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University Web Developers

If we adopt a CMS, what else should we have in place before choosing one, assuming we should have one at all? What kind of problems will it not solve for us? I am with a small private college (under a thousand students) with limited human and financial resources. Most of our staff and faculty are 50ish, and not Web-savvy.

Our current website is built and maintained in the traditional way with Dreamweaver. We want to empower people to create their own content, and I wonder if there is some way other than a CMS so that they can have the basic necessary permissions to do so.

I'd love to hear from anyone who has been through this decision making process or could point me in the direction of how to find out more about how to create such a process.

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Just FYI, the University of Northern Colorado took advantage of Stamats service to conduct a survey of how we create pages. what our infastructure needs are and what we'd like a CMS to do. There is a user and an IT questionnaire. They then narrowed the choices down to the top three to five vendors. I had several good conversations with them aboutthe results so they don't just send a document and cut you loose.  It was very helpful and reasonably priced.

Roona Johnston

Universite of Northern Colorado

Michael,

There is one other approach that hasn't been mentioned and that is driving your pages from "business data" in a dynamic way. This allows for the vast number of derivatives of a basic directory page with out having to maintain 50-100 individual directory pages. We have done this with curriculum information, directory information, and financial information when possible. It is a lot of work to set up the infrastructure to do this but the benefits are phenomenal if you have the support of a great IT staff and some decent programmers. 

I created a custom built CMS to to aid in the other content that is static but most people don't use that interface they just contact the webmaster for their changes because that happens much more rarely because of the data driven pages.

William,

 

This intrigues me; thanks for your reply. Can you show me published examples of your CMS in curriculum, financial, and directory information?

I'm currently in the position of evaluating both CMS and other solutions for our website, which is also an ecommerce site. Our current website is here: Wayne State University Press. We're currently moving to a new title management system that has the ability to feed content to a website database, so that will also play a part in our decision.

Are there any other University Press folks here, and if so, what are you using to run your websites? Currently we're on a homegrown university CMS system which offers very little in terms of flexibility. We've hacked it to pieces getting it to do what we need it to do. I'm open to any suggestions at this point.

One of the most important considerations is determining whether and what kind of CMS you need is a realistic number of expected users, as in content contributors and reviewers.The number of pages isn't particularly relevant as a decisive factor for relatively modest-sized sites. A site that's manageable with only a small number of developers and/or contributors might be better managed with some sort of version control system than a full-blown CMS. Nearly any CMS will add a significant amount of overhead and complexity that primarily gets in the way for a small development team unless they happen to be using a dynamic system (Drupal, WordPress, etc.) that has what are usually considered as CMS capabilities as a part of its core functionality. The comfort level of contributors with HTML and CSS are also important considerations.

The more people contributing content, the more robust your CMS likely needs to be. As you scale up in number of users, you're more likely to need features such as workflow management, adaptable and sophisticated metadata capabilities, flexible templating, the ability to incorporate dynamic content, versioning, multi-site management, internal search, and other features more likely to be found in enterprise level systems. Once you go in that direction, you'll also committing to a lot of other things including training, oversight, governance, system configuration and updating, and user administration.

In addition, the most closely that your chosen CMS can be configured to conform to your existing business model and workflow, the more likely users are to embrace it. The simplest CMS that will meet the organization's expected needs for the next five years or so may be the best from a users perspective. The vendor's reliability, lifecycle, support, size, pricing, and so forth are all important. In the end, if the users hate it, the content isn't updated or looks bad, or the content that the system generates doesn't work well for the end users of the content, the CMS may not be worth implementing.

Glenn,

You have mentioned a couple of open source solutions that are the exceptions to adding "a significant amount of overhead and complexity that primarily gets in the way for a small development team".

Could you elaborate on this? Perhaps compare these with purchased solutions. I assumed that installing extensions to open source solutions would be more complex and, at least to pay the developers at a university, require more overhead.

 

My reference was primarily to "out-of-the-box" open source software that could meet your needs with standard plug-ins, themes, and templates, etc. Some of those solutions are now quite highly evolved and well supported so they can do quite a lot without significant code-level customization. They can provide some of the features of an enterprise-level CMS with a lot less expense and complexity. There's still a need for installation and maintenance for upgrades and backup if hosted locally, but most of the interaction of site developers, content contributors, and content reviewers alike can occur at the application level and tends to be fairly user-friendly.

If you need significant customization or unusual functionality, your choices will really need to depend on the situation. It's not necessarily harder to customize open source software. In many cases, it may be easier actually, but complex needs may point in the direction of proprietary solutions if it can be clearly demonstrated that they will meet the specific needs that outstrip easier, simpler, and less expensive solutions.

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