WCM Technology for Higher Education

At RSG we typically analyze Web Content & Experience Management (WCM) systems as a "horizontal" technology, which means that the tools don't vary much from customer industry to industry. There are a couple of exceptions, though, where the needs of a particular sector prove specialized enough to merit unique attention. Higher Education is one of those verticals.

Traditional WCM Needs within Higher Education

It can be tricky to generalize about "higher education" because of the differences across countries, institutional size, and profile. Nevertheless, over the past twenty years, we've seen some common patterns for WCM in this sector:

  • Sizable but often itinerant base of authors
  • Unusually large, mostly static, content-rich sites, with many logical subsites
  • Comparatively lighter content re-use requirements
  • Comparatively fewer integration points with other digital engagement systems
  • Overall summary: very large publishing operations but with comparatively simpler functional requirements

The Industry Responds

Every one of the thirty-six WCM solutions RSG evaluates can boast at least one university licensee. Open source WCM platforms have an outsized footprint in higher education, but no single open source offering predominates, or has altered its roadmap significantly to meet higher ed needs. Meanwhile, some commercial WCM vendors have zeroed in on the higher ed marketplace, most notably OmniUpdate, TerminalFour, and Ingeniux.

2019 WCM Vendor Logo Landscape.  Source: Real Story Group
2019 WCM Vendor Logo Landscape. Source: Real Story Group

Along the way, the higher ed market has significantly shaped those vendors' offerings to the point where, with some exceptions, these tools tend to fit a common profile:

  • Page- rather than component-based
  • Simpler and less feature-rich editorial environments
  • More static than dynamic publishing models
  • Lower cost
  • Tendency to favor vendor professional services rather than integration partners
  • And so on...

A Changing Higher Ed Digital Environment

Like other sectors, higher education is embracing digital transformation, albeit sometimes haltingly. In particular we see the rise of the same sorts of centralized digital teams one finds in other verticals, to lead engagement with key audiences like prospective applicants, alumni, partners, and donors.

So it comes as little surprise that college and university digital teams are increasingly seeking out more sophisticated WCM features, such as:

  • Advanced experience management with greater control over look and feel
  • Campaign-oriented engagement: integration with outbound and social marketing systems
  • More dynamic, perhaps segmented, content delivery
  • Specialized micro-sites, often jointly with external partners
  • Greater integration with other systems, like learning management platforms, Google Apps, or student and faculty portals
  • And so on...

While ambitions may be expanding, we find that higher ed digital teams often face significant resource shortfalls. There is intense competition for experienced digital talent. Meanwhile a legacy of highly-distributed publishing operations still sometimes consigns important tasks to part-timers across different departments — staff who may lack some key skills.

So it comes as little surprise that among the twelve industries we track in RSG's RealScore benchmarking application (you can try it yourself, for free), WCM customers in higher education self-report the lowest level of effectiveness.

Your WCM Choices Going Forward

The digital needs of higher education are converging with the general marketplace. To exploit more sophisticated WCM capabilities, though, higher ed digital teams may need to build up their internal capacity.

But the good news that colleges and universities seeking to up their game can choose from among an extraordinarily wide range of WCM technology options.

If you lead a digital team and would like access some truly independent research and advice, reach out to explore your options with RSG.

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Gil, Partner, Cancentric Solutions Inc.
iStudio Canada Inc.

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