to use application.  

A hybrid CMS is the only solution capable of balancing both ease of use alongside enterprise-grade flexibility.

Inevitably, picking one over the other can create conflicts. 

Effective government leaders balance the needs of all teams involved. They know that successful government transformation requires collaboration from IT staff in addition to every other department across the organization. A hybrid CMS is the only solution capable of balancing both ease of use alongside enterprise-grade flexibility. Departments or agencies control the optimal customer experience and developers efficiently bring application updates to market faster.  

6 Benefits of Hybrid CMS for Government Agencies

Maintain pace with changing technology.  A hybrid CMS allows you to address the needs of  the entire organization, developers and laypeople alike. Developers can innovate  while improving content management for both old and new digital channels.  

Deploy multiple options for innovative teams. Hybrid CMS allow teams the best of both worlds by giving options: content-driven experiences on any channel (headless CMS) and the ease of use to create, edit, and preview content while pushing content through governance guidelines in workflows and approval cycles.

Support microsites for select departments or agencies. Microsites provide a great way to optimize the end user experience for larger departments or agencies, but they also support the need for short-term programs or campaigns. With a hybrid CMS, you can quickly create the bones of new microsite while headless components allow quick content creation

Unify team collaboration.Content requirements are increasingly intertwined, and each team can now focus on their respective expertise. IT teams can focus on extending core functionality using APIs, SDKs, and microservices after defining and creating content models. Communication departments and other subject matter experts deliver the best customer experience to meet the rising demands of constituents. 

Offer a government experience platform. Traditional web-oriented CMS supports deep integrations with 3rd party systems (such as Facebook and Twitter) that can mirror the native social media platform and email automation. Other dedicated solutions such as event registration, facility reservations, or payment integrations require higher level of efforts to build from scratch and maintain.  

Preserve operational stability. Jumping ship to join the latest trend is a risky choice for government. Inevitably, employees within a respective domain will prefer to manage content one way or the other. Arguments exist, as noted, for the functionality included in both a traditional CMS and a headless CMS. A hybrid offers the best of both worlds,  stabilizing contentious opinions and uniting teams toward the real goal together  making a difference in citizens’ lives.

Is a Hybrid CMS Right for You? Questions to Consider 

Traditional CMS provided the first way to manage content at scale across an organization. The introduction of new devices and methods to consume information raised the need for increased agilityAsk the following questions if the best of these unique approaches combined into one solution sounds like the right choice for you. 

  1. Is ownership over the digital ecosystem split across both IT and other departments or agencies?
  2. Is consolidation or integration of 3rd party software an important goal?
  3. Does the agency maintain multiple sites such as websites, intranets, portals, and microsites?  

If you answered yes to any of these, then you should explore hybrid content management systems.  

Contact Us for a Free Consultation

Granicus govAccess offers the only hybrid CMS built for government. Contact us today for more information.