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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.