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Content Management Systems (CMS) have become one of the most popular internet-based technologies.  They are a collaborative method of composing, editing, publishing, sharing and storing documentation. Documentation can be anything from word publishing and data files to web pages and multimedia presentations.  Entire applications can be stored on, and executed from, a CMS.


A CMS comes in four types: Enterprise, Web, Web Group and Component. An Enterprise Content Management System (ECM) contains all the documents related to a business’ operation and organization. The main purpose of an ECM is to enable the monitoring of a project lifecycle from its conception to its completion. Team members can track the project progression from one central location, retaining each piece of data in a password-protected environment. To illustrate, an architectural company gets a project to design a new hospital. When the prototype is nearing completion, the architects can log into the ECM and locate the original floor plan instantly to see if it coincides with the model.

A Web Content Management System (WCM) allows authorized users to manage web pages. The most important feature of a WCM is that it enables anyone to create and publish web content regardless of HTML or other programming knowledge. That’s why Web Content Management Systems are ideal for small businesses who cannot afford professional web design services.  Besides creating easily editable content, a WCM can include such features as:

  • Automated templates where users can choose from a wide array of layouts and designs
  • Access control where authorization to a website or blog can be set to password protected or restricted to certain areas of the site
  • Scalable expansion when the same content (i.e. logo) can be produced across many domains
  • Pre-installed plug-ins that may include blog generators, shopping carts, newsletters, credit card processing and chat rooms
  • Web standards updates, where for instance the CMS automatically validates a site based on a new HTML version
  • Content syndication that generates lists or news feeds

Web Group Content Management (GMS) is often used to develop intranets—internal or private networks within an organization. A GMS allows authorized members or employees to share schedules, collaborate on projects, view and edit reports and retrieve company data.  Besides having all the functions of a WCM, a GMS also has a versioning feature that allows authorized users to edit and serialize one piece of content.  Through versioning, users can see the name of the last person who edited the document and the changes made. They can then add to the latest version, which prevents overwritten information.

The Component Content Management System (CCMS) organizes data by component instead of document. In other words, a CCMS can have a sub-directory of videos, images, tables, definitions, etc. The components can be used an unlimited number of times to assemble documents. To illustrate, a large publishing firm creates a wide variety of magazines and books. The firm’s logo has to be in different colors and dimensions to conform to each type of publication. Rather than creating a different logo every time, the CCMS already has a variety of logos and automatically places them in the various printed materials.

General Benefits

As indicated above, each type of CMS has its own advantages, yet all share some major key benefits. One benefit of a CMS is the ease of reviewing and updating content by multiple authorized users. Team members can view a document, comment and make changes as needed. Consequently, inboxes do not get cluttered with different versions of the same document.  Confusion over determining the latest version is also eliminated.

A CMS also saves time and money. For instance, Human Resource departments do not need to produce similar documents or components repetitively.  A part of a document can be incorporated into other documents by simply pressing a button.  A CMS can also reduce costs and time in the retrieval process.  A scan of an invoice for instance can be found, printed and sent to a consumer within a few minutes. Prior to Content Management Systems a customer representative would have to search for the physical invoice in a file cabinet or storage room, inevitably wasting valuable time and energy.

One more advantage of implementing a CMS is that it is selective. It has options to only allow users or types of users to have access to specific areas of a website or portal.  This selectivity benefit facilitates a more secure data environment. For instance, all employees who login to their company’s intranet would not have access to enter the Executive area. Another example would be a company owner who has access to the account section of a WCM, while the web designer has access to the web development section.

Proprietary or Open Source

A CMS can be a proprietary or open source application.  Both applications have positive and negative aspects.

A proprietary or commercial CMS is ready to go when it is purchased. All the administrator needs to do is install it and set up users, permissions, folders, and files. If the CMS encounters a problem, technical support is available. Investing in a proprietary CMS also means a security advantage.  Since the coding is not public domain, hackers cannot access a company’s CMS to steal important data.

On the down side, a commercial CMS requires a licensing fee. For example CMS Made Simple charges $299 for a single licensing fee while NC Grow charges up to $45,000 for one, which includes development and integration. In addition to the cost, a proprietary CMS does not allow customization of its user interfaces.  Consequently, if a company wants to make its current CMS more accessible, it has to purchase another CMS that has accessibility features.

In fact, one advantage of having an open source CMS is that it can be customized to include accessibility features. Developers can modify the user interfaces of the CMS through XHTML and CSS. For instance, the navigation elements in Word Press open source CMS can be put in a more accessible order, and heading tags can be applied to headings. Another benefit of choosing an open source CMS is that it is free to use. However being free means it does not come with technical support if a problem arises, but most open source Content Management Systems have their own support forums.  Moreover, since an open source CMS will usually have a large online community, users can get updated versions, new modules, and bug patches at no cost.

As with a proprietary CMS, non-proprietary ones also have drawbacks. Besides lack of professional technical support, an open source CMS can lack security. Since the code can be viewed by anyone, anyone can hack a company’s web portal or intranet, potentially causing loss of privacy and money.  Furthermore, although a non-proprietary CMS is free, hiring a developer to customize it can be costly.


Whether an SSB BART Group client invests in a proprietary CMS or open source CMS, they must consider the following functions regarding accessibility:

  • Uploading content
  • Creating and editing content through a WYSIWYG editor
  • Inserting new pages, which involves adding sections and categories
  • Using administration functions, such as changing a password or assigning user permissions

Like any webpage or software application, all interfaces used to execute the above functions must be keyboard accessible for persons who cannot maneuver a mouse.  Each button, link or form field must be able to be reached by tabbing and pressing Enter to activate it (unless it is a form field).  Radio buttons and options of combo boxes should be able to be navigated using arrow keys.  If an interface cannot be tabbed to, as is usually the case with WYSIWYG editor buttons, a keyboard shortcut should be assigned to it.

Whether commercial or custom, a CMS also has to be accessible to screen reader users.  Images and graphic interfaces should have text equivalents (i.e. a descriptive Alt attribute of “Next Page” for a graphic arrow button) so screen readers can identify them for their users.  Form fields also have to be labeled so screen reader users can navigate to them and input information easily. If the CMS has data grids or trees, they must be structured properly so screen readers can associate table headers with data cells, or list items with each other.

Another accessibility point that companies need to consider when choosing a CMS is color contrast and scalable content. Persons who can see the screen but have impaired vision may need to enlarge the content or make the contrast stronger (i.e. yellow font on a black background). Accordingly, content must be in measurement units that can be resized (i.e. em units) by such tools as Internet Explorer’s Zoom option. If content is styled with Cascading Style Sheets, the style sheets can be disabled to allow text to be resized.


A CMS can help a company excel in its operations and productivity if it chooses the right one. The choice should be based on what the organization is trying to accomplish: a collaborative workflow for projects or a system to update websites regularly by any staff member. Cost should also be a consideration—a company needs to determine if it can afford a commercial CMS or if an open source CMS would better suit its budget.   Information security may also be a major factor in the investment decision.

Finally, although all companies should choose or develop an accessible CMS, some opt not to because none of their current employees have a disability. They may not have considered the possibility of a current employee becoming disabled, or hiring someone with a disability in the future. These companies may not realize an accessible CMS, regardless of function or type, benefits everyone, not just those with disabilities.