Content Management Systems for Universities

Choosing a content management system to be used in a bureaucratic deadline centric environment is no easy task. That fact is especially true when you’re migrating from less productive systems. In this post I will outline some things to consider when choosing a CMS to be used in a university or college.

Feature Rich Should Be The Last Requirement

While its tempting to choose the cms that gives you the biggest toolset, don’t fooled by it. A typical university only needs a system that enables theirs users to store, manage and update content while giving their developers the utmost flexibility (without much sweat). Content publishers will not care about the technical fruits of the system and will care even less about how powerful it is for you as a developer.

Your content management system should let your content publishers do exactly that, publish content. Also in the same breath give developers a straight-forward template engine, flexible role and use management, etc. (there are too many to list).

To summarize, find the system that has the best flexibility and user management. In my own adventures I look for least resistance when I want to temporarily disable a certain group of users from being able to publish content. So when choosing, find what works best in your situation and base your decision off those basic requirements, but keep the basics short and succinct.

Any Content, Anywhere

I’ve be able to use several content management systems over the past couple years. One feature a CMS should never leave out is being able to put content from any source (within the system) on any page in your website. Drupal for example does not allow such flexibility without a ton of modification to its core (requires programming skills) and use of modules. WordPress has this flexibility built-in, but it requires a little php programming wizardry as well.

At its most basic foundation, a university only needs to display the latest content. Being to iterate through the content in your database easily is very important. Displaying content conditionally is also important. An example:

General homepage displaying latest events for the music department in large footer at the bottom.

Unfortunately some systems make this to hard to accomplish easily. So when choosing your CMS make sure you can extract your content easily, choose exactly what content should be displayed and choose where it should be displayed. If you are looking for this kind of flexibility, don’t look to Drupal, Joomla or WordPress (fyi). Drupal in particular forces you to use a “right way” of laying out your designs. Not cool.

Deploy it Tomorrow?

Could you get a basic implementation of a department’s homepage up with all of its content (editable and manageable) in a day? Sometimes these kind of deadlines and requirements are the case for web developers. Its safe to suggest that whatever CMS you choose, it should give you this kind of productivity right off the bat. Most CMS’ prefer configuration over productivity, which is truly a shame. You end up spending more time configuring your system than you do actually producing an actual website.

Choose the system that gives you the most productivity for your dollars (whether the currency be in time, money or mental health, *chuckles).

A Name Space that Facilitates Collaboration

Often times a CMS will be extracted from a real project as opposed to building one from the ground up. Some projects employ feature naming conventions that are only relevant to that project. For example, in Drupal all content entries are referred to as “nodes”. To beginning and even intermediate web developers, that just will never make sense. Systems where anything can be anything are ineffective when collaborating. It gets worse when you start extending your system with plugins/modules.

Choose a system that you, your team and most importantly your content publishers can understand. In the long run, it will make working out problems a lot less stressful. Not to mention the sheer amount of time you save from spending less time training people to get around the system.

…And I digress

All in all one should be very careful and do true hands-on research when choosing a CMS for someone other than themselves. What works for you won’t always work for your boss and colleagues. Luckily for me I’ve never used a CMS in my own personal projects as I would just roll my own, light and simple.

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