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Monday, January 11, 2010

CMS: It has some serious issues

What is the number one recruiting tool for colleges in the country? I’ll give you a hint: It’s not guest speakers, cold callers, word of mouth, pamphlets, flyers, school counselors, posters, or handouts of any kind. Give up? A study done by E-Expectations in association with The National Research Center for College and University Admissions concluded that prospective student’s turn to the school’s Web site as their main source of college information.

There’s just one small problem – many schools are lacking the technology to create the Web sites they desire. This may seem like no big deal, but let’s look at it from the bigger picture. What if one school had a phenomenal top of the line Web site with the works: videos, podcasts, slideshows, RSS feeds, photos, intricate design, blogs, and live chat. What if that school was your biggest competitor and your site had some bland text with a couple of pictures and a messy lay out that was impossible to navigate through? Do you see the picture?

Luckily, content management systems (CMS) exist. CMS, if it’s a good CMS, allows non technical users to create advanced, consistent, attractive Web sites in no time at all. However, like everything else in the world today, there’s a catch. Most content management systems on the market are hard to understand, require days or sometimes weeks of training, and can barely get you through the basics let alone add in all of the bells and whistles. The point of a CMS is to make creating Web sites easier and to enable the majority of the staff to work on the site, not just IT people. But if learning the system requires days of training, then doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Odds are that people will become frustrated or just blow off the training entirely, therefore, never learning how to operate the technology.

If you walked into a room full of collegiate web masters and asked how many of them crave an easy to use, top of the line CMS I can pretty much guarantee that almost all of them would raise their hand. Right now there is a major market for a quality content management system that is focused on the unique needs of the higher education sector. Granted a commercial company may put you in a better position than a homegrown outdated system, but most commercial companies are currently stuck. With so many clients it’s impossible to concentrate on upgrading your product.

Too many clients can also lead to a vendor-buyer relationship, one in which you never hear from the vendor again after the product is sold, leaving you alone and confused. Problems can also arise with using open source systems. It may sound cost effective and FREE, but in reality the bill can really start to rack up by the time you find the staff and training to make it work.

Unfortunately there are schools out there that for one reason or another end up with a mediocre everyday CMS company, and these schools are what I would call “Yankee fans.” It seems like mostly everyone is a Yankees “fan” because every eight years or so they’ll win a World Series, and following them is usually a pretty safe bet. It doesn’t matter that the Phillies might be AMAZING that year, you’re just choosing to play it safe and stick with what everyone else is doing.

Playing it safe isn’t always the best option, especially when looking at CMS, because playing it safe usually leads to a boring, average, outdated Web site, which in turns leads to a poor image for your university and low enrollment totals. It is an exciting time for content management systems because the paradigm is shifting and allowing non technical end users to do amazing work with collegiate Web sites. Start looking at what else is out there, take chances, do some demo’s and find a fit that truly works for you and your university.

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