At DrupalCon 2011, Bryan House, Acquia's (news, site) Vice President of Marketing, gave a talk on competing against large proprietary vendors for contracts with large enterprise companies. While he of course focuses on Drupal (news, site), much of what he says applies to other open source projects that are mature enough to make the jump to these clients.

Defining Large Enterprise

House focused on what he calls the "Global 10,000," though there are actually about 14,000 businesses worldwide that meet the criteria. These are companies with more than 2,500 employees and greater than US$ 500M in revenue. They don't just have a website. They have external community sites, product sites, the corporate site and marketing microsites. Internally, they have many departmental sites and collaboration intranet(s).

The problem for them is that, typically, these sites were all built using whatever platform and stack some small part of the company chose at the time. This leaves them with a tangled web of properties requiring a widely-ranging set of skill sets to maintain, and even worse, having to get everything to integrate and talk to each other. There's been no over-arching web strategy.

Many of these organizations are looking to standardize on a single platform so they can share resources and focus their people on one set of skills. They want to publish and organize rich content quickly, manage collections of sites easily, and build communities to support ad hoc business activities.

Such large organizations need well-defined processes to function smoothly. They have procurement policies to navigate, and multiple levels of decision-makers. On the technical end there's the CIO and the CTO along with their architects, system administrators and developers. The business decision-makers tend to be the CMOs, department heads and content contributors.

House says that Drupal is an easy sell to IT. They "get it." But marketing doesn't trust IT and content editors are sometimes turned off by Drupal's open source CMS offering which requires building the business case.

The Business Case

To build the business case for large enterprise clients, it's important to get analysts to take Drupal and other open source options seriously. Doing so is difficult, in part because of the decentralized nature of open source. To get into the Gartner (news, site) WCM Magic Quadrant, you have to have US$ 10M in revenue. How do you evaluate free, open source solutions against the commercial ones in this case? Instead, Drupal gets into the "other things to consider" section as a Web CMS. In their Internal Social Software Magic Quadrant, though, Drupal is listed as "visionary."

Drupal doesn't get into the Forrester (news, site) WCM Wave either. The requirements there are US$ 25M in revenue, plus more than 100 customers who have over 1,000 employees. Another barrier is that your solution has to be used in a big way by the organization, not just by one small one-off site, which is how new solutions typically start to take root.

The Real Story Group (news, site) ranks Drupal as "a relatively risky choice," saying that while the project just released a significant, major upgrade, not all modules are upgraded and there's a lack of experienced resources in the field. However, they also say that Drupal is "designed explicitly for community-generated content, combining social interaction and web publishing into one platform."

So while the Real Story Group seems to get it, they still seem reluctant to tell customers that Drupal is mature enough for large-scale enterprise needs. How do you change this? If you're working with clients who fall into the definition of the Global 10,000, get them to talk to the analysts. Hearing from target customers with real implementations is what changes their minds.

In other words, mature open source projects have to learn to toot their own horns a bit better. The rest will take care of itself.