UBC mulls hosting for CMS rollout

The University of British Columbia is rolling out a content management solution as broadly as possible using a mix of its own servers and offsite hosting.

UBC has been in need of some uniformity of its Internet site management for some time, said manager of Web communications Rob Wilson. Back in 2003, the university conducted a campus-wide pilot with several products and went to some pains to figure out a best fit.

“We had focus groups and surveys and things like that. That sort of told us that people were looking for an easier way to manage Web pages and that there wasn’t a lot of resources available for them to publish to the Web, which was obviously quickly becoming the most important means of communication for (UBC),” said Wilson.

“As with any large institution, it can take some time to get the wheels spinning. We worked to build a plan across the campus community.”

Matters became complication by the addition of a new campus in Kelowna – UBC Okanagan, which opened in September 2005. But the fact that it was new to UBC also meant an opportunity to build something from the ground up.

“Because of the distributed nature of IT here at UBC in Vancouver, Web sites have grown up independent of each other and there’s a very different look and feel amongst the sites,” said Wilson. “We knew that we had a long way to go in terms of beginning to pull UBC together but we knew we had an opportunity with UBC Okanagan to start with a clean sheet of paper.”

UBC Okanagan rolled out a CMS solution from Vancouver-based IronPoint Technology Inc. That company has since been bought by The Active Network Inc., a San Diego firm which continues to host the software for the campus.

The software has since been rolled for UBC’s faculty of medicine in Vancouver. That department has opted to host the CMS software itself.

Is there any particular advantage to either model? “None that we’ve noticed,” said Wilson.

However, he added, “my own personal feeling is that some of the advantages that the hosted model offers – for a lot of different applications – chances are, the people that developed the application know far better what it needs to run on – how to patch it, how to upgrade it, how to optimize it to run on their data centres as opposed to our network folks needed to learn everything about how it sits on top (of our infrastructure).”

Personal preference still plays a large role in going hosted versus in-house, said Strategic Counsel of Canada analyst Warren Shiau. Often, people look to the larger vendors when considering a hosted model, since they have a long list of products that are designed to work in concert.

“Probably Microsoft or Oracle would be the prime candidates for a hosted offering. When you look at the different functionality sets, that could work,” he said. “Rather than integrate that into your own infrastructure, it could make sense to go for a hosted offering instead.”

Most recently, UBC signed a licensing agreement with Active Network to roll out IronPoint on a wide basis throughout the university where there are 600-plus Web sites currently in operation.

The software won’t be mandatory for all departments, but is certainly available to them at a small but reasonable charge-back fee.

“We’ve already had 30 to 50 units indicate that they want to come on board, so those will be the first that we will be tackling,” said Wilson.

The CMS will allow the sites to publish content specifically for mobile devices like cell phones or PDAs, but isn’t a priority just yet, said Wilson. Ideally, he wants to push the CMS product as far into the corners of the university as possible – particularly the smaller departments.

“It’s always seemed to me to be a bit of a paradox that the smaller units that have the greatest need to use the Web to communicate with the wider world have the least amount of IT resources to be able to do so,” he said.

As to whether the application will be hosted in-house or off-site, that question has yet to be resolved. Much of the decision will be made by the availability of infrastructure. In-house could potentially be the more expensive option, but “if you have spare boxes lying around, then you’d be good to go,” said Wilson.

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