Making Connections - Takeaways from the 2017 Cascade User Conference

By Kat Liendgens — Thursday, November 2nd, 2017 at 11:00am

Last week, we hosted our 12th annual Cascade User Conference, and we could not have been happier with the turnout. It’s always a highlight for us when we get to interact with our amazing user community. Our customers’ willingness to freely share information, stories, feedback, tools and even code is second to none.

As every year, here’s a quick summary of the main takeaways.

Making connections

One of the most prominent themes in this year’s sessions was making connections. It’s no coincidence that our keynote speaker, Lisa Fey, started the conference with an entertaining and interactive address on that same theme. It set the tone for the conference because other speakers highlighted the subject from various angles.

Crowd of people in banquet hall

Using your CMS as a content hub and connecting it to other systems:

Alvin Chao demonstrated how James Madison University pulls room reservations, parking space information, 3rd party social media widgets.

Jered Benoit showed how Christopher Newport University pulls faculty information from Digital Measures and converts spreadsheets into web pages. He used web services to allow non-technical users to use Markdown to update content in Cascade without logging in.

Another aspect of connecting relates to COPE, Create Once, Publish Everywhere. You want to eliminate duplication of content and push it to other channels, sites, and pages.

The University of Montana’s web team was charged with rolling out a mobile app for the university, which not only presented a technical challenge but more so, a content challenge. In her session, Kayla Pierson described how the team was able to pull Cascade-powered content into the mobile app, thus allowing for smart content reuse.

Hannon Hill customers having fun at the Cascade User Conference

Jay Mercer of Indiana University explained the benefits of Cascade’s Database Publishing as a way to display dynamic content on news and events pages and faculty listings. One of the many interesting aspects of this session was the use of triggers to allow adding of custom columns.

As Bradley Wagner, our VP of Engineering pointed out in the Product Roadmap session, it is unrealistic to think that you can have all of your content in the CMS. Start looking at it as a hub. In the same session, we explained why pushing content to multiple channels forces you to embrace the concept of structured, reusable content chunks separate from design.

Enabling accessibility

Considering the January deadline for organizations to become digitally accessible, it is no surprise that web accessibility was another hot topic at #CUC17.

Jonathan Grant of Indiana University Kokomo discussed the upcoming changes resulting from the fact that Section 508 will incorporate the WCAG 2.0 AA standard. As the new rulings can result in liability issues, colleges and universities need to put appropriate measures in place. Jonathan led an engaging discussion, which clearly showed how seriously everyone takes accessibility.

Thane Webb of the University of Nebraska at Kearney also did a very engaging session on the topic. He explained how the university handled retroactive accessibility fixes and a number of proactive approaches in order to maintain accessibility standards.

Streamlining processes

When it comes to creating great content, it is important to not just provide end users with automated processes, but also take developers into consideration.

Jordan King of Cascade Factory gave an excellent presentation on reusable format scripts. Since he primarily uses Velocity tools that access the Cascade API, he can significantly speed up performance as he can skip the process of calling index blocks. He demonstrated the power of separating scripts, data, and presentation, which ultimately allows you to change site designs much faster.

John David Garza of the University of Texas-San Antonio introduced us to Docker, an open platform for developers. He utilizes it as an alternative local work environment for Cascade admins and developers. This allows for much faster testing of upgrades, settings, permissions, and formats.

Mike Strauch of Hannon Hill presenting at the Cascade CMS user conference

Providing flexibility & constraints

One of the most important considerations when choosing a CMS is the system’s ability to provide flexibility to users to help them work collaboratively and autonomously while at the same time providing constraints and guardrails in order to ensure that best practices and brand consistency are being adhered to. When discussing constraints, workflows immediately come to mind.

Berta Roebuck and David Schmidt of the University of San Diego provided an interesting interactive session about how to implement a campus-wide workflow process by getting buy-in from all departments and from leadership.

Bill White of Tokio Marine HCCCMIS Group spoke about workflows from a non-higher ed perspective, and it was interesting to see that the logistics of approval processes are quite similar regardless of sector.

Nik Mihalick of Elliance and Bart Pollock, Director of Web Content at Catholic University gave a great presentation on how they provide users with a lot of flexibility in terms of page layouts. By having the ability to manage content using a single page type, users feel empowered to arrange content chunks to best convey their message. Appropriately labeled “Swiss Army knife”, this setup allowed the university's content team to build 31 distinctive new websites while ensuring brand consistency. The presentation showcased interesting method of including macros dynamically via folder locator and children vs. manually specifying each file - what a great idea!

Caitlin Dana of Christopher Newport University did a great job explaining her team’s strategy of using Data Definitions. She provides end users with a wide variety of content entry fields in the form of widgets. It’s a great way to provide users with the flexibility they need while at the same time separating content from design and making content more reusable and distributable across multiple sites, pages, and platforms.

Providing personalized experiences

One of the hot topics that may initially not have been on everybody’s agenda is personalization. But make no mistake - this is something you will not be able to get away from.

Linda Jayne of Cuyahoga Community College showed how her college’s web team has fully embraced the use of personas in order to capture the needs of different segments of their target audience, with the goal of providing the best possible user experience. Linda made a convincing case for personas as she laid out how the college uses them in order to customize the navigation experience, resulting in higher conversion rates. Without knowing what was about to become one of the most talked about topics, Linda set the stage for many discussions on personalization, which is the real-time customization of content for your individual visitors with the goal of guiding them through the conversion funnel.

Bradley and I were excited about presenting what the future holds for Cascade and Hannon Hill. Up and coming features will help you not only deliver personalized content to known leads, but also to anonymous visitors. Stay tuned for more exciting news about Cascade CMS.

Content management is all about making sure that the right message gets to the right people in the right manner at the right time. We’re honored to help you achieve your goals. We’re also incredibly proud of this incredible Cascade community, and we can’t wait to see you all again next year.

Want slides from your favorite #CUC17 presentations?

Check the conference page for the session. Most slides from conference sessions have been added to our official conference site. Don’t forget to connect with the presenter to get even more information.

What were your favorite moments from #CUC17? Share your favorite memories below or tweet us @hannon_hill.

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