Higher Education Web Development: 3 Types of CMS Systems

Higher education clients often ask us for guidance on content management system (CMS). They are wondering if they should work with a web development company that offers a proprietary CMS system, a commercial CMS system, or an open-source CMS system.

In this blog post, I’ll define the three types of systems:

Open Source CMS Systems
These CMS solutions are developed by customizing open-source frameworks such as Drupal, WordPress, Umbraco, Joomla, and others. By definition, there aren’t any annual licensing fees associated with them and they typically have large communities you can turn to for support. More recently, several companies have built customized solutions around these frameworks for higher education, publishing, catalogs, etc.

Commercial CMS Systems
These systems are developed, maintained and supported by companies solely focused on the CMS systems. In higher education space, Hannon Hill Cascade Server, Omni CMS, Red Dot, Terminalfour come to mind. These systems also typically have an annual licensing fee and have a number of in-house and in-the-open-market consultants who install, customize and support websites on behalf of the clients. Because you must operate within the sandbox they define for you, sometimes you can’t customize things exactly the way you want them unless the CMS provider offers language support to extend the CMS.

Proprietary CMS Systems
These are developed, maintained and supported by boutique shops such as BarkleyREI, Whitewhale and others. Typically, clients will inherit them as part of the web site development project, will pay an annual licensing fee, and turn to them for customization and version upgrades. You can’t really find talent in the open market to enhance these systems and you typically don’t have access to the source code for making any changes to the system. For better or for worse, you are essentially locked into that relationship with the boutique.

So, which type of CMS system should a higher education institution purchase? The answer depends on your institution’s size, need for flexibility, size and skillset of your in-house teams, and your budgets.

In my next blog post, I’ll provide guidelines for choosing the CMS system.

If you are seeking college web development agencies, please see our work and consider partnering with us.