3 Reasons Why Your College or University Should Fix Its Multisite Problems
by Chris Hartigan
In today’s digitally driven world, one website or even several websites is not enough to meet internal demand and external audience expectations. Pleasing the audience and supplying demand with affordable solutions, calls for a platform that can economically deliver engaging online experiences quickly and at scale. Managing and maintaining multiple sites can quickly get out of hand -- even with a solid digital strategy in place -- and sometimes the challenge is even knowing how many sites exist, who owns them, and what technology is used to create and manage them.
Higher education has an acute need for a multisite solution. How many websites does the typical organization have? One Hundred? One Thousand? More? At Acquia, we work with hundreds of higher education IT professionals and the number of sites they have to manage can approach daunting levels. Based on our analysis and looking at a cross section of public, private and large and small schools, an average institution will have close to web sites. At the low end of the range, we’ve seen customers with around 300 sites. The largest had over 50,000.
How Multisite Gets Out of Control
How can a single institution rack up so many sites in the first place? It’s surprisingly easy when one considers how many different departments and groups exist within a single institution. Each one can have a different audience with different needs that need to be addressed. Internally, each one can have different maintenance requirements and different business goals associated with it.
Of course on any campus there are the large sites that get most of the attention. These include the main .EDU “flagship” site and other high priorities including admissions, alumni, athletics, academic departments and so on. Next are the sites that don’t require a lot of time working on but are there and need to be maintained and supported. These include faculty sites, research sites, HR sites, foundation sites, and so on. Lastly, there are sites that are surprising are still “live” at all, like a site spun up for a long-past and forgotten alumni reunion from 5 years ago, for example.
One of the biggests causes for concern is that these sites, whether they’re old or new, carry the school’s brand. They also contain relevant content that your audience may be looking for, and certainly they need requisite care and attention to insure security and accessibility protocols are being adhered to. But even if schools could pinpoint exactly how many sites they have, the sheer sprawl of websites around campus underscores the digital challenges that colleges and universities have.
Getting a Handle on Multisite
The first step to achieving digital excellence and getting the sprawl under control is to centralize the management, governance and deployment of all school sites. Without a mechanism to centrally manage the expanse of websites, schools are hindered greatly in their ability to drive a coherent and high impact digital strategy.
The proliferation of websites that are not centrally governed has very real implications for colleges and universities. While a few colleges and universities are actively addressing their multisite problems, the industry at large is not. This is a costly mistake. We believe strongly that the time to fix this problem is right now for the following reasons:
1. Fixing Your Multisite Problems Will Save Your Institution Money
If your school is more interested in allocating operating budget to academic, research and student support services than to redundant web platforms, then this should be reason enough to fix you multisite problems. After you have a rough estimate of how many sites you have, ask yourself the following:
- How many content management systems (CMS) does your institution pay for presently?
- How many internal web servers need to be maintained (and upgraded) or how many different web hosting contracts does the school have?
- How many resources, technical or otherwise, are needed to maintain the code that powers these sites?
- How much is invested in training site administrators and content editors across all these different systems?
Each one of these has a cost associated with it and there are often redundancies. Unequivocally and without a doubt, it is more efficient and cost effective to manage all these sites centrally to get a full picture of not just your sites but all costs associated with them.
2. Fixing Your Multisite Problems Will Make You a Hero on Campus
Contrary to some concerns, instituting a methodology to centrally govern your web environment won’t take anything away from end users. Instead, it will provide them with the levels of creative control they desire and the freedom from technology that they need to do their jobs better. Site owners and content editors don’t want to procure, manage and support web platforms. In fact, it’s a hindrance to them. They want to innovate and create amazing digital experiences to support the institution’s goals. Instituting web governance isn’t at all about wrestling away creative control. Web governance means overseeing the things that should be centrally managed (security, performance, tooling, infrastructure, etc) while allowing for the creativity and innovation needed to drive your digital strategy forward.
3. Fixing Your Multisite Problem Now Will Mean You Don’t Have to Fix it Later
Here’s a sneak peek into the future: the number of sites your school has will continue to increase, and with it so will the cost and complexity required to manage and support them. This problem won’t resolve itself. If anything the problem will only get worse as new functionality is needed, new integrations are required, new branding and content is rolled out, and new security and accessibility concerns arise. All of this poses a threat to your school’s ability to deliver on its digital strategy, which is growing in importance every day. The sooner you fix your multisite problems, the sooner you can lean on your digital strategy to set you apart.
And now for some good news: there are platforms, tools and expertise that already exist to help you solve this problem now. Acquia Cloud Site Factory is the leading digital platform for addressing multisite challenges, and Acquia has successfully worked with dozens of leading organizations suffering from the same pains that your institution is dealing with to institute a governance strategy to help reduce costs, reduce complexity, and deliver greater digital outcomes.
If your institution is suffering from multisite problems, you’re not alone. Colleges and universities are sprawling content creation engines with a lot of decentralized control and distinct budgets serving multitudes of different constituents. This, along with the fact that websites have grown organically and tactically around campus, has put most colleges and universities in the position they’re in now. But it doesn’t have to be this way any longer. Leading institutions are already working to build their future digital strategies with this particular problem in mind.
Any school can address this challenge and put it behind them. Isn’t it time your institution mastered multisite?