The Best Municipal Websites Have the Best Content Management Systems

A content management system (CMS) makes updating, creating and deleting webpages a simple process for any employee, regardless of technical skills. Many modern sites are built on a CMS, from open source systems (Drupal, WordPress) to more proprietary architectures (Ektron) and closed systems such as SchoolWires.

360Civic works with all major CMS platforms, so our recommendations are based more on the individual needs of a client, rather than advocating one solution for every project.

Many school district websites, water district websites,
and civic websites rely on CMS to:

  • Manage the day-to-day changes necessary for the site to stay current
  • Make new pages easier and faster to add
  • Remove concerns over file name and page-naming conventions
  • Create pages that are mobile responsive and search engine friendly

In short, a CMS allows content providers to focus on content, and not the minutiae of how to create web pages.

Proprietary Systems

Closed systems like Ektron and Sitefinity  have powerful tools, integrate well and offer extensible functions like email marketing and social media publishing. Many include hosted platforms, so that security, hosting and updates are conveniently all in one place.

The downside is they can be expensive, with significant implementation costs as well as yearly or monthly licensing fees. And if an organization should want to transition away from many proprietary CMSs, it is often difficult to migrate the data to other solutions.

Providers can also be acquired or go out of business, resulting in the software being changed or abandoned altogether.

Open Source CMSs

An open source CMS may be developed by one individual or organization and then adopted by a community of developers and users. Unlike proprietary systems, no one really owns the software, and the source code — how the program was built and functions — is freely available. Updates are handled by a curated community, and any competent development company or developer can create modules and extend the functionality.

Open source systems do not have ongoing maintenance or licensing fees, and simplify the process of transferring information from one system to another. Like proprietary systems, a community may lose interest and abandon development of an open source system — this has happened to CMSs like Red Dot — but unlike proprietary systems, having access to the source code means your software can continue to function far into the future with a little support from your internal IT staff or outside vendors. Communities are not profit-based, so they are less likely to disband because of monetary reasons.

Some organizations believe open source software is less secure or that support is less extensive. However, most communities provide 24/7 support through members, and have higher customer satisfaction ratings than many large companies. Proper deployment and a robust community of developers can make open source solutions very secure. Implementations such as Drupal can be hardened to financial grade standards.

Making the Right Decision

With the right vendor, any CMS can work well. The key to making a decision usually comes down to the following:

  • If you are already invested in a system and it is working for you, stay on it. The cost of moving to another system may be significant, and you have to include training on the new system.
  • If your current system is causing you headaches, you don’t have to be tied to one vendor. Explore options.
  • Have your bidding vendors provide a one, two or three year cost for purchasing, implementing and maintaining your system. If budget is a consideration, open source will generally be much more cost effective than proprietary systems.
  • If you are looking for a new system, consider open source as an option.

Training, Support and Content Still Matter

Regardless of what system you select, do not neglect the basics:

  • Training needs to be part of any system. Your vendor needs to include extensive training and support until your users are up to speed on the new CMS, and provide resources for training later on as new users join and others leave.
  • What is the cost for ongoing support? Even when you have your staff trained there are times when you may need additional help to create new templates or add functionality.
  • Any CMS needs to be populated with content. Whether you transfer the content you currently have, revise it or add new content, this is often the biggest stumbling block to completing a site on time. 360Civic offers experienced content writers who can interview stakeholders, edit pages for consistency and create/develop content at no additional cost.


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