Lancaster Bible College gets cloud Web content management system boost

After technical infrastructure issues continually crashed Lancaster Bible College’s website over the course of a year, the school switched to a cloud Web content management system.

Confronted with technical infrastructure disruptions and content issues crashing its website for nearly a year, Lancaster Bible College switched to a cloud Web content management system this past November and considers its 45-day migration a resounding success.

LBC, located in Lancaster, Pa., considers its content-rich website a valuable marketing tool. Prospective students, alumni, the public, current students, faculty and staff visit the site for a variety of reasons. But despite the IT staff’s best efforts and long hours working on the college’s main communication pipeline, as recently as last summer the Web infrastructure couldn’t handle the demands. It became routine for the site to crash around four times a month, displaying a “404” message an average of six hours at a time.

When Vincent Johnson, who had 20 years of corporate IT experience, joined the private college of 1,100 students in November 2010 as associate vice president of information systems, the college maintained its own Web presence on 15 in-house servers. His staff was regularly solving everything from network breaks to server issues and memory leaks to log file problems. As summer approached, the staff started thinking about a cloud-based Web content management (WCM) system.

On top of the technical WCM issues, the college went through a rebranding process the previous summer and had developed a vast amount of content that was inaccessible.

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“We were losing our credibility,” Johnson said. “We had to make a change -- and quickly.” The architecture of the existing CMS was solid, but the vendor was small and operated fee-based service and that became expensive for LBC, which was trying to compete with colleges and universities 10, 20 and 40 times its size.

Last summer, Johnson and his staff began researching content management systems.

“We looked at Limelight, we looked at CrownPeak, Sitecore, Ingenuity,” Johnson said, explaining the team started with an initial lineup of close to 20 content management systems. During the evaluation process it became clear the team needed to eliminate any CMS that required hosting on campus and so looked to cloud Web content management.

“It really was an infrastructure redesign,” said Cory Meek, the site’s webmaster. “Part of the criteria was a cloud product because of the issues with the servers.”

Johnson and Meek quickly settled on Percussion Software’s CM1 product based on three main criteria: First, the Woburn, Mass.-based company’s customer base, which included a number of universities and colleges, impressed Johnson and Meek. Secondly, CM1 had the features LBC was looking for, including the ability for marketers to implement search engine marketing. And finally, Meek said, “One of the distinctions was that their professional services were part of the company, not contracted out like many of them are.”

Cost was an issue as well, said Johnson, explaining that a fixed bid from Percussion guaranteed there wouldn’t be “any surprises from a budgetary standpoint.” The college spent just 25% of what it did on the legacy system and also saves an estimated 75% on annual support and maintenance. Percussion’s per license fee is typically $20,000 with an annual support and maintenance fee of $5,000.

Percussion brought San Antonio-based Rackspace to the table to host the website on two cloud-based servers and LBC decided to use all the existing content created the previous summer.

After an initial meeting with Percussion and Rackspace engineers, Meek said Percussion designers created about six different templates to match Lancaster Bible College’s existing site page structure to enable the college’s IT staff to copy and paste HTML code into content widgets within CM1.

From the time it signed a contract with Percussion, it took 45 business days to migrate all the content to the product. The new site went live on Nov. 4. “We hit it to the day, and to the dollar,” said Meek. “It was truly seamless and we didn’t even announce to the community that we were changing.”

The new site matched the redesigned and rebranded old site and the IT department handed off control to the marketing department.

There have not been any outages since that time, according to Meek and Johnson. And though they have submitted help desk tickets, when they do, “they are responded to within minutes.” Part of the reason is that now the site has 24-hour support while the college’s IT department only operates during business hours.

The Rackspace dedicated server platform costs LBC about $1,200 per month. That includes managed servers, storage, network, security, monitoring and maintenance.

Johnson said LBC’s return on investment came after about 18 months of being on the subscription-based cloud Web content management system. “And,” he added, speaking of Meek, “I got my senior network engineer back to work on other things.”

Those other things include a subsite set to launch in early February as well as student and employee portals being created in Percussion CM1 to act as the “front door” for the student email system, handbooks, academic departments and campus life matters, and for staff and faculty to get information about human resources, grading and other matters specific to their roles.

“The beauty of this whole experience is that we really view Percussion as a key strategic partner,” Johnson said, “and that’s essential.”

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