University Web Developers

University Web Developers

We're are currently shopping for a new CMS and have been leaning toward a vendor hosted solution.

Due to unforseen budget issues we have been asked to evaluate free open source solutions as well, Plone floating to the top of the list.

Considering the development time for open source products, does it really become a better value?

We have about 7,500 students and 5 of the 7 colleges at our university will be in the system. Our web team consists of two developers, one content person and myself.


Does anyone have any experience or thoughts to share?




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You're right in that free is not really free. The major trade-off when going FOSS for your CMS is going to be support. Simply put, you will have to have an expert in the chosen system on staff. 


In our school we are very decentralized. That said nearly every imaginable CMS is in use by one unit or another and many of these were chosen for the same consideration you indicate above. That is, they wanted their site for "free." While some units have gotten lucky and created a reasonably good product for use in recruiting, etc the vast majority have some serious horror stories ranging from hacks by Islamic activists to data-breaches, site outages, ADA lawsuits, and more. In the end, the need for an investment, whether in personel or software, is something that should neither be overlooked or taken for granted.

I really hate hearing people say that they're evaluating open source because of budget, as if FOSS is some kind of pariah to avoid at all costs. You don't have to spend money to get a good product. Like Chris said, if you can commit a person to be the expert (and have one or two others with backup skills), you'll be fine. dotCMS, Drupal, Wordpress - all can be good options. Your success or failure will depend far less on the software, and far more on how you choose to wield it. Likewise, you can spend $50K on enterprise software and still fall flat on your face if your internal support mechanisms aren't in place right.


Simple answer: GET THE RIGHT SOFTWARE TO ACCOMPLISH YOUR TECHNICAL REQUIREMENTS, and don't launch it until you have your support model in place.

We started our journey with Plone two years ago. Initially we spent some set-up money getting in a consultant for 8 weeks to both build a standard site and teach us how it worked and how to admin it - the objective was the knowledge transfer, without which we wouldn't have been able to take it on. Our standard site is templated, with a very small amount of customising possible, and has a set of plug ins installed to achieve a range of functionality that we listed in the initial specification. There are now two of us that support and manage the system and it is going well, although as with any CMS it can be hair-wrenching. The success of it has depended on having the intitial knowledge transfer and the right technical expertise in house, and that very success has to be monitored so that the staff don't fall in a heap.

+1 What Michael said.Get the best system for your needs - it'll be less expensive that way no matter what you pay for it, or don't pay for it :)

In my experience a vendor CMS does not obviate the need for significant development resources. In looking (in-depth) at Drupal, it doesn't appear to take any more dev time than our current vendor solution - we had to create the site templates either way. If we'd had piles of money, we'd have paid someone to make the templates either way. The budgetary difference was just in paying for the platform.

Look for a CMS that your team would feel comfortable using. If your team know a specific server configuration (LAMP, MAMP, WAMP etc) better than others, look for CMSs that run well in that configuration. There are a bunch of other little preferences along those lines that can help you narrow your search.

I know Drupal, so that is what I use. A server admin and I run the our site of about 5,500 pages, edited by 50+ trained users across campus. I really like working with Drupal and would highly recommend it to anyone.

There are also some really good developers out there that you can pay for custom code if there is ever a little budget floating around.

Thanks to all for your comments / suggestions. These are all valid points and will help in our selection process.






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