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Create a unified vision for content management

In a recent ad hoc study of higher education institutions, we discovered that half of about 40 schools lacked a unified vision for content management. Divisions existed between IT and marketing or worse, across academic and administrative units.

A common story was a past CMS effort plagued by a few starts and a lot of stops; and now the "silo" mentality-every group for themselves-was either quickly nearing or had already taken hold. More than once we heard, "That's just the culture here and it's not going to change anytime soon."

Justifying an investment in a CMS in higher education is largely a cost-savings, more than a revenue-generating, proposition. The hard returns provided by a CMS solution is managing an enterprise-wide website with minimal effort and fewer people while maximizing technical infrastructure and development.

Without a university-wide vision for content management, to be boldly honest, the future for these institutions will be worse than having an HTML-only website.

Aside from increased and redundant costs for technology, training, support and staff to maintain multiple CMS solutions, having every group go it's own way proliferates the silos.

Creating a vision for content management across a university is not easy, but no matter what level you're at, you can get it started. Just start small and be informal. The goal here is to shape opinions, not set policy. Here's a few suggestions...

  1. Talk to colleagues across campus with the same challenges you're facing. Team up and work together to invite still more into the discussion. Think of this group as the "agents of change."
  2. Don't spend time commiserating about problems and obstacles. Focus on opportunities to build relationships and promote dialogue on the issue.
  3. Invest time with those who are barriers to progress, starting with lower-level employees and working up. Chat over lunch or an afternoon coffee. Learn about their challenges and listen to their take on the issue. Be honest, but not threatening. They may likely feel the same way about the issue as you. Ask for their help. (Note: This may take more than one chat.)
  4. Reach out to IT and/or marketing, especially the web staff, and get them on your side. (If they are the obstacle, see #3.)
  5. Identify leaders who could champion the CMS issue. Even if they don't know they will be your champion yet, it's good to consider early-on who has the political clout at the executive levels to help.
  6. Create a value statement for a university-wide approach to content management. Define it with your group of change agents. Refine it with input from mid-level managers.
  7. Connect with those who influence your champions. Leverage your network of colleagues to communicate the needs and value statement with these people from multiple angles.
  8. Wait. Give the message time to spread and sink-in.
  9. Actively recruit your champion. Let him/her run with it, and be there for support.
  10. Hit a dead end along the way? Don't lose hope, start again. Change takes time.

Some may wonder if only investing time to get a top-down decision would be faster. Yea, it might. But the risk is fickle support among leadership and departments, because some will feel forced to change. Building a unified vision from the ground-up keeps your support at the top strong and the base solid.

Management models in CMS

There's been conversation recently on the uwebd (University Web Developers) listserv about the appropriate management model in a CMS environment. Specifically, if content updates should be managed by a central unit or through a distributed network of department web editors.

Just to be clear, when it comes to monitoring and maintaining website content through a CMS, there are two basic management models

  1. Centralized: Consists of a smaller group or team in which content change requests from university clients are funnelled through; access to the CMS software is limited to people within the group/team who are typically given greater administrative authority.
  2. Distributed: Consists of a larger network of individuals from university departments who are directly responsible for content changes; access to the CMS software is unlimited, but authority to perform certain functions may be restricted.

Because colleges and universities are insanely diverse places, most end up with a hybrid of both. Even for the most seasoned web manager, keeping an enterprise-level website current amidst people with a wide variety of skills (and high turnover), small (and shrinking) budgets, few (and frozen) resources is a daunting challenge. It's no wonder why some are discovering simply implementing a CMS isn't the golden chalice they'd expected, or the vendor promised.

Even though both models present different challenges, the distributed model will prove to be more effective in maintaining higher education websites.

The reality is very few institutions will ever invest in web departments to the degree necessary to sustain a centralized management model. Also, website content is expanding beyond our websites. With Web 2.0, managing content now takes on dimensions not limited to the .edu domain or even just text and images.

Introducing CMS 3.0

The other day I was discussing with a colleague about content management in higher education and how it is becoming much more complicated.

When we talk about web content, typically we refer to the pages on our website; what I call "on-site" content. However with the emergence of Web 2.0, web content has exploded beyond our .edu domains; what I call "off-site" content. How many institutions have a YouTube channel, manage or participate in blogs, and have a presence on Facebook, mySpace or LinkedIn?

Just as technology has evolved, so must our concept of content management. Currently, a "CMS" describes a piece of software. Something that allows text and images on a website to be easily manipulated and retrieved dynamically from a data system. Let's call that CMS 2.0. (CMS 1.0 is an HTML-only website.)

The goal of CMS 1.0/2.0 is largely to keep on-site content up-to-date. However, in the socially connected world of Web 2.0 the goal is not just to be current but to stay relevant. This requires constantly adding new, sometimes smaller, and more widely distributed bits of content off-site.

For example, a news story posted on your website (CMS 1.0/2.0), is re-purposed as a blog post, updated Twitter entry, turned into a vod or podcast, and used as a point of discussion for members of your various online communities. Managing on-site and off-site content is the next evolution of content management; what I'm calling CMS 3.0.

For me, CMS 3.0 is a management concept, not simply a piece of software. It's an approach in which we choose to manage certain online content, both on- and off-site, as part of our institution's overall web presence.

It is a management concept because

  1. There is no software on the market today that seamlessly integrates the management of on-site and off-site content. With the creation of gadgets and use of APIs, I don't think it will be too long before some smart company tries to do this though.
  2. University web teams are already struggling just to manage on-site content, and many rely on a distributed network of web editors to stay afloat. (See Management Models in CMS) Now add the need to re-purpose and maintain off-site content...that means more support, training and monitoring.
  3. Participating in the online social network elevates the importance and influence of an institution's content. Distributed web editors now need training not only in software systems, but also on the institution's brand and core messages.

CMS 3.0 is a combined function of IT and marketing communications. Institutions that have or are moving toward integrated web teams will be in the best position for success.