#GilbaneBoston: The Rise of Open Source in Content Management

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Irina Guseva avatar

#GilbaneBoston: The Rise of Open Source
One of the hot topics at the Gilbane Boston conference this year is open source. The event program features several OSS-focused sessions, there were open source breakfasts, socials and pow-wows -- all of that signaling wider adoption and growing popularity of the open source CMS industry.

In one of the sessions, the industry experts talked about how open source affects CMS procurement and technology buyers/sellers, adoption drivers are and looked into what makes OS different.

Open Source is Everywhere

Seth Gottleib of Content Here and Kathleen Reidy of 451 Group, led a discussion about open source’s effect on the content management industry, the changing business models, and buyer and seller behavior. It is hard not to pay attention to open source these days. It is everywhere. It is a disruptive force in the content management industry.

If not so long ago open source wasn’t taken very seriously by many, today the adoption is increasing dramatically. Why? Largely, it’s a cost reduction story. Increased flexibility and reduced vendor lock-in come next as other top adoption drivers.

We see broader acceptance of open source even just looking at Gilbane: there were virtually no OSS vendors here 4 years ago. This year, there are 6 of them. Today, there are more commercial OS options in both WCM and ECM markets.

Open Source and Business Models

Several things need to be taken into consideration when evaluating open source:

  • Development model: project vs. vendor, vendor vs. community
  • Software license choice: understand the terms and restrictions of the license, as there’s a difference between the Apache license and GPL, for example.
  • CMS vendor’s business model: how it works and how it affects the buying process.

A report we reviewed in the past was cited in regards to open source not being a business model, but rather a business tactic. Very often, there’s a mix of approaches to the business model with the most common one being subscription model (34%), followed by commercial licensing (24%).

The overall economy is also helping the open source adoption, be it in the low-end tiers (DotNetNuke, Joomla, Drupal), or in the high-end part (Jahia, Liferay, Alfresco).

Free Puppy and a Bag of Chips

Seth Gottlieb used a great “free puppy analogy” describing the fact that open source is not free. As the free puppy, it may not cost much (nothing) to buy, but it costs lot of money to take care of. Reality shows that you spend a lot of money to be successful in content management, software is only one part of it. Buyers shouldn’t be looking at open source only because it’s free or cheap. It’s not Costco, where you buy a big bag of potato chips just because it’s cheap, but may not necessarily be the right fit for you.

Better open standards support that we frequently see in open source doesn’t automatically guarantee anything. Even if there’s a standard, you still need to have a reference implementation to show how it works in real life. Apache Jackrabbit is a great example of that. Some standards require wider adoption, which doesn’t happen if there’s no value.

Another trend that was identified is an increased competition in enterprise software with start-ups getting more and more attention. In the past, it used to be that it was almost impossible for OSS CMS vendors to get noticed by enterprise-level companies (had to be the safe choice).

Learning Opportunities

Consumerization of enterprise technology affects the market as well. Editors want to work with easy-to-use tools and are challenging the complexity often seen in content management products.

Changing Buying and Selling Behavior

With open source’s rise in the content management industry, we see a change in buying behavior. When looking for a system, think about requirements over features. Think about how that piece of software can support what you want to do with it. Customers are starting to come up with heterogeneous short lists that have a mix of both commercial and open source vendors. Buyers have gotten past the “don’t show me open source, it’s all crap” phase.

The buyers have also realized they need a more active evaluation process. In open source, often there’s no pre-sales engineer to do the work for you. You need to prototype your scenarios yourself. That can be a positive thing from many angles. For one, you can save money, as you don’t have to pay the vendor to do that for you.

We are also seeing changes in selling behavior with vendors leaving behind hosted trails (Amazon EC2 made this a lot easier.)

Sellers are reconsidering pricing models and asking what’s a reasonable approach to licensing? This just started happening in the last 3 years, and is a healthy way to look at pricing.

What Does it Mean to You?

When you spend money on a CMS product, there’s no “nobody gets fired for buying x” and being questioned on why you spent so much money on the product. You need to understand the requirements better than before. You cannot just sit back and let the sales guy tell you what you need. You need to know your goals and the types of tools you need to work better.

The experts advise us to actively evaluate open source vendors, invest in getting the information. The information is all out there. It is your fault if you don’t use it.