Dynamic Web Content Management

Web technologies have become vitally important to institutions in areas ranging from student recruitment to alumni relations, and all functions in between. The newest generation of students, referred to as Millenials, have grown up with technology as a basic element of daily life. As a result, they consider the Web a central delivery mechanism for academics, commerce, news and current events, entertainment, and other essentials. Universities typically report something in the range of 95 to 98 percent of students registering for courses online. Through portals, they are able to access course schedules, grades, assignments, account balances, and similar elements of academic life. Faculty and staff have corresponding capabilities related to their functions. The Web has become a primary method of communication for nearly all institutions, serving up a rich diet of campus news and events to keep all members of the community informed and engaged. With the rapid growth in popularity of the Web combined with the continuous addition of information and services, an associated problem has grown at an even faster rate: how to keep the content of Web pages up-to-date.

Content management systems (CMSs) are specialized software applications that facilitate the development, storage, and publication of Web content. Today, the term is often applied to a broad range of associated applications. But the original and still dominant application of the term concerns Web page content management. A CMS serves a number of highly useful functions. For example, institutions are becoming more concerned with editorial standards that ensure a professional look and feel for Web pages. Another useful feature of a CMS is that it reduces the specialized knowledge required of individuals who are responsible for maintaining online content. A high-quality CMS can enable users to update Web pages using common and easy-to-use tools such as Microsoft Word and Adobe Contribute, without requiring HTML editing and other“technology” skills.

We live in a highly dynamic world, and the news and information concerning that world is equally dynamic. As a result, Web pages must be updated constantly to ensure that information is current and correct. This has given rise to a new generation called the dynamic CMS. These systems make it possible to update Web pages securely over the Internet at any time. Individuals responsible for maintaining content can change graphics, images, text, video, and other forms of content after authenticating through a secured logon process. The importance of the dynamic CMS concept should be readily apparent, but the value was brought home in a particularly poignant way during the 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina disasters. In events such as these, the Web becomes a critical communication channel to update victims concerning matters of safety, security, and assistance. Some might doubt the usefulness of the Web when electrical outages and physical damage are common. But we should keep in mind that devices such as cell phones, laptops, PDAs, and other devices using commercial networks access Web content extensively during these times. In addition, the families of those involved and volunteers offering assistance use the Web extensively. Through highly interactive and real-time blogs and wiki tools that are routinely part of Websites today, a new generation of citizen journalists is often the first to provide news, photos, and even video of disasters as they are occurring.

A large number of dynamic content management systems are currently available. These range from rudimentary to robust, inexpensive to costly, open source to commercial, and a range of other dimensions. WebsiteASP’s OmniUpdate suite of products is becoming increasingly popular. This is a CMS, but one with a twist. Rather than being based on software and servers running on the campus network, this is an application service provider (hence, ASP) that is offered on-demand as a service over the Internet. As such, it claims the potential for cost savings to the institution. Clearly, cost saving must be balanced against the dependency that results from outsourcing this kind of service. For many campuses, there may be a positive fit. Ektron offers a robust and widely used campus-based system that also features Web development tools. A benefit of the Ektron philosophy is that it does not“take over” the Website, but rather helps manage it. Vignette is a highly regarded system designed as an enterprise solution. Joomla! and EZSystems offer open-source CMS solutions.

The choice of a CMS is a strategic one. In the end, a Website must be highly dynamic because the world it serves is highly dynamic. One of the fastest ways to achieve irrelevance on the Web is to offer up old and outdated content.

David W. Dodd is vice president of Information Resources and CIO at Xavier University in Cincinnati. He can be reached at 513/745-2985 or [email protected]

About the Author

David W. Dodd is vice president of Information Technology and CIO at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. He can be reached at 201/216-5491 or [email protected]