A version of this article first appeared on Link: The Journal for Higher Education Web Professionals
Most colleges and universities prioritize having an outstanding website – and that means an outstanding web team – to boost the institutions brand, publish great content, and attract and engage site visitors.
After all, the website is often the first touchpoint many people have with a school. The website is where prospective students find out about the institution, it’s the hub for students, faculty and staff who need to find information, it’s the place alumni and donors go to learn about changes on campus or upcoming events.
The website is important, which means that web teams at colleges and universities are familiar with the pressure to deliver quality content, stunning design, and intelligent UX.
However, it’s not just the web team, which can vary in size and resourcing depending on the organization, that is responsible for a successful web presence. Often, much depends on the content management system used to manage and deploy content.
In my many years’ experience working in this industry, I’ve found that finding the right CMS partner can make or break your chances at creating that perfect, oh-so-engaging web experience that your institution expects and depends upon. That’s why I’ve put together my top three signs a CMS partner is going to go above and beyond to deliver the web experience you need.
It Starts with Choosing the Right CMS
Before I get into my top three signs, I want to touch on the process of choosing the right type of CMS in the first place.
A lot goes into deciding to purchase a new content management system. It is not a decision taken lightly.
Once you’ve decided to take the leap, organizations must evaluate the needs and ability of their team, the goals of the university, the budget, and a truckload of unique requirements based on pre-existing applications and third-party integrators. Most organizations then start researching, filling out RFP (Request for Proposals), and booking up their schedules with demos and sales meetings.
At some point during this process I guarantee the moment will come when your team sits down and asks themselves: Open Source or Proprietary CMS?
I find the words “open source” often come up in budget meetings as though they are part of a cost-saving incantation ripped straight from the yet-to-be published Harry Potter and Budget Savior. Proprietary content management systems often come with a hefty price tag. It makes sense to consider Open Source as an alternative, one that can potentially save you money.
Here's the thing: In most cases, Open Source saves you money until it doesn’t. After choosing Open Source, many organizations look up months later to realize they’ve wasted staff-time and money on in-house implementation and training, customer service is non-existent, and they still don’t have the website they promised, or the user experience their site visitors expect.
For some projects, going Open Source works. And if you have the army of highly trained individuals it takes to make an Open Source platform work, then more power to you. However, most Higher Education web teams require a team of knowledgeable CMS-side professionals available 24/7 as support and training resources – because you never know what could happen. In other words, most Higher Education web teams require a fully-integrated CMS partner.
This is when you need to find those CMS partners who rock.
Regardless of which CMS you choose, there are certain undeniable elements you’ll find in any fully-integrated CMS partner worth their weight. In this article, we’ve narrowed it down to three signs you’ve found a good CMS partner:
- Training and Events
Having a human on the other end of the line when you have an emergency is imperative, especially when that emergency means your site is down or you’ve brought on a new hire who needs training ASAP.
A good CMS partner will immediately schedule initial scope conversations, take the time to carefully go through requirements and expectations, work with you to define a roadmap for your web experience, and line out time for regular check-ins. And they’ll do this right away.
This level of communication from the start will put you on a path to embrace everything that your new vendor has to offer and set you up for a quick implementation process.
In our case, we made it from training to launch within two months of kick-off calls with our CMS partner, Ingeniux. To this day, we have six-month check-in calls to review our web strategy and identify new opportunities based on their 30,000-foot view of what’s working in the industry (and with over 150 higher-ed clients, they see it all). It helps to know we’re not alone and that they’re helping others like us solve similar problems.
It’s this type of communication from the very start that will set you up for success for years to come.
Training and Events
Maybe the platform you choose has a steep learning curve. Maybe it’s extremely user friendly. Either way, there will come a point when you need training in a specific area and a good CMS partner will be there to teach you what you need to know in order to be successful.
Look for a vendor that has a comprehensive, standardized training program already laid out with opportunities for customized training experiences as well. There can be huge value in bringing in a trainer to deliver custom courses with your business goals in-mind. Robust training documentation, online tutorials, and access to trainers who can answer questions are also all “musts-haves” for any CMS partner worth their weight.
User-centered events, like user conferences and regional user groups, are also important. This is where you’ll get to interface not only the team behind your CMS, but also other users.
And great CMS partners won’t just stop there. Webinars and online events can be a great way to show others what you’ve achieved. Through Ingeniux, we’ve contributed to webinars on topics like design and personalization that have inspired our team and others to innovate the student UX.
No one likes to talk about it, but there are a lot of bad things that can happen to a web experience. Malicious attacks, unexpected downtime… the list goes on. It’s these scary “what-if” scenarios that make good customer support essential in a CMS partner.
It’s also worth considering choosing a CMS provider that offers hosting services. Taking advantage of hosting options with your CMS provider can put your campus in a much more secure position when your site is under threat. It allows you to focus on your content and not the technology, it provides your site with consistent support and monitoring from experts who know what they’re doing, it can guarantee uptime and manage disaster recovery and failover, it can ease the process of site migration and upgrades, and it can ultimately lower the total cost of ownership.
When we made the jump to host with Ingeniux, we were able to free up resources that would have been devoted to maintaining servers and security in an increasingly dangerous landscape. When an attack did happen, Ingeniux’s 24/7 support team fixed the issue quickly and without a lapse in service for our site visitors. I can’t begin to calculate the operational losses we would have incurred had the site been shut down for even a day.
So, What Makes a Good CMS Partner?
At the end of it all, we all need to be good stewards of budgets and human capital. Finding a partner who has the experience to guide you through a complicated redesign/relaunch project, has your back when things go wrong (and something always goes wrong), and gives you the tools to improve your experience is both reassuring and like having a wizard join your team—for far less than the cost of an actual wizard.