Content Management System (CMS) 101: The Best Choice for Your Institution

Posted: December 19, 2012

There are a number of different CMS platforms available for higher ed institutions to choose from, but deciding on the right one varies based on advantages and disadvantages that will affect each institution’s unique goals.

This is no small decision. The CMS you choose will be something that affects a large number of people on and off campus and will be something your organization lives with for years to come.

Defining your goals and needs

So how do you make the right choice with a CMS? The first step is to determine your institution’s content needs and goals, and then answer some questions like:

  • Will your content management model be centralized or decentralized?
  • Do you have the human resources required to manage the website?
  • How much do you plan on spending?
  • What kind of technology platform can your IT services team support?
  • Will the site be hosted internally or externally?
  • What level of integration with third-party applications are you looking for?
  • How much customer support do you need?
  • How many content contributors and editors will be using the CMS?
  • How complex will your content approval process be?

The Options

Content Management Systems are built to help you effectively manage content for your institution’s website and can be broken down into two primary categories: open source and enterprise. The major differences between the two are workflow management (the creation, editing and approval of content) and cost. Open source typically lacks strong workflow management and costs less, while enterprise typically does better with workflow management and costs more.

Open Source CMS

Drupal is a free CMS that allows developers to build anything from blogs to enterprise applications. As with most open source platforms, this one has a large and active community constantly working to improve it.

ExpressionEngine is commercial software built on an open source platform. It’s supported by a committed group of developers and technical support specialists that are available to work with clients.

  • Built on CodeIgniter, EllisLab’s PHP framework
  • ExpressionEngine’s price tag is much cheaper than most of the enterprise options
  • $300 for commercial clients and free for non-profit, non-commercial and personal sites

WordPress requires little time to set up, and depending on the level of customization, a novice user could create simple content on Day One. There is also a “code view” option where more advanced users can edit HTML code in a page, post or article.

  • Might be the easiest to grasp of the three open-source platforms
  • Lowest level of customization for a content manager

Enterprise CMS

dotCMS might be a smart choice if you’re looking to combine the innovation that comes with an open-source platform with the added support you typically receive with an enterprise CMS. It boasts solid customer support and a warranty covers all bugs and provides protection against any unwanted loss or damage to data. Enterprise clients also receive priority support.

  • Different ways to interface with third-party applications
  • Static content import, RSS import, XMS and direct SQL
  • $4,750 – $9,500 perpetually with a 20 percent fee per year for maintenance

OmniUpdate has constructed a strong presence in the web applications marketplace since the early 1990’s. It’s widely used among community colleges, as well as public and private institutions. OmniUpdate claims that more than 550 college and university websites make use of its CMS. While those numbers are impressive, OmniUpdate’s greatest strength is its customer support.

  • 24/7 support offered for clients through phone and web
  • A bevy of training and reference materials for users
  • Enterprise server license for $49,500 (one time fee)
  • $15,000 for implementation (one time fee)
  • Support is billed annually at $10,000

Sitecore is based on Microsoft’s .NET-platform and offers three levels of content management from the back end that make Sitecore well-suited for editors of varying skill. Its easy-to-use interface is similar to Windows and offers excellent workflow management.

  • Create as many content validation rules as you need to ensure proper formatting
  • Based on the .NET-platform so it integrates easily with anything Microsoft
  • Pricing can vary between $20,000 and $30,000.
  • Serves roughly 2,500 customers who oversee 30,000 sites


At the end of the day, choosing a CMS will come down to what’s right for your specific situation.
It’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all option. Each CMS offers a unique set of options that might benefit one institution more than the other.

The features and options listed here only skim the surface of the market for this critical asset.

What CMS does your organization use? What are the advantages or disadvantages from your perspective? Feel free to leave your responses in the comments section. We’ll respond!