When somebody says university CMS support and solutions, for me the first thing that comes to mind is university IT and marketing problems. And by problems, I mean "how are we going to get administration off our backs? We don't have the internal resources to roll out new site updates like this," problems.
As student enrollment and alumni management has progressively moved online over the last decade, the roles and expectations of university tech departments have changed significantly and rapidly.
Charged with managing the back and front-end of internal and external digital tools, they long for software that's easy—something that works in accordance with their performance standards and manpower. They deserve scalable CMS solutions specific to higher ed and next year they won't be asking nicely. In 2017, IT will demand university CMS support and solutions.
University CMS Support & Solutions for Higher Ed
If we don't give the IT people what they want, they'll rise up from the basements of our universities, take over our marketing departments, and that'll be the end of higher education. Just think about it: IT running marketing.
But seriously, what college IT departments will demand from university sites in 2017 can give us valuable insights into finding the right university CMS and university CMS support. While higher ed marketing departments have their CMS needs, it's time to be empathetic and understand what our IT departments have to have next year. That is if we want them to keep up with increasing needs.
Empathy: Understanding College IT Team Roles
Within the regular university structure, IT teams occupy a unique position. They operate outside of otherwise decentralized organizational structures, in charge of centralized systems that affect the entire university. These systems range from student databases to financial software, but perhaps the most important area of online support for most IT departments is the website and its content management system (CMS).
IT Drives University CMS Solutions
In most higher education institutions, IT departments are responsible for both implementing and managing university CMS solutions. While they're often not responsible for the content that lives on the website, ensuring that the site runs smoothly and everyone can perform their jobs is a crucial role of any IT team. That need, of course, is supplemented by additional challenges presented by current trends in higher education website trends.
Current Trends in Higher Education CMS's
The last few years have seen a number of trends emerge that crystallized as major factors in CMS management for 2016 and going forward. These trends should help us understand what IT departments will demand from website management systems in 2017.
Increasing Decentralization of Content
Gone are the days in which a central entity determined the content of the entire university website. Instead, individual departments are more often responsible for their own content, with quality controls built in to determine consistent spelling and formatting.
Moving to Automated Processes
College websites in 2016 are no longer simple 'online billboards' designed to showcase the university but provide little additional opportunities to take action. Today, potential students use the website to sign up for campus tours or apply, alumni donate using online forms, and parents fill up their students' virtual bank accounts. All of these features require automated processes for higher ed that go beyond mere static pages.
Sharpening a Competitive Edge via Content
Similar to the above, students increasingly expect a dynamic web presence in choosing their university. Auto-rotating news stories, live social media feeds, and embedded videos play a large part in convincing them that this college is the right one to attend.
CMS Needs: What University IT Professionals Expect
The trends above have led to increasingly specific and challenging expectations from most IT teams for a new or existing CMS. These include:
If the website can collect sensitive, personal, and financial data, its CMS needs to be secure enough to make sure that the data remains safe and only accessible to individuals at the university who need it.
Permission-Based Security Roles & Approval Structures
A decentralized structure of publishing content is a challenge, both in that it could decrease message inconsistency and because it could lead to accidental but potentially devastating changes in the code. To mitigate these challenges, a CMS needs to enable its users to set up security roles and approval workflows that ensure quality control by IT before any content item makes it onto the website.
User-Friendliness to Accommodate Both Experts & Novices
Another side-effect of web management decentralization is the fact that increasingly, faculty and other non-professionals will have access to the software. It often falls to IT to train these users, and a CMS that is user-friendly enough to require minimum training becomes a crucial consideration.
Dashboards to Monitor Site Performance
Finally, an increasing expectation of dynamic content has led to potential problems within the site's structure and code. Too many widgets and large files can slow down the performance, negatively affecting user experience for everyone involved. A CMS with a dashboard that makes it easy for IT to monitor site performance and make adjustments as necessary can help minimize the problem.
Keeping Up With Higher Ed Site Design & Features
Higher ed website design trends aren't easy to keep up on. Of course, none of the above has considered the competitive landscape that your university finds itself in. Every IT department is familiar with the call from the university president, who saw a new website feature on a competitor's online presence that needs to be incorporated as soon as possible.
These requests may not always be strategic, but they're absolutely legitimate. An institution's website is a major decision factor for most potential students, meaning that ignoring your competition can lead to falling behind in the race to land a full class. Keeping up with other universities can help ensure that won't be the case.
Needed features may range from responsive design, which is increasingly becoming a must-have for university website, to multi-language support designed to attract international students. Understanding the website features most successful in attracting today's students, and how a CMS can help integrate them, is a crucial consideration for IT teams as it relates to their website moving forward.
Finding the Right CMS Support & Solutions in 2017
All of the above can be summed up in a single sentence: to successfully move forward and keep their institution's website current and attractive for all audiences, university IT departments need university CMS solutions and support which can help integrate new features and accommodate increased access and other recent trends successfully.
There are higher ed Open Source solutions that come with support options to accommodate next years demands. To learn more about how to leverage university CMS solutions and support options, ask and you shall receive.
Nathan Roach, Director of Marketing
Germany-based consumer of old world wine and the written word. Offline you can find him spending time with his wife and daughter at festivities in the Rhineland.