Small Web Team: When Buying a CMS Makes Sense (Part II)

by Carol Clements on July 09, 2014

So let's pick up where we left off last week and look at another reason an institution may prefer to use a reliable commercial web content management system (CMS) if they have a small web team.

If You Build It, They Will Come Leave: "We Don't Know What Was Done (or Why)"

Big CityA good developer is worth his or her weight in gold. We can never have enough of them. But, if an institution has a small web team, there may be too much work or responsibility on the shoulders of too few. Especially if the developer decides to go on vacation or, even worse, leave. And let's face it… a great developer is in high demand. And often the best are drawn away by the bright lights of the big city—or the Silicon Valley!

For the benefit of others, we hope that developers will write such clean code that no "comment" is needed to understand it. If they decide to ride off into the sunset, your plan is to promptly round up a bright replacement that will step into their confusion-free code and not miss a beat. But, this is rarely the case. One person's logical code can look like spaghetti code to the next. Knowledge transfer can be tough. Some of our customers have experienced this unfortunate circumstance and want to avoid it in the future. So, my question for you is this: Why build a CMS when a secure and feature-tested product vetted by users at hundreds of colleges and universities is available for your use? For most institutions, the answer is cost, but let me argue that point for a moment.

Time is a cost. Developing your own CMS takes time. An hour spent on one development project is time diverted from another. Is developing a CMS an institutional goal? If no, then is it time wisely spent? If your CMS developer leaves, what is your back-up plan? While an external and robust CMS development community may exist to help fill in the gap, there is no guarantee that anyone will actually be available to help—or understand your needs. It may take time to find the right person capable of helping you out with your CMS development. You'll need to bring them up to speed with your particular version of the product and what you've done to it. Unfortunately, the person most qualified to bring the new developer up to speed is the same guy or gal that left. So think of a commercially supported CMS as a succession strategy that also frees up your staff developers to work on more important things. Justin Gatewood, Webmaster at Victor Valley College, said, "It's challenging to meet the web expectations of an institution as a one-man shop. With OU Campus™, I've achieved my goals and regained time for other projects." Hear his complete testimonial.

A developer's salary is actually an investment in your institution, which is in the business of education, not CMS development. As such, your developer's time is best spent working on those things that make your institutional website visually and emotionally appealing, interactive, and integrated with other campus systems; these are the kinds of things that make an impact on your target audiences. Invest wisely. Doesn't it make financial sense to leverage an extensible, best-of-breed CMS that is continuously improved based on feature voting and testing feedback of hundreds of other higher ed institutions? It means your limited and valuable development resource can be utilized elsewhere.

carCase in point: If you want a new car and are concerned about its functionality, reliability, and safety, you will check the ratings on the make and model you are considering—in fact, you will trust your life to it. You decide to benefit from the collective experience of experts in auto testing and safety. And, if that car meets most of your purchase requirements, but needs another feature or two before you'll drive it out the door, you negotiate for those things with the salesperson. The same applies here. Leverage the expertise of your higher ed peers. There is no need to build a CMS to get what you need. Look for a trustworthy dealer offering a robust product that meets most or all of your requirements, test drive it, talk to other users, and let your salesperson know if there is a missing "must-have" feature before you will buy—you may get that, too.

To support this car research analogy, take a look at this case study from Utah Valley University. They had several false CMS starts before settling down with OU Campus. They subsequently saved more than $100,000 dollars in a three-year period by minimizing their CMS-related costs. No staff was eliminated in the process and their team saw the benefits. Their developers were freed up to wrestle down larger concerns beyond the CMS. Over the years, they've had some key developers move up or on to other jobs, yet the website is successfully maintained. OU Campus has proven itself to be a dollar-wise and man-power efficient part of their long-term website management plan.

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