Auburn University


Auburn University (AU) is one of the largest universities in the South. Offering degrees from 13 schools and colleges, AU is committed to providing high-quality undergraduate, graduate, and professional education to its students.


Auburn University is a state university with a tight budget and a decentralized web philosophy. Before purchasing Cascade CMS, AU’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering (COE) was using a CMS developed by a small company based in the Auburn area. The inexpensive software allowed the college to make an initial move into a CMS system, a major step forward in enabling the restructuring of the college’s web site and removal of old content. However, a confusing user interface and less than perfect WYSIWYG editor hampered widespread use. In addition, the software severely limited the web team’s ability to provide many of the desired dynamic content features such as Flash movies, RSS Feeds, and embedded video.

Even with these limitations, the university’s biggest challenge with this CMS came within three years of the initial purchase. The small software development company who created the CMS shifted their focus away from developing the product, leaving Auburn with a virtually unsupported system.  


Realizing that an unsupported system would not provide the permanent solution that they required, the COE web team conducted an exhaustive search for content management products available in the marketplace. Throughout the process of searching for a new CMS, Auburn University evaluated a total of 950 systems.  Of those, only a select few made the short list including: Cascade CMS, PaperThin/Commonspot, Ingeniux,  eZ Publish, LifeRay,  Adobe Contribute,  Drupal,  Plone,  Joomla,  WebGUI, and Alfresco Enterprise.

The search included a mix of proprietary, proprietary/open source hybrids, and open source systems. Their evaluation began with the identification of critical, primary, major and desired criteria. Those systems that did not meet critical and primary criteria were weeded out early in the process.  The remaining systems were then evaluated on how well their technical specs met all of the university’s criteria, allowing them to further narrow the list.

Each of the finalists was independently evaluated via a phone demo for their ability to meet the specified criteria, and calls were placed to client references provided by the vendors. At the end of this exercise, the list had been narrowed to two candidates:  one open-source and one proprietary system. Demo software for each of these was then installed on the COE server, allowing the web team to fully test the products. Based on this testing and the results of continued calls to references, it was determined that Cascade CMS best met Auburn’s needs because it offered this unique mix of features:

  • Only CMS reviewed that met all technical requirements
  • Able to easily adapt software to existing web management processes  
  • Only CMS that offered static content export and flexibility in programming languages
  • A robust granular privileges system that was easy to learn and train end-users on
  • Able to support dynamic content
  • Client references were uniformly positive with respect to the product as well as customer service
  • Price point that worked with tight budgets

The web team at the COE was very interested in a push CMS system for their main website because of its inherent stability.  However, many of the push systems reviewed would only output HTML and JavaScript, and the team did not want to give up the ability to use server-side code if the need arose in the future.  Cascade CMS proved to be one of the only CMS systems that offered the flexibility to integrate PHP, ASP and ColdFusion technologies utilized by the various departments.  Similarly, database vendor choice between the latest MySQL, SQL Server and Oracle offerings also proved to be another key decision factor where Cascade CMS demonstrated adaptability.

Perhaps most indicative of Cascade CMS’s compatibility with Auburn University is Information Technology Specialist, Tyler Patterson’s conversations with Hannon Hill references:

“Auburn COE was looking for a CMS system that would make us competitive with our peers today and into the future.  References told us that Hannon Hill stays on top of the game, periodically releasing innovative new features and bug fixes in a timely manner.  We also knew from talking with several of their other clients that they were very responsive to customer needs and requests.”

In addition, the enterprise version of Cascade CMS offered the opportunity for the College of Engineering to partner with seven other colleges across the AU campus to share purchase and annual maintenance costs. The COE also preferred Hannon Hill’s simple pricing structure where an upfront license fee unlocks all production instance features and an annual maintenance and support fee covers all future upgrades.  With many of other CMS systems that AU evaluated, the pricing was built around a limited base package with costly additions for each added feature. 


AU is using Cascade to manage the posting of news, events and other information pertinent to the college’s mission.  The school has empowered users within the COE to make updates within their own departments, allowing them to update their information quickly without having to send all their updates to the webmasters. Most users were trained in two four-hour sessions, and the majority have not required any additional training. This has been especially beneficial to the web team as they are no longer receiving calls from users who need help doing basic functions, thus freeing up their time to work on web enhancements. The web team is also beginning to add dynamic features to the system. They have automated their news functions, added rotating images with links to the stories behind the images, are offering RSS new feeds, and are working on dynamic functions for a calendar and departmental upcoming events sections.