Content management systems (CMS) hold numerous benefits for school districts. They support better websites, allow teachers and staff to easily manage content and can be used to provide all kinds of information to students, parents and guardians.
However, getting the right content management system can be a challenge. The open question is whether you should build an in-house CMS or look to a third-party, education-focused CMS.
A CMS is a software system that is used to create and manage content, which means documents, pictures and more. The term is generally associated with websites. With a CMS you can have multiple people collaborate easily on files, post to the website or the school calendar, send information to specific people and more.
WordPress and SchoolBundle, for example, are both CMS.
One option is to have your in-house IT department design a custom CMS. There are, of course, advantages and disadvantages to this approach.
By building your own in-house CMS, you can design it to fit the exact needs of your school or district. You don't have to pay for anything you don't use. And you don't have to desperately hunt for a system that has an obscure feature you need. You can design an interface with input from your staff that is intuitive for them.
Additionally, you know how fast it is progressing and what people are working on. You have good communication with the designers and can provide ongoing feedback. You will get a system that is designed just for you.
Many commercial CMS vendors require an ongoing subscription or licensing fees. They may also increase your licensing fees if your scale increases or for additional features in the future. These ongoing fees can add up, but with your own in-house system, you don't have to worry about them.
The upfront cost of developing your own system is very high. On top of that, you need to have a decently-sized in-house team, with all of the expenses that go with that to pull it off.
Even with your own team, you may need to contract outside expertise, at added cost, for certain elements. This may or may not be more expensive than paying licensing fees. It depends, in part, on whether you already have a solid IT team that has the time to add building and maintaining a CMS to their existing tasks. When evaluating which option is best for your district, account for the salaries of the individuals involved in the project, possible training and research they may not have and what tools they will still need to build your CMS. It is also best to consider the length of the proposed project and whether that projection is accurate based on the teams' previous experience developing new software and building CMS.
Although having full control over your documents and data is a definite plus, this also makes you 100 percent responsible for the security of the system. This is particularly important if your CMS includes any personal information of students; even something as simple as an email address or phone number needs to be carefully protected, especially when younger students are involved.
Ensuring that your system remains secure and compliant with your own privacy guidelines and any relevant regulations and laws can be a lot of work for your IT team. When you go with a vendor, they become responsible for the security and you can let them worry about the details.
You will have to pay all the costs related to the maintenance of the system, including the time spent by IT personnel. If the system goes down, there will be nobody to call for help getting it back up. As a result, you will be dealing with longer downtimes. This can also be an area with a bottleneck related to the experience of your team. If they aren’t as familiar with the kind of issues that can happen with a CMS, not only in how they build maintenance into the CMS, but in correcting these issues when they appear, your sites could be experiencing issues for a lot longer than you expect.
The system needs to be compatible with new deployments in the environment. That most likely involves upgrading software and hardware, and you may need to recode part or all of the CMS. This means you have to keep those in-house developers. Turnover can be a problem; what if somebody leaves and takes their knowledge of the system with them? This can be a make-or-break aspect of looking at In-House solutions.
Does your department have the capacity to manage employee turnover and the related knowledge transfers?
A commercial CMS has a lot of built-in functionality that your In-House team may not think of or know how to build. One example would be accessibility features like requiring Alt Text, which in turn ensures that your sites meet accessibility standards.
If your team does not have the expertise to create every piece of functionality, you will need to purchase add-ons to fill those gaps. Start by looking at basic features such as Accessibility, School Locators, Calendar integrations and Newsfeeds, this will help you decide if your team has the required expertise to build your CMS or if you’ll be spending thousands on additional software anyways.
Overall, the biggest problem with coding your own CMS is how time-consuming it is. Your IT staff will spend a lot of time on it, which means they might be less available to, say, fix the wi-fi in classroom four. This can seem like a small problem at first, but as any developer can tell you, building a new tool from scratch will often show new issues you had never considered before. You might budget the project for a year and it ends up taking 3 or 4 years to complete. Those are 3 years that your team was focused on only this project, ignoring other pressing needs and systems and potentially leaving other teams short-staffed for that much longer. Time is a crucial factor to consider during your evaluation.
Your other choice is to purchase a premade CMS from a vendor. You should purchase a system that is specifically designed for education to ensure you have the functionality and support that is made just for you.
When you purchase your CMS from an experienced vendor, you know it is coded by a team of experts who know exactly how to make a good CMS, as opposed to your own IT staff who may, in some cases, be learning how to do this "on the job."
These experts cover all the needed areas and have likely developed their CMS after years of rigorous testing and feedback from districts. And there is no risk of a sudden extra expense because you suddenly discover your team can't handle something in the middle of development.
Commercial systems can sometimes be more frequently targeted by hackers. However, when you use one, any exploit is likely to be spotted quickly and simply patched by your vendor. You don't have to worry about security. You can let them handle it.
Education-focused content management systems are also developed to meet the privacy standards you need to protect your students and their families.
Going with a vendor can be much cheaper in the long term. If you are having to hire additional staff to run your CMS, then unless you are a larger district, you are likely to be financially better off with a vendor.
While annual licensing fees can be a pain, they are often much cheaper than the salaries of the team you have working on the project and then the ongoing salaries and upkeep (such as hosting) of the CMS once it is deployed.
A good commercial CMS will have a well-designed user interface and also tools to help you with SEO as you need it. Even more important for school boards, these platforms are designed to meet current accessibility standards. This can help protect you from lawsuits, fines and bad publicity while providing a better experience for everyone in your district. You’ll also have a team you can depend on to design your sites with these factors and your brand in mind.
Some of these platforms have additional features beyond a CMS. They may include a mobile app for student and teacher access, an e-commerce school for spirit wear and school merchandise, a parent portal, etc.
Coding these as well as a CMS will also take a lot of time for your staff.
You will likely have to pay both an upfront implementation fee and then annual licensing fees. This does put you into a long-term relationship with the vendor and may or may not be cheaper than building your own, depending on the size and expertise of your team.
You may not have the same control over the features of the platform as if you built your own and end up having to compromise by not having the specific features you want.
Or you might be paying for a bunch of features you don't want and have no need or use for. Some systems, thankfully, are more customizable than others, but you may still end up with a best possible fit scenario.
Building your own CMS comes down to three factors: The expertise of your IT team, your budget over the long term and your other IT needs.
Finding the right CMS is a challenge for school boards and districts. For many, it is better to go with a specialist third-party vendor that produces a high-quality CMS designed specifically for education.
SchoolBundle specializes in school districts' CMS needs. Talk to our team today.
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