I came up with the idea for this week’s blog post from a website visitor who shared an interesting thought with us via email. I’ll keep him anonymous for his sake.
“For my own organization, I’m not sure their maturity is ready for a custom CMS at an enterprise level.”
How lucky I was to have such an interesting topic thrown my way just as I was about to sit down to write my weekly post? This topic is way overdue to be discussed in this forum.
Nearly every person that reaches out to our company faces some sort of uphill climb to convince their organization’s ownership or management that the custom CMS approach is the right one for them. This is okay—any competent manager should need to be convinced of the benefits of any solution being proposed.
However, the theory of a custom in-house CMS system is a bit more complicated to sell to management. Our goal with this post is to help you—technologists, marketers, and other CMS users—explain to your bosses the benefits of the custom approach.
First, Any Objections?
Before digging too deeply into the arguments we find are most helpful in get in-house CMS buy-in, let’s first look at the typical objections we hear.
“Why go custom when so many systems exist off the shelf?”
This is the most common objection to in-house CMS systems that we hear.
It’s true, there are many options available to website owners and operators. But there is also another universal truth: No off-the-shelf CMS platform is tailored specifically to your requirements in the same way as a custom in-house system.
The publicly available platforms are built to the requirements most often needed by the customers or end-users of the system. This means they are built for the 80% use case. Okay, maybe even the 90% use case. This may work out fine if your business has very little that’s unique about how it conducts business online.
But if you are finding that any system you might use will require massive enhancements or development on top of the base installation, you may be a candidate for a system that is made for you specifically from the start.
“Custom solutions will break our budget.”
I’ll speak more to this in a bit, but in reality, in-house custom CMS solutions will cost you less over the span of 3-5 years than an off-the-shelf system. The reason is because all pre-built systems, whether licensed or open-source, will require budget allowances for updates, upgrades, and other modifications as those core systems are updated.
It isn’t easy, but you can predict future costs by looking at the past upgrade cycles of various CMS platforms. Open-source platforms have massive upgrades every few years and countless smaller updates throughout the year. Enterprise systems can be even worse, requiring you to stay updated to receive support. Not to mention ongoing license fees and the like, or the occasional emergency updates that must be installed to counter a potential vulnerability being found (fun fact: WordPress alone has over 9,000 known vulnerabilities).
These ongoing expenses add up over time to eventually surpass the up-front costs of building a custom system. And lest we forget, our goal is not to have a system that lasts for 3 years or even 5. We aim for 7 to 10 years of longevity for your CMS platform from the day of installation. That will add up over time to significant savings.
“What if the developer goes out of business?”
So many people are concerned about this. The truth is, if the technology that powers the platform is something common, it shouldn’t be a major concern what happens to the developer after launch. The key is to avoid trendy technologies, which oftentimes have less traction in the industry and fewer developers capable of maintaining them.
Remember, you own the software when you go custom. Who works on it in the future is up to you. You are not handcuffed to a vendor for support or maintenance—rather, you can choose the partner or developer that best fits your needs, requirements, and budgetary restrictions.
“Licensed software provides us with better support.”
This one drives us crazy because it simply isn’t true. It’s hard to name a large organization that can provide better support than an agency of experts who are always ready to pick up the phone.
None the less, people don’t get fired for choosing a solution from, say, Adobe. There isn’t much risk in that choice—if the project fails, you can blame the vendor. And who would second-guess a product from a major industry player?
But truthfully, unless you are a major client who drives a large chunk of your vendor’s revenue, you will not only be subject to less-than-competent support, your wishlist of potential software fixes is unlikely to ever be addressed. This is a major concern you should have about any software your organization uses.
When you build something your way, you have the opportunity to revise it your way. When you license a platform, on the other hand, you will most likely be stuck with what was already developed for everyone else. Even worse, you may not necessarily benefit from any “improvements” being made at the request of more your vendor’s important customers.
The Benefits of a Custom In-House CMS
Now that we know the key objections management may bring to the table, we can not only refute them, but also discuss the biggest benefits of in-house CMS solutions.
Earlier, I spoke about how custom CMS solutions can cost less over time just based on how maintenance costs stack up in comparison to off-the-shelf solutions. But that is just one area of savings.
The other area is workflow efficiency. If you are a media company, for example, your CMS having flexible, efficient workflows for content creation and distribution can save your company unnecessary payroll from day one. It can also enable you to publish more often, thus increasing revenues.
It’s essential when comparing CMS solutions to do a cost-benefit analysis that focuses on where the most value can be extracted from custom software. That is, extracted OR generated. This is one key area where custom software can prove much more valuable than off-the-shelf solutions, provided your business model can benefit from it.
Ownership & Capital
Not all companies care about this benefit, though they should. The fact is that custom software, when built correctly, is a valuable asset for any company.
But what makes it valuable?
Think back to our previous benefit. When software is developed around the company’s core competency and allows the team to outperform the competition, the entire enterprise is more valuable. Unique software, workflows, and ways of doing business are the precise differentiating factors that acquirers, investors, and partners are looking for.
It’s an easy case to make to your boss. If you were a publisher that featured your content on both mobile applications and the Web and distributed to some third-party partners, potential acquirers would be interested in a unique publishing platform that could accomplish that task with minimal overhead in terms of employee and labor costs.
Having a solution in place built around your requirements, such as an in-house CMS, would be more advantageous than your closest competitor who is running their publishing workflows using generic tools like Google Docs and Drupal.
Much like the above point, there is value in having your own system just from the attention it generates. Companies that build their own platforms should be proud of the system and be willing to show off how it differentiates them from their competitors in terms of the dedication and willingness to invest heavily in their infrastructure.
If you look at the organizations that use in-house CMS platforms, they almost all talk about their infrastructure publicly to bolster their positioning as authorities in their space. Companies such as Uber, NY Times, Buzzfeed, Washington Post—they all invested heavily in their platforms and are making it public how they work.
Now, we aren’t all going to be investing to the same extent as those organizations. But custom solutions make just as much sense for small to mid-sized businesses. The commitment of those businesses to using the best software is even more impressive, not only to industry colleagues, but to customers as well.
Custom solutions are usually at the forefront of new technologies. For example, if you download our e-book, The CMS of the Future, you can read about the latest technologies available for content management applications.
Almost every off-the-shelf platform available today that is mass-produced is built on the old methodology of content management, which is web-centric. Platforms like Drupal, Joomla, WordPress, Sitecore, Adobe AEM—all of these systems were architected to be publish to the Web, not allow for multi-channel distribution. They are built on the concept of sharing the back-end site logic on the same architecture as the front-end display layer.
Of course, these platforms shouldn’t be vilified for the architecture they are on. When they were first released, it was the technology of the day. But today, that technology is old news.
I often say that CMS systems are like airplanes. To my US-based readers: Ever notice how old the airplanes that our domestic airlines keep in service are? And yet, the latest private jets are cutting-edge. The CMS landscape is exactly the same. The folks willing to invest in their own infrastructure reap the rewards of the latest technologies. Those of us who “fly commercial” are dealing with the old technology and old methods of doing business.
Never overlook how being an early adapter can be beneficial, especially if your core business revenue is generated online. Media companies, publications, sophisticated e-commerce, and SaaS applications are all great candidates for the custom in-house CMS approach.
I can’t possibly write any post about in-house CMS platforms without talking about security. If security is a major component of your business, you must eliminate almost every off-the-shelf platform off your list of potential content management systems.
First, there is the open-source problem. Open-source software is some of the most vulnerable software available as a CMS platform.
Remember, open-source software means that every aspect of the code is available for public review. This is one reason why there are constant security vulnerabilities being discovered and patched within all of those platforms.
Additionally, those platforms also usually have large libraries of extensions or plug-ins. Those libraries may extend the functionality of the platform, but they also install more code into your platform that may not be thoroughly tested for security purposes.
Custom in-house CMS platforms are much easier to secure. They can be better hidden from the public, making detection of how they work much more difficult. They can also be decoupled from the front end, meaning the technology that powers the administrative panel can safely live in a separate environment from the user-facing experience.
And finally, there is additional safety in having a platform that runs in relative obscurity, as software taken off the shelf is usually attacked by automated scripts. Such scripts can detect a platform and then attempt to infiltrate. Custom systems are very rarely attacked in such a way.
Proposing a new software solution to your bosses is never easy, especially when it’s something as intricate and, quite frankly, confusing as the concept of a custom in-house CMS.
But the benefits of such a system can be huge and far-reaching for your company. It can offer more security and flexibility than most off-the-shelf systems, as well as a chance to not only recoup your initial development investment, but get more mileage out of it over time.
Armed with this knowledge, it is our hope that you have a better chance to pitch a custom CMS to your bosses successfully—not just for our benefit or even yours, but for the benefit of your entire company. And hey, if you just so happen to look great in the process…well, we can chalk that up to yet another benefit of the solution.