Posted: Thursday 13th December 2012
As a supplier of proprietary software we’re sometimes asked about how we view Open Source CMS offerings - “Why would someone pay for something which they can get for free?”
I’ll highlight some misgivings I have about the way the term is used and how it can carry undue weight with some decision makers.
Here’s a summary of my points:
Using Open Source doesn’t automatically lead to major cost savings and cost is just one factor in deciding which platform to adopt.
By choosing open source you are introducing avoidable risk to your online strategy. In an industry where the web largely remains an unknown entity, why use a platform which comes with inherent uncertainty? By adopting a solution wholly owned and developed by one vendor you have two key advantages; a mutually beneficial interest in marrying the product roadmap with your strategy and (if something messy hits a nearby fan) a single-throat-to-choke.
Community Open Source and the Paradox of Choice
While the question of the stability of the roadmap for community Open Source projects has been tackled in some respects, it still remains a pertinent question. How can you ensure that an Open Source product will continue to be aligned with your own business needs? To address this issue many Open Source products receive heavy input or guidance from a commercial vendor. While this can bring better stewardship of the roadmap, it also adds a strange layer of complexity to the relationship between your organisation and the software.
The Paradox of Choice
When looking at the sheer volume of modules offered alongside projects such as Drupal, it can be a lengthy process to make a considered selection. As I write there are over 18,000 available to download - the research and testing required to pick and run with the optimal module must be cumbersome.
I’m not going to pretend that it is only a bad thing for Drupal to have so many modules, I wouldn’t be telling the truth. I would point out however that with more choice comes more questions, more decisions, and with it, the potential for more rework.
Contensis provides a module framework; all modules are developed in a specific manner following precise processes and checks. We allow for agencies to develop modules but they need to be certified before they are available for general release. This ensures that modules will work today, tomorrow and forever. All the modules are flexible and hence can work in different ways on different sites, therefore they tend to fit with every implementation.
Be a Part of Something Free?
There’s no doubt that developers, like many of us, want to be a part of something and to leave their mark on the tech world. Being involved with an Open Source project is an excellent way to satisfy this craving and have a greater impact - for this reason web teams can believe passionately in an Open Source product as it taps into something deeper (and more personal) than simply what is the best fit for their current employer. Keep an eye out for this motivation when a web team pushes for a certain solution; make sure their focus is being a part of your web initiative and not something else.
A second but interesting concept is the idea which surrounds the word “free”. Adriaan Bloem put it best when he said “think of free as in free speech, not as in free beer”. On the face of it by not paying for a licence you can easily demonstrate cost savings while holding a sense of being progressive in purchasing decisions. While opting for Open Source is progressive in one sense, it is unlikely to represent a noticeable cost saving for a web project of any significant size.
There is a high level of complexity related to implementing any major web project. Complexity and cost are intrinsically linked and to mitigate against this (and the risk associated with a community-sourced CMS), organisations look to purchase support contracts with experts in that product. The question isn’t whether this a successful arrangement, it’s whether it is always cheaper? To sell support for a product you cannot control is inevitably going to come at a premium. Don’t follow conventional wisdom that Open Source automatically delivers a cost-saving.
Commercial Open Source
There are many models of licences on the market some of which offer the product license for free and as Open Source while ensuring revenue via ongoing professional services. In our view this approach puts an odd slant on the relationship. Professional services are no longer a useful (optional) resource for the client, they instead find themselves billed at every turn and at every opportunity.
The perceived value with this arrangement is that developers get access to the nitty-gritty of the CMS code putting untold opportunities at their fingertips. The reality is that many software products offer this capability without the need for developers to get eyebrow deep in comprehending someone else’s code. While Contensis offers this level of access through its core API we’ve found that in reality most integrations (or client-led developments) require a very different flavour of API which is why we have built a dedicated front-end web API. Put simply this gives developers access to functionality focussed towards their goals and deliberately leaves out a lot of the irrelevant functions associated with the underbelly of a CMS.
Relationships and Roadmaps
We own our product; we tailor and guide its roadmap in partnership with our clients who have invested in it. You are more than welcome to visit us and meet the people who wrote the first lines of code in Contensis and who continue to guide and shape the product today. We go out to our clients and users to understand their priorities and ambitions, ensuring that our roadmap gels perfectly with what needs to happen for our clients.
With Contensis you have access to expert Professional Services to both extend the product and to deliver your web project in precise accordance with best practices. That said, you don’t have to rely on us. Although a proprietary product, Contensis is built on the Microsoft .Net platform. This is the leading commercial web platform in the world and is backed by Microsoft and millions of developers. We can provide you details of approved Agencies who would be happy to support you if required.
"Whether it’s your team, a web agency or our Professional Services team you know that the buck stops with us"
In the end it isn’t a question of free Open Source versus commercial vendors but a question of licence models and at what stage you pay. We're not ashamed to charge for the product we've crafted, and we use this money to fund the development of fantastic new features, guaranteeing focussed innovation and a directed roadmap.
Contensis completely lacks competition for our attention - it’s all we do.