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Web Content Management Systems

By Lasa Information Systems Team

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Options for a CMS

Once you've decided your organisation needs a CMS, made a business case for getting one, and drawn up your requirements what are your options?

Build it yourself

Unless you have the relevant technical skills in house this is not really an option. Most small to medium sized voluntary organisations are unlikely to have staff with these skills. Even if you do, you will need to ensure the system can be supported if the person who designed it leaves.

Commission a developer to build one for you

Many web development companies have already built content management systems for other customers that could be adapted to suit your organisation's specific needs. Alternatively they may be able to build you a system from scratch. The advantage of this is that the company should be able to provide ongoing support for the system and you should get something that closely matches your needs. You could still run into problems if the company goes bust however. Selecting the company carefully including checking out its financial stability, should help reduce the risk of this happening. Depending on your requirements, you'll need to budget for a few hundred pounds upwards for a fairly simple text based system plus the cost of the website design. For a reasonably complex site with features such as discussion forums, images, user polls you're probably looking at upwards of £3000 - £6000 plus website design costs.

Buy an off the shelf product

There are many products on the market. At the budget end, prices start from free upwards, with some products available in the £50 - £250 range. Cheaper products will have more limitations in terms of the flexibility and range of page templates available, and functionality.

Examples include products like City Desk Starter Edition from Fogcreek Software and Macromedia Contribute.

You may also need to budget for someone with appropriate technical skills to install and set up the software for you. Higher end products that might be used on very large, or complex sites can go up from £100 000 to several hundred thousands of pounds or even millions. For this you can expect a system that is highly customised, and which will undoubtedly take several weeks or months to implement. Off the shelf products often use proprietary software (although some are based on open standards such as XML) so you may be locked into using a particular supplier, or tied into an expensive support package and / or licensing fee. The company may also discontinue a particular product in the future and you may be forced to consider upgrading to continue getting support. On the plus side, the product is likely to be tried and tested, supported (as long as it hasn't been discontinued), and unless you're going for a high end product, it should be relatively straightforward and quick to get your site up and running.

Open Source solutions

Open source solutions can be just as effective as very expensive products and can be free or very low cost to obtain. Another advantage of open source solutions is that there will generally be a community of users developing and improving the product and willing to share their knowledge for free. You will need to have access to someone with appropriate technical skills to install, set up, and modify the software for your needs (e.g. an external web developer or someone in house) so this option is not without cost even if the software itself is free. Many of the products available are based on PHP or PERL (scripting languages) and MySQL (a database server).

PHP-Nuke is a popular product. Other examples include phpWebSite, Pagetool, Metadot, XML Nuke.

A detailed review of the features of selected open source systems can be found at NGO Geeks.


  • A CMS will not be appropriate for every site. A CMS can have the advantage of allowing non-technical users to maintain a website very easily and provide powerful tools for managing content and the web publishing process. Although the initial outlay may be higher than for building your website with flat HTML pages, in the long run a CMS could prove more cost effective.
  • If you are getting a new website built or redeveloping an existing one, and your site needs updating regularly by users without the relevant technical skills, is large or complex, then a CMS is worth considering.
  • On the other hand, if your site is a simple brochure site that needs updating infrequently, or you have appropriate technical skills in house then a CMS may be over the top for your needs.

Further Information

To help you decide whether your organisation needs a CMS, see the knowledgebase article Knowing When You Need a Content Management System (CMS).

For a more detailed look at Content Management Systems you may find the following resources helpful:

For information about off-the-shelf products, try these sites:

Open source content management systems:

Don't forget you can always ask other organisations with websites similar to yours what they use…

About the author

Lasa Information Systems Team
Lasa's Information Systems Team provides a range of services to third sector organisations including ICT Health Checks and consulting on the best application of technology in your organisation. Lasa IST maintains the knowledgebase. Follow us on Twitter @LasaICT


CMS, Database, HTML, Mobile, MySQL, PHP, Proprietary software, Software, Web Page, Website, WWW, XML

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Published: 27th December 2002 Reviewed: 24th April 2006

Copyright © 2002 Lasa Information Systems Team

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