CMS: Friend of Foe?

For many the Content Management System is the Holy Grail of development. A single system that looks after your users, manages workflow, controls permissions and produces a consistent design across the site would be fantastic. So with this goal in mind many companies and institutions go looking for a CMS. And there are many to choose from – dozens if not hundreds – ranging from free and open source to systems produced by the biggest software companies in the world. The choice is overwhelming and everyone claims that theirs is the best!

UC Davis conducted a survey last month on what CMS universities in the US use and they got a decent response level – enough to provide some interesting and worthwhile statistics. One of the most interesting findings is that there is no clear leader. Unlike for VLEs there has been little consolidation and no clear market leader has emerged – big corporates are still fighting it out for market share with open source projects.

The potential benefits of using a CMS are massive but I have concerns about their inflexibility and inevitable vendor lock-in. What happens when you want a design that doesn’t fit in with the CMS way of doing things or functionality that can’t be put into a WYSIWYG text box? Is developing within the CMS framework going to save time compared to doing it from scratch?

My view for some time has been that we need to manage our content better. Key information needs to be available for use in multiple places both across our own sites and syndicated to other sites and feeds that visitors can subscribe to. We need to be agile in the way that we collect, store and manage data so that it can be quickly repurposed for whatever new trends and technologies come around the corner. Can the current generation of CMS handle this challenge? I don’t know, but I’m going to find out!

5 replies on “CMS: Friend of Foe?”

  1. Mike – I share your views on CMS’s. It’s never been a route I’ve wanted us to go down at Edge Hill – for the reasons you stated. However we are in a fortunate position in that our levels of content are manageable. We’ve been lucky enough to have a centralised website since the beginning which has meant we don’t have to worry about outdated information in the same way that other universities do.

    From a workflow, permissions perspective I can really see added value in using a CMS however I do have reservations about deploying something which prevents any flexibility (of design or content) within the site. If there is a CMS out there that ticks all the boxes for Edge Hill then I’d be very interested to hear about it!

  2. To an extent, yes, but it depends on the platform. In the PHP world there is a LOT of bad code around starting with pretty much everything written with PHP4 compatibility in mind. Trying to use a CMS as a framework often doesn’t work.

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