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Internet Marketing and Web Development in Higher Education and other tidbits…

[Results] Higher Ed CMS Usage Survey, 2011

16 Dec 2011

written by Michael Fienen

Higher Ed CMS Usage Survey Results

The time has come. After a month of data collection, we are ready to release unto you the results of our largest survey to date. When the dust settled, nearly 500 schools had responded to this year’s CMS survey, more than triple what we had last time. The great part about that is the data is certainly good for those of you researching for yourselves. And in that regard, as always, all the research data is available to you under a Creative Commons license for you to use, recut, or combine with other information. And be sure to join me in an hour as I take part in an open Q&A with Converge Consulting at Friday After Class about the results.

Additionally, for the first time, over the next couple weeks we’ll be cutting this data up into platform specific reports and sending it on to the vendors that we can reach (easy for enterprise systems, less so for open source). This is to provide them with your pros and cons, as well as suggestions, ratings, and comments about the systems (all anonymously, of course). The hope is that we can help them make better systems for you as they go into 2012. Obviously these reports won’t have any data that’s not available as of today, but it’s our hopes that by providing the vendors with the customized report, we can help affect a little bit of change out there on your behalf.

Now, with this much information, there’s almost no end to the number of ways that we could slice and dice it. Instead, I want to hit a few of the highlights to give you some idea of just what we’ve learned. For instance, if you’re here because you’re trying to decide on your first CMS, you’re in the overwhelming minority. Most folks have already selected a CMS:

using cms [Results] Higher Ed CMS Usage Survey, 2011

Schools Using a CMS Currently

Honestly, that’s not too unexpected. Crunching the results, the average school has been using their current CMS for 3.3 years as well. Some folks, largely ones with homegrown systems, tend to be using their systems a lot longer. Again, this makes sense given how the CMS market has matured since about 2005.

cms age 1024x551 [Results] Higher Ed CMS Usage Survey, 2011

School's CMS Age in Years

The grass is always greener on the other side. If possible, visit an actual school that is using the CMS you are interested in, and watch them do their job to see how truly easy it is to use.
- Survey Comment

Despite the increase in this year’s responses, we discovered that the number of schools that report using more than one CMS on campus remains unchanged, at just under 54%. I’m somewhat surprised that we haven’t seen this increase, if for no other reason than to tailor tools to different jobs, like using WordPress for news or magazine sites.

multiple cms [Results] Higher Ed CMS Usage Survey, 2011

Schools Using More Than One CMS

That also makes me wonder if we aren’t trying to make our primary CMS be a tool for too many things. For instance, the top complaint about the CMSs was their calendar features (or lack thereof). Perhaps it would be better to focus on best of breed solutions for things like that, rather than look to bolt on functionality in your CMS. Calendars were followed by social networking and multimedia functionality as disappointments. Otherwise, given available options, discontent was fairly evenly spread out.

bad features 1024x693 [Results] Higher Ed CMS Usage Survey, 2011

CMS Feature Discontent

There were a couple interesting notes in the selection findings as well. Closed source/commercial products dominate higher ed currently. This disappoints me on an academic level, as I feel, philosophically, like higher ed could play a huge role in the open source realm – we just choose not to.  And while cost is a major factor for nearly half of you, we’re apparently opting to go with the expensive upfront cost of the vendor, rather than the aggregate cost over time of open source. Open source isn’t necessarily free, never forget that, but it can help you spread out costs.

license [Results] Higher Ed CMS Usage Survey, 2011

CMS License Breakdown

cost [Results] Higher Ed CMS Usage Survey, 2011

Cost Factors in Selecting a CMS

And having a system is only half  the battle. What you do with it is important too. Most modern CMSs have some kind of functionality to let you pull and reuse content on a site so that you aren’t fragmenting information. Yet, only about 19% of you said you have an actual strategy in place to put that to use. This is problematic because fragmented data is often bad data. People forget to update it, it gets out of sync, or becomes misleading. If you use your tools right, you can ensure things stay consistent across your system. To further complicate things, there’s a very mixed bag in how folks feel about content reuse taking place within their CMS, with more than a quarter that either don’t care or don’t trust users to do it. I went down this trail in the survey to see just how well we were putting these powerful tools to use, after all, it’s call content management for a reason. I hope this is an area folks will consider more – think about cost tables, program descriptions, class listings, directory information – all these things that might need to be presented in different places, but should be managed from a single point.

reuse strategy [Results] Higher Ed CMS Usage Survey, 2011

Schools with a Content Reuse Strategy

reuse opinion 1024x444 [Results] Higher Ed CMS Usage Survey, 2011

Thoughts on Content Reuse

Of course, all of this gets in the way of the bottom line, right? What system should you use? Obviously, no amount of survey data replaces real world requirements research on your part. Pick the system that’s right for you. That said, you’ll find some that stand out more than others. Once again, OmniUpdate leads the pack based on sheer volume. However, the field is not nearly as close as last time, and we see strong representation this time from some new systems like TERMINALFOUR (the folks of conference notepad fame) and Ingeniux.

top cms [Results] Higher Ed CMS Usage Survey, 2011

CMS Usage Breakdown (5 or more votes)

Do your research. Check vendors open bugs system and how fast those bugs are solved. Also look at the documentation. Very important. One last one, deploy it and beta test it before buying.
~ Survey Comment

Satisfaction numbers also tell an interesting story. Most systems landed reasonably close to the averages (Satisfaction was 7.1, Usability was 6.7). The open source platform Reason stood out relatively well on both counts. OmniUpdate and WordPress also followed with strong numbers in both fields, though TERMINALFOUR won the usability battle. Keep in mind, these are qualitative scores and totally subject to the survey respondents’ opinions on the systems. In this case, we limited scores to only the platforms with five or more entries. The question breaks down as basically “how happy with the system are you as a person that has to run it,” and “how easy is it for your users to get in and get using it?” With more votes this year, there’s definitely been some change in the satisfaction scores for the systems that were listed last year.

average scores 1024x576 [Results] Higher Ed CMS Usage Survey, 2011

CMS Satisfaction and Usability Scores

Obviously, the point of this research isn’t to tell you what system to go with. I could fill this page with another two dozen charts and graphs, and it wouldn’t necessarily get you any closer to the answer of which system you should choose. As mentioned, there are different reasons to choose different systems, and just because a platform isn’t right for one group, doesn’t mean that it might not fit your needs to the letter. It’s so important to plan properly and identify your real needs, and pick a system based on the right problems. Be sure to download the full results, as they contain a ton of great comments and suggestions, both about specific systems, as well as thoughts in general about picking a CMS. It’s great stuff, and may help you think about things that haven’t come up yet.

The content of this post is licensed: The post is released under a Creative Commons by-sa 3.0 license

About the author

Michael Fienen

For six years, Michael served as the Director of Web Marketing at Pittsburg State University. Currently, he is the Senior Interactive Developer at Aquent and is also CTO for the interactive map provider nuCloud. When it comes to web communication, he focuses very heavily on interpersonal communication components of websites, as well as content considerations that must be taken into account when building usable sites.  He is an active supporter of the dotCMS community, accessibility advocate, consultant, internationally featured speaker on web issues, and general purpose geek who wears many hats.

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This post was written by - who has written 99 posts on .eduGuru

  • George Sackett

    Thanks Michael. I have already sent this to my boss and to our technical support group as we move forward with replacing Collage with a more appropriate CMS.

  • George A. Thompson

    We just chose OmniUpdate for our CMS. So, it’s gratifying to see that they are well regarded. 

  • Jake Dolan

    Thanks Michael! Glad to see the 2012 update and really appreciate all the effort that you put into this.

  • Bill Denneen

    Thanks for putting this together and making it available. I’m sure it was no easy task!

  • smith

    Great stuff !! Thanks for posting this CMS update for the upcoming year. I will check it soon…

  • Paul Trusik

    Full case study of University Library site using WordPress:

  • Paul Trusik

    Full case study of University Library site using WordPress:

  • Curtiss Grymala

    Really impressed with the usability response for Reason. That just goes to show you, I guess, that when higher ed does something themselves, they tend to do it better than a corporate vendor. Congrats to the guys as Carleton.

    When it comes to higher ed supporting open-source, we could certainly do a better job, but I am constantly amazed at how many of my favorite/most useful WordPress plugins are developed by people within higher ed. We’ve got a true braintrust of WP developers in higher ed, and I’m extremely proud to be a part of that.

  • Mykel Nahorniak

    Great survey and great analysis of the results. Ultimately, there’s only so much a “one size fits all” CMS can accomplish; I’m excited to see that schools are increasingly receptive to cloud-based services, along with additional systems that are designed for a specific type of content, like events.

  • Kevin Harris

    I would like to know the size of the schools, relative to the number of enrolled students, to compare with these results. I don’t think it is a fair assessment to compare the CMS usage of a school with the financial backing of a large university to a small private school. Any way you could add a chart to show those results?

    • Michael Fienen

      Kevin, I did that last time, and specifically didn’t this time mainly to focus on highlighting some different data points. However, the data for that kind of segmentation IS in the raw data – we asked both size of school and type of school. You can download the raw results and open it in Excel or whatever spreadsheet app you use and filter it however you like based on that info.

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  • Cassie Eliasson

    Love this research. Are you planning on updating it for 2012? I’m using this info heavily as I research a new CMS for our college. Thanks, Cassie

    • Michael Fienen

      At this time, we don’t currently have an update in the works yet – the core problem being finding good, compelling value to draw out of this every year. I think if we do it again this year, it’s likely to take a somewhat different approach to the value and challenges of large CMSes. Overall, the landscape doesn’t change that much, and your big players are still going to be sitting on top of the pile regardless. If I can answer any specific questions you might have though, please feel free to ask.

  • Guest

    Thank you for this research! Do you have any plans to update with 2012 data?

    • Michael Fienen

      See my comment below to Cassie’s similar comment.

  • NatzGal

    Hi…is this research available for 2012, or better yet 2013? Thanks!

  • vietnamvisa

    Thanks for sharing information.

  • Big_Boob

    Chciałbym wiedzieć, o wielkości szkoły,, w stosunku do liczby przyjętych studentów porównać z tymi wynikami. Nie sądzę, że to jest fair ocena porównać wykorzystanie CMS szkole przy finansowym serwis laptopów dell wsparciu dużej uczelni do małej prywatnej szkoły. Każdy sposób można dodać wykres, aby pokazać te wyniki?

  • Ayesha

    Perfect statistics. I read a lot of posts on CMS and most of them share the same information. Actually, I was just checking out the downfall in Magento CMS, whereas increasing number of Drupal usage.


  • Basts Eye

    I think that open source products fare worse because of 4 things:
    1 – the average end user sees open source as “free” and gets frustrated with the hidden costs of OSS like having to develop custom add-ons to get certain features

    2 – while a given feature might technically be available in a given OSS product, its likely provided by a community supported plug

    3- That community supported plug in for critical feature X may nor may not function in ways that are appropriate and may nor may not be available in the future.
    4 – Its more politically expedient for IT shops at EDU’s to be able to refer a caller to an 800# when critical feature X quits working. While this is technically available with most OSS products, many EDU’s won’t balk at paying six figures for a proprietary system will dig in their heels at paying a few thousand a year for support for a “free” product.

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