Content Management, Technology & Development

IT Questions to Ask Before Submitting an RFP for a Higher Ed CMS

To get the right answers, you have to ask the right questions—a critical step when preparing an RFP for a new content management system.

request for proposalBeing charged with the request for proposal (RFP) process for a new content management system (CMS) in higher ed can be an overwhelming responsibility, especially since it’s not every day that you think through the process of purchasing new software and documenting it on paper. Throw in a website redesign and your thought process becomes even more complicated. Yet a thorough, solid RFP will yield the right answers the first time around, saving you headaches and valuable time.

While soliciting input from various departments on campus during the RFP process is essential, this post focuses on IT and what you need to know and ask to understand the fundamentals of what your technologists want in a CMS.

Robyn Banton, OmniUpdate’s RFP expert who reads and responds to dozens of RFPs every year, and Micah Roark, OmniUpdate’s Director of Information Technology, have a few pointers to help college and university administrators ask the right IT questions so that they receive the right answers.

IT Questions for Your IT Department

1. What does your website need, and what do you want it to do?

Banton suggests working with your IT department to make a list of everything your site currently does—and a list of everything you want your website to do. "Engage with your IT team to understand the different systems around campus, including any ERP, LMS, and CRM systems to understand if and how your website needs to interact with this software," Banton said. "Also understand the server environment and resources you currently have to help evaluate whether a SaaS or self-hosted CMS is best for you." This comparison produces a starting point for identifying specific solutions to ask for in your RFP.

2. Have you conducted a thorough evaluation of your IT resources?

Some schools include a wish list of features in their proposal without taking the time at the beginning of the process to evaluate whether their school has the IT and developer manpower and expertise needed to maintain these features. “It is important to conduct an honest evaluation,” Banton says. “Be strategic in your assessment and how you envision implementation. With certain systems, it can be very difficult to continue updating plugins and other features to maintain the long-term functionality you need."

3. Should you consider third-party CMS hosting?

Because security is an ever-growing concern, it may be time to discuss moving away from self-hosting to a SaaS model—something that you’ll want to discuss sooner than later in the RFP process. “Consider the natural disasters we’ve had across the country this year alone,” says Banton. “If there is ever a disaster in your area or on campus, having an offsite third-party CMS web server host eliminates the worry of your CMS going down and eliminates the often-burdensome overhead costs of investing in and maintaining your CMS.”

IT Questions to Include in Your RFP

1. Do you provide SFTP for encrypted communication?

“Some schools already know that SFTP is the safest way to publish files with a CMS because there is only one port used and all communication is encrypted,” says Roark. “However, schools still using FTP or FTPS must juggle opening multiple ports to communicate. This is an issue with contemporary network security and a problem for cloud-hosted sites where the cloud provider limits the number ports that can be opened.

2. Is your CMS serving live content?

An all-in-one CMS is attractive, but it can quickly become an issue if your school anticipates growth. “If you have a web server hosting your live sites along with the CMS software, or even integrated within the CMS, it can be a vulnerability,” Roark says. “If the CMS is dynamically generating the content for each page request, it's far easier to become overloaded in a DDoS attack, or even at peak times of use like fall admissions or tuition deadlines. Again, the server can succumb to heavy traffic or an attack, and your entire website slows down or can be effectively taken offline.” As an alternative, consider a decoupled CMS solution where the CMS is separated from live content on a separate server, which greatly reduces load issues and vulnerabilities.

3. Does your CMS include an API?

An API can make your CMS extensible to automate routine content tasks and integrate data from third-party systems. "Tasks such as syncing users with a back-end directory server, ingesting an RSS feed, or backing up content can be scripted through calls to a REST API system," says Roark. "A well-documented API should be a fundamental feature of your CMS."

On the hunt for a new CMS? Check out more questions to help guide you in the RFP process.

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