The University of North Georgia was formed through the consolidation of North Georgia College & State University and Gainesville State College, two of the top-performing schools in the University System of Georgia, in January 2013. Positioned in the fastest-growing region of the state, UNG comprises four campuses united by a single mission focused on academic excellence and academic and co-curricular programs that develop students into leaders for a diverse and global society.
Merging Two Universities and Replacing Two Content Management Systems
When it was announced in 2012 that North Georgia College & State University (NGCSU) would merge with Gainesville State College (GSC) to become the University of North Georgia, stakeholders from both organizations evaluated their current Content Management Systems, Ektron and Sharepoint, and decided that the timing was right to look for a fresh CMS. We recently spoke with Justin “JET” Turner, the organization’s application developer and an integral part of the team who went through the CMS selection and integration process.
The Selection Process
One of the key focuses was to find a CMS that 100-plus content editors would be able to use with ease to alleviate some of the issues with the previous CMS. In pursuit of a new solution, the team from NGCSU and GSC contacted other institutions of higher education and also researched different tools on discussion forums, Listservs, and other online resources.
Next, the team gathered all of the product reviews and information on how each CMS solution worked before selecting three finalists. Justin spent a week with each product, configuring templates and other components within each system, while the rest of the team focused on testing the editing interface and performing end-user testing. There was one open source CMS among the finalists that was ruled out for being too developer-intensive. This left a CMS vendor focused solely on higher education and Cascade CMS in the running. What made Cascade CMS attractive was the fact that the template schemes weren’t as XSL-driven and therefore were easier to work with. In addition, Cascade CMS's support of Velocity was viewed as a tremendous benefit. Even though Justin had never used Velocity before, he found it easy to grasp and was able to get sites off the ground quickly.
Justin also pointed out that Hannon Hill’s support model proved to be very helpful. “The help forum, idea exchange, and knowledge base are all great tools we used almost daily when testing in the sandbox,” Justin said.
Cascade CMS ultimately came out as the product of choice due to the ease of creating pages and templates, the ability to use Velocity, and user feedback.
Justin said of support: “We got some great support early on, and though this tends to be pretty standard when looking at products, we could tell from the forum and idea exchange that Cascade CMS support didn't slack off after a purchase was made. Seeing items from the idea exchange implemented into their product was very refreshing after working with a previous product that often took away functionality during updates."
The organization purchased Cascade CMS in August 2012. The team was tasked with launching a starter website for the consolidated University of North Georgia by Jan. 8, 2013, the effective date of consolidation. The deadline was met, and the new production site included a new homepage design, all of the university’s enrollment services departments, a news site (with a separate design), a print version of the site, a mobile version of the site, and a second copy of everything at the other main campus as a failover. It didn’t take a large team to achieve this, either. All of the above was accomplished by one programmer/developer, one designer/developer, one content specialist, and a manager.
Since the initial integration, the three-person web team has been communicating with departments to get new consolidated content for the university, and a vast majority of the content has been published. In the meantime, Justin has been facilitating the process by optimizing processes and automating tasks in the system.
When asked which accomplishment Justin has been most proud of, he responded: “Every time I make something new, that becomes the thing I'm most proud of. In January, it was the tag cloud on our news site that a member of support assisted me with. After that, it was the faculty/staff bios being tied to our campus directory that was only using active directory data. I think right now, it is the stuff I've been doing with web services. For creating a new site, the entire process is now handled through web services. The web team goes to a web page behind our firewall, fills out a short web form with all the information the script needs (group name, site name, site url, username/password), then it runs through doing all the steps and lets them know if anything failed so they can go do it manually.”
Working with the Hannon Hill Team
While there’s no limit on the number of support contacts that a Hannon Hill customer can have, Justin continues to serve as a liaison between the University of North Georgia and the Cascade CMS support team. “When I asked for some assistance adjusting some complex Velocity code, they went above and beyond, and not only helped in adding a feature I needed, but also optimized the Velocity code to perform faster and render the content faster using some features of Velocity I hadn't used yet,” Justin said.
He is also excited about the fact that so many of Hannon Hill’s customer ideas and suggestions are being incorporated into the product.
The University of North Georgia faced a unique challenge in merging two institutions and two public-facing websites, while also replacing two different content management systems. They relied on Hannon Hill’s support team and Cascade CMS's ease of use to make the transition smooth and meet their launch deadlines. To find out more about how Hannon Hill’s Cascade CMS can help your organization, visit www.hannonhill.com or contact us at email@example.com.