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Why You Should Choose an Enterprise CMS Over Open-Source

Mon, Aug 27th 2012 01:00 pm

There are many excellent articles floating around the web about "how to choose the right CMS for your business," but not nearly enough that discuss the advantages of an Enterprise (or proprietary) content management solution. In fact, it's generally the opposite - the internet seems to be chalk FULL of articles on why you should choose a free open-source CMS over paid. Why? For starters, freelancers need to make a living. We also live in a time where people, business owners included, are often hesitant to purchase something when they can get something "just like it" for free.

The thing is, Enterprise content management systems are not the same as open-source - even if they perform a similar service - they're arguably better. In an attempt to level the playing field, we hope to dispel a few of the greatest misconceptions of the Enterprise vs. Open-Source debate below:

Misconception #1: Open-Source is Free.

False. While choosing an open-source solution may cost less up-front because the platform itself has no physical cost, it may not end up being financially responsible in the long run. Not only will you end up paying a freelancer (or hiring an in-house employee) to design and update your site, but, depending on the functionality you expect from your website, you'll also need to factor in developer and maintenance costs on top of the design. Additionally, version control updates, public knowledge of bugs and security issues all factor into long term costs for open-source solutions that are non-issues with a system that is managed by a company full time. In many cases, the costs are not realized for 6 months or more AFTER the project begins. Many customers come to us with half-complete open source sites that the vendor could not quite finish.

Misconception #2: My Website Isn't Big Enough To Justify Using an Enterprise-level CMS

This concern is a common topic during discussions with our clients, particularly those who are just starting out on the web and might not know exactly what they need in a website.  With budgets that are typically small, the allure of a "FREE" option is compelling, but short-sighted.  These unanswered questions should never cause you to forfeit the long-term costs and potential of your website.  While there is no substitute for good planning, there are a few universal truths about any content management system that you should consider:

  • A well designed CMS should be able to grow when and where you need it to (this is often referred to as "scalability").
  • Open-source options may allow you to add functionality through widgets, but someone still has to understand how to integrate them into your site when the need arises. These "Widgets" and "Add-ons" are being built and supported by anyone who wants to throw some code together over the weekend. This means that "nifty e-commerce" add-on may have been developed by a college student overseas with hours and hours of free time... but once he graduates college and gets a job, no one is ever looking at that package of code again and it becomes old, vulnerable to hacking, or no longer compatible with mandatory upgrades of the core open-source system. Proprietary systems handle this for you, usually included their monthly subscription fee with people maintaining and updating the add-ons and components universally as their sole profession.
  • Both proprietary and open-source CMS's require maintenance. Whether you're paying that upfront or only when the need arises, you're still paying.  Bug fixes, security vulnerabilities, upgrades and server maintenance are just a few responsibilities that are not immediately apparent to many business-owners and certainly not something you want to worry about. Again, with a proprietary solution, these worries are handled for you by the vendor themselves.

Misconception #3: My Freelancer Will Support My Website

There are exceptions to every rule, but we've heard too many horror stories of the unreliable, unreachable or inexperienced freelancer not to mention this one. We've already highlighted some of the snags that you run into when working with an open-source web solution and most small business owners have to rely on SOMEBODY regardless. The issue here is simple: A freelancer will never be able to compare to a team of web professionals.  

For example, let's say that the website you launched last year was recently hacked, and you were (fortunately) able to get in touch with the original developer who built it for you. He takes a look at the problem and realizes right away that you need to upgrade to the most stable version, but he warns that the customization he built for your site will break because it conflicts with this update. If you don't upgrade, your site will remain vulnerable to hackers, and if you do, the money you spent on the custom work and the processes you've developed around it may become essentially useless. Meanwhile, you're left wondering why you weren't made aware of the need to upgrade versions in the first place.

This isn't to say that proprietary software isn't immune to hackers, bugs, or other issues like the one mentioned above, but it's how these problems are avoided or handled makes all the difference.  A company who has hand-crafted their software will have the knowledge and foresight to resolve these issues before you or anyone else even know they exist, in essence they are upgrading and repairing things before they ever become a problem.

Misconception #4: A vendor using an open-source solution will give me the same quality at less cost

Another challenge found when working with larger vendors that use open-source solutions to fulfill website needs is that they tend not to be the focus of the whole company. In other words only a handful (or less) people within that organization usually know how those "Free" solutions even work. What happens when one or two key people leave that organization, they may be the only ones who knew about the system you are on. When new people join the company, new tools are selected, ones they are more familiar with. It is not uncommon to see the "preferred" open-source package change several times over the life of an open-source web vendor. We have seen an actual company change open-source packages 4 times in as many years... each time degrading or completely eliminating the ability to service those previous products.

With commercial enterprise solutions, there are usually dozens of people focused on a single long-term solution that lives beyond any one or two resources, which means more stability and less worry of becoming a outdated client... even years after your website launches.

In Conclusion

The bottom-line is, you get what you pay for, whether it's today or tomorrow. While open-source may work for some tech-savvy business owners, we believe that the majority of business people will find greater long-term success and less stress in a proprietary solution managed by a skilled and professional team. Open-source solutions are not bad products in themselves, but counting on someone to be there to support them is not something most business owners want to worry about on a daily basis. Take the technical issues off your table, an enterprise team just makes sure everything works from day one to years into the future. A website is not a "one-time buy and be done" solution, the internet evolves daily... make sure you don't end up paying more in hidden costs along the way.