As long as businesses churn content through the web, the debate between open source and commercial software will persist.

Who wins? Maybe neither.

Price. Support. Community. Vendor lock-in. Vendor lock-out. The debate won't end soon.

Today, we're keeping the conversation going.

The Question

Why would you buy a proprietary CMS?

The Answers

Ric van Westhreenen, VP, TYPO3 Association

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Van Westhreenen is the vice president of the TYPO3 Association, a non-profit organization that represents the interests of organizations using TYPO3 softwares like TYPO3, Neos and Flow. He has written numerous articles about online marketing, content management and open source. He founded his first company in 1997 and a few others before switching to Dutch open source internet company YOUWE. Tweet to Ric van Westhreenen.

There is no reason to buy a license for the use of a proprietary CMS anymore. What are the extra guarantees you get as a user? A better solution, more reliability, more options? None of these things are better with a proprietary CMS than any open source CMS.

Any CMS can provide the basic things needed to publish and manage content. That is the core of a CMS.

If you really look at the advantages of an open source CMS, it is the fact that organizations behind such softwares communicate openly and transparently about their products. Security issues are published in the open (and fixed), the roadmap is clear and well known, and with many open source CMS, users can vote for the way the software is being developed. As an extra, you can call one of the main developers of the CMS and ask for help.

On the contrary, a proprietary CMS is the result of a few clever minds creating a product. No one knows if it is secure or what the next step will be: there is no publicly available roadmap.

Communication about that is not transparent due to shareholders influence. With a proprietary CMS there is only one direction, and that is the direction the company behind the software decides to take. As a client who has a license, you are not able to influence the company. Moreover, a user cannot contact one of the main developers to ask for assistance or for help with a complex project.

We like to know what is in our food, in our drinks or in our environment. We are aware of all risks regarding privacy and such.

But as buyers of closed source CMS, we just assume it is safe. We assume there will be an upgrade, and we assume that the vendor has the best solution money can get.

In the end, you just have a license-based solution, and you cannot switch vendors because you’re locked in with all your content and all internal systems connected.

Ravi Mohan, Director of Engineering, Symantec

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Mohan is a technology executive with a combination of engineering and business acumen. He also has experience in large scale consumer facing products in e-commerce, big data, web and mobile. At Symantec, he leads the digital experience and e-commerce platform products. Before Symantec he worked at both startups and large companies such as Intuit. Tweet to Ravi Mohan.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach in CMS selection. The choice you make depends on the business need, the project timelines, the resources and the skills you have within the organization.

When we started our journey to evaluate a new CMS platform, we went on a broad search that evaluated open source and market-leading vendor solutions.

After extensive evaluation we settled on Adobe’s Experience Manager (AEM) as it best met our needs.

To provide some context on the decision making, we are a global e-commerce site with 40-plus languages and a presence in 60-plus countries, generating $1.8 billion in revenue annually.

We had a burning need to retool and launch the new CMS platform in a fairly short time window given the pains we were facing with our existing solution. Our digital experience and e-commerce teams wanted to quickly move to a platform that provided them with more agility and flexibility while still leveraging existing integrations such as Adobe Target.

The criteria for us were:

  • Time to launch the new platform
  • Ability to quickly go to a self-service model for marketing and e-commerce campaigns
  • Ability to go to a content-as-a-service model, exposing content via REST APIs
  • Robust support for localization of content
  • Proven ability to scale globally
  • Support for mobile
  • Digital asset management capabilities for a globally distributed UX/Design team to manage and leverage assets
  • Available skills within the organization that can be applied to launch the new platform quickly given our business timelines

Our goal was to go live within six months of the decision date and subsequently roll out in iterations across the globe. Given all the above needs we found that a solution like AEM would best fit our needs.

John Drotar, Analyst, Nucleus Research

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Drotar is an analyst on the Nucleus Research team covering vendors in analytics, ECM and gamification. His research activities include working with end-users to calculate project RO and evaluating enterprise application markets and determining product positions based on usability and functionality. Before joining Nucleus, he worked in operations at American Tower Corp. and Ubisoft in Paris, where he performed HCM data analysis.Tweet to John Drotar.

The content management market is being quickly commoditized as a result of increased competition and viable options for substitution.The glut of options for storing and sharing content is pushing prices down and forcing customers to reflect on what they value and how much they value it.

There are three reasons a customer should consider proprietary content management:

Learning Opportunities

  • Vendor support.Proprietary solutions offer easy deployments with strong customer support.Proprietary cloud deployments can be set up in minutes.Should anything go wrong, during or after the deployment, the customer has access to support, reducing their individual burden.
  • Investment economies. Proprietary solutions give customers access to best-in-class functionality by leveraging pooled customer resources to speed development and build out targeted functionality.
  • Reliable security.Vendors have continually seek out threats, develop patches and update the code automatically.This approach is proactive and relatively hassle-free for the customer.

The reasons a customer may choose open source content management are:

  • Lower initial costs. Open-source solutions have lower costs associated with them, allowing customers to realize greater returns with minimal investment.
  • Access to development resources. A company that has access to resources that are able to take advantage of the flexibility and communal best-practices can derive value for the organization without needing to contract a third-party for feature development.
  • When simple is good enough.A customer who has a very basic need that can be met with a simple, minimally modified solution can take advantage of the lower cost of open source.
  • Each solution has its benefits. When making their decisions, customers will need to assess their willingness to support the system and the premium which they may be willing to pay to outsource maintenance, feature development and security.

Rick Cabral, Director, .NET Development

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Cabral manages Genuine’s team of .NET developers and oversees all .NET projects that run through the agency. He scopes, architects, builds and oversees .NET-based projects including CMS, application and database development. He has managed dozens of complex projects for a wide variety of Genuine’s clients, including Shire Pharmaceuticals, MassMutual Insurance and Northeastern University. Tweet to Rick Cabral.

Any time you have an agency that supports implementation teams for both Drupal (open source) and Sitecore (commercial, proprietary), the question will be asked: “Why should I pay for a CMS?”

The answer is usually: “it depends.”

These are the factors I like to present when discussing commercial CMS/WCM systems:

To be successful, commercial Content Management Systems have to know their customer. Features of proprietary WCM systems tend to be driven by marketers’ needs, while open-source systems tend to be driven by developers’ needs.

A CMS should improve the capabilities of your company’s marketing department. Because proprietary WCM is centrally architected, features tend to be tightly integrated, giving marketers and content maintainers a higher quality user experience and better situational awareness of the state of their web properties.

Know where the buck stops.

With a commercial product the support, security and upgrade strategy resolves to a single source: the software vendor. This can translate to fewer on-staff or contracted resources to maintain the WCM installation.

Awell-designed commercial CMS installation (like Sitecore) allows for the quick creation of new sites, content, campaigns, forms, tests and metrics, which can then be shared across brands and cultures -- all within the same tool.

This is typically very difficult to achieve with open-source CMS platforms, which lack a holistic, marketer-oriented approach to website management. For brands with very active digital strategies, selecting a proprietary CMS will enable marketers to make significant changes to their web properties without involving CMS developers.

The obvious downside to purchasing a proprietary CMS is the price. Vendors continuously add features to remain competitive in the marketplace, driving the initial purchase price up year over year. Commercial CMS platforms are also more likely to run on commercial operating systems, requiring additional hosting fees that often surpass equivalent open-source operating system hosting fees.

Purchasing a WCM system tends to be more complex than it needs to be. The WCM sale process can rival the car buying process in terms of complexity and ability to negotiate. Typically commercial software at this scale has an initial purchase followed by a recurring fee for maintenance/upgrades/support.

When comparing commercial CMS with open source, it’s important to note that the cost of owning the software is balanced by the stability and security offered by these mature, curated platforms.

I would suggest that proprietary WCM tools are most appropriate to organizations where marketing is thoroughly integrated into the customer relationship cycle. The superior user experience and tightly integrated features will recoup licensing fees quickly. Marketers will be focused on making sales rather than maintaining their tools.

Commercial WCM will offer new opportunities for online marketing and the ability to more accurately account for the impact of marketing strategies on company revenue.

Title image by Asa Aarons Smith/all rights reserved.