A fully-baked enterprise web content management platform
December 01, 2018
A fully-baked enterprise web content management platform
Score 10 out of 10
Overall Satisfaction with Cascade Server
Cascade CMS is the university's primary content management system, supporting multiple web sites including all administrative offices, all Arts & Sciences undergraduate and graduate programs, and our four graduate and professional schools (business, education, law & marine science). The CMS currently has approximately 200,000 objects (pages, images and files) managed by about 1,000 web content editors.
- Cascade CMS uses a simple folder–page paradigm that our content editors can quickly grasp, as it parallels the drive structures they find on their Mac and Windows computers and the URL paths within their sites.
- A powerful and flexible Content Type system allows site managers and administrators to simplify complex page structures and user interactions into manageable fields and WYSIWYG content blocks our content editors can maintain.
- Cascade CMS implements a fully-baked-publishing paradigm. This allows public-facing web pages to be served by an arbitrary number of front-end web servers, while isolating the CMS itself from any spikes in external traffic.
- Cascade CMS provides granular control of permissions/actions pertaining to non-publishable (administrative) and publishable assets assigned to users, groups and site-specific roles. Additionally, optional workflows, asset-naming criteria, file-size limits, spelling and accessibility checks, and other restrictions/automations can be applied and enforced.
- Cascade CMS is not an out-of-the-box pre-built system that you can install, turn on and expect to be serving sites and pages on day one. It's not a blogging system like WordPress, or a drag-and-drop system like SquareSpace (both of which I've used for their own purposes). You need to have someone tasked with management and system administration – and if you implement the on-premise self-hosted version, you ought to have several people. We have the university's IT shop handling infrastructure (server hardware, containers, clustering, operating systems, load-balancing, DNS, database servers, NAS/SAN drives), our Web & Design team managing Cascade CMS (system settings, sites, templates, permissions) and managers coordinating each respective academic unit (A&S, business, education, law, marine science).
- Prior to implementing Cascade CMS, the university had hundreds of sites with disparate designs maintained with a variety of tools. Since implementing Cascade CMS, the vast majority of sites are managed within a single system and have coordinated branding and designs.
- Having a single enterprise CMS for the university affords us the opportunity to provide training and support across all divisions & departments of the university.
There are several fine CMS products on the market, and each serves its purpose. For our needs, Cascade CMS is the best alternative.
While Cascade CMS is neither open source nor free, Hannon Hill is open to customer feedback and feature suggestions, provides serious documentation and support, and is very open-handed with their roadmap, devoting a full keynote session to it during the annual user's conference.
(Beware the notion that any CMS is "free" – it's likely as "free" as a puppy or kitten. The purchase price will likely be trivial in comparison to implementation and maintenance costs.)
Cascade CMS utilizes a fully-baked publishing model that isolates the CMS system where editing is performed from front-end web servers which may experience intermittent traffic peaks. This also allows us to upgrade the CMS without taking our front-facing servers offline.
Managing 1,000 content editors in 600+ groups with 200,000 assets published across multiple domains is a cake-walk for Cascade CMS. It's been a while since I evaluated other products on this criteria – but 10 years ago when we chose Cascade CMS, the competition didn't seem to have this level of robustness.
Cascade CMS is an enterprise system. It can handle many users assigned to specific groups and roles with very granular permissions. We have about 1,000 users in over 600 groups managing approximately 200,000 assets. It has the potential to be very user-friendly for content editors – but is dependent upon the system administrator and site managers tailoring templates and content types appropriately.
For a small web site with a few users editing a handful of pages, Cascade CMS is overkill. Grab a WordPress or SquareSpace theme and be done. But if you expect to have 100+ users and 1,000+ pages, where the latter options become unwieldy, Cascade CMS is best-of-breed.
Cascade Server Feature Ratings
Using Cascade Server
Mostly web content editors from across the university.
Some designers, managers and system administrators.
We have three web programmers for system administration and template implementation, plus three web content specialists maximizing information architecture and user experience. The six of us also provide university-wide training and support for Cascade CMS.
Additionally, our fifteen managers oversee Cascade CMS users, permissions and content in their respective divisions.
- We use Cascade CMS to create and edit content published to our public-facing front-end web servers.
Evaluating Cascade Server and Competitors
We replaced a home-grown web templating and CMS system.
The university was at a place where it made sense to migrate to an enterprise web content management system.
- Product Features
- Product Usability
- Product Reputation
- Vendor Reputation
- Positive Sales Experience with the Vendor
- Third-party Reviews
The single most important factor in selecting any CMS is its fit for the institution and purpose.
Cascade CMS was a good fit for our university across multiple specific criteria – and we validated this assessment by direct discussions with the vendor, an external web design consultant, and several other institutions already using the product.
While not perfect, and certainly not suitable to everybody, we remain quite happy with our process. We had a home-grown system for several years, so we knew what we needed and what to look for; we had plenty of time to look for candidate products; we discussed our options with our web design consultant and several peer institutions using Cascade CMS as well as alternative products; and we got feedback and buy-in from a number of constituents across campus.
Cascade Server Implementation
Woulda-shoulda-coulda... There are always things you discover during/after implementation that you wish you had known ahead of time, which would have changed specific implementation decisions. Overall, we were happy with the implementation – and have been able to make progressive enhancements and improvements over the past 10 years.
The key insight is to learn from the experience of others. Join the Slack group, go to the annual user's conference, and pay for some training and consulting from Hannon Hill or one of their partners. Holding the purse strings too tightly during initial implementation is penny-wise and pound-foolish – meaning you are more likely to follow a path that you could/should have avoided with a bit of up-front investment.
- Third-party professional services
When we first implemented Cascade CMS, over 10 years ago, we hired mStoner to handle both the initial design and the CMS implementation. We also used mStoner to assist our in-house web and design team with some design and implementation work over the first year or two.
Since then, all design and implementation has been handled in-house.
The first phase included a new design within the new system, Cascade CMS – into which we migrated the university's top-level content, plus the news, admission and financial aid sites, as well as two academic departments.
The second phase included the migration of all remaining administrative offices and A&S departments.
We launched an additional phase, respectively, to bring each of our graduate and professional schools into Cascade CMS – including design, implementation and content migration for each.
Change management was a big part of the implementation and was well-handled -
Planning, organization and communication are essential.
We worked one-on-one with each department and office to migrate their sites into Cascade CMS. This allowed us to ensure each site had an optimized structure and updated content. In the process, we facilitated many intra-departmental conversations that were overdue.
- Time and effort. Opting for a high-touch implementation involving one-on-one meetings with each department/office required a higher commitment of resources (time and effort) than an automated transfer of old web site content into the new CMS. But that is the trade-off we chose, and we're happy with the result.
Cascade Server Support
The support staff are all well-versed in Cascade, respond in a timely fashion, and provide excellent service.
Problems get solved
Kept well informed
No escalation required
Immediate help available
Support understands my problem
Support cares about my success
Quick Initial Response
Yes - Yes. Cascade CMS is updated, on average, every month or two. Problematic bugs tend to get resolved in the next release. Critical bugs sometimes warrant an additional update (e.g., version 8.9 was immediately followed by version 8.9.1 to address a critical bug). Less important bugs sometimes take a few cycles to get resolved.
There have been a number of times when we've requested support that was beyond the scope of the traditional annual support contract.
For example, there have been specific cases where we wanted to query and/or modify some data directly in the database that couldn't be done via the Cascade CMS user interface. The Hannon Hill support team was able to help us craft the necessary SQL statements based on their extensive knowledge of the database table structure. (We obviously tested the queries in Dev before running them on Prod – but they've always worked as expected.)
Using Cascade Server
Cascade CMS is completely usable on mobile devices, we can train our content editors in a single 2-hour session, and we support 1,000 users with a very small team.
There is a level of complexity for the system administrators, site managers and web programmers who implement templates and content types. But the complexity is neither arbitrary nor inconsistent – and once learned provides a powerful environment within which we can develop robust sites that are beautiful and powerful, yet easy for our content editors to manage.
Like to use
Easy to use
Quick to learn
Feel confident using