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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Choosing the Best CMS: Open Source vs. COTS

A content management system (CMS) is often the backbone of an organization’s website. A CMS is the system that enables non-technical content editors (think Subject Matter Experts or SMEs) to update a site frequently to with engaging content. Choosing the right CMS is an important decision, and one of the ways that I help my clients plan their website project.

Below are some of the key factors to consider when evaluating a CMS.

Ease of Use

This is perhaps the most important factor when evaluating a CMS. The website is a communication tool for your organization, and by allowing your subject matter experts to update the site, the new content can be relevant and helpful to visitors. The CMS needs to be easy for the subject matter experts to use. Easy editing leads to broader adoption, more frequent updates and better content.   

Technology Platform


This is an important factor if your organization has the staff to maintain and implement the CMS. If your current staff already has an expertise with a specific programming language, for example PHP, ColdFusion or.NET, then it may make sense to choose a platform based on the familiar programming language. This way they can use their existing knowledge and expertise, while minimizing the need (and cost) for training or external support.


This factor is far less important if you are hiring a firm to do the maintenance and development for you. If that is the case, then it is good to make sure that the firm you are hiring has plenty of experience supporting the chosen technology platform.


Another reason that it is important to consider the CMS technology platform is to be able to easily integrate with legacy applications. It can be costly and time consuming to rewrite application code to make it compatible with a new technology, so by choosing a CMS that uses the same programming language, integrating with these applications may be easier. Note that many organizations we support today have mixed technology environments, however, if you have the ability to standardize on one language, you may want to consider that approach.


Support


CMS platform support is an often overlooked but extremely important factor when deciding on a CMS. Your developers will inevitably run into issues, or have general questions about the product, so it is good to be able to reach out to a support team to quickly get reliable advice. 

Product Support
Licensed CMS solutions, such as Ektron and CommonSpot, have dedicated support teams and fully staffed product development teams. Some organizations want the comfort of having “a throat to choke” if they need product support. Open source solutions such as Drupal don’t have product development teams, per se.  Instead, open source solutions rely on the community for product development and support.

Implementation Support
Regardless of which platform you choose, your first line of support should come from the firm you hire to implement the CMS. Not all web design and development firms have in-house support teams so you’ll want to find out how this will be handled by your chosen web development partner. At Fig Leaf, implementation support is provided by the designers and programmers who create the site and this is true through launch and into post-launch maintenance (the warranty period). At the conclusion of the warranty period, support is transitioned to a dedicated US-based support team that has direct access to the original development team. Implementation support is specific to your use of the CMS, while product support refers to the support for the CMS code base. Your implementation partner should be your first line of support for all issues. They should resolve implementation related issues and refer product support issues to the vendor (and manage any tickets with the product vendor through their resolution).

Total Cost of Ownership

License cost is not the only factor in choosing a CMS. Fig Leaf sells and supports “Commercial Off the Shelf” (COTS) systems, such as Ektron and CommonSpot, and Open Source systems, such as Drupal. COTS CMS license prices can range from 20-100k for a small to medium sized business or 100-200K+ plus for the enterprise. Drupal does not have a license cost.  One might automatically think that Drupal is they way to go since it is free but that may not be the case. For instance, as mentioned earlier, if your internal team members are already trained in Microsoft ASP or .NET, or if your internal / legacy applications are all built in that same language. In the case where your organization is otherwise standardized on the Microsoft platform, it may make sense to lean toward a .NET based system such as Ektron.


Other cost factors to consider are the number of contributors you plan to have. Licensed software solutions usually charge more (and maybe annually) for additional contributors.  Additional content contributors using the Drupal CMS are free -- unlimited contributors at no cost.  Consider also your technology architecture. Best practices dictate that organizations utilize a development, test/staging, and production environment, also known as a three tier architecture. CMS license costs for multiple environments can add up depending on the platform.

CMS Roadmap

The technology world is always changing, and it is important to prepare your organization to evolve with these changes. The CMS that you choose should be a system that will last for three to five years, at least. At Fig Leaf, we have customers who have been utilizing the same CMS platform for more than ten years. Your chosen CMS is an investment that should pay you dividends in the form of increased user satisfaction, broad adoption, and reduced reliance on technical staff time. To achieve these results, it is important to understand your chosen CMS platform’s roadmap to ensure it syncs with your strategic business goals.


Things to consider include:
  • How often the vendor releases innovative and new updates to the product.
  • How platform development is currently funded and how it will be funded over the next few years.
  • Does the CMS vendor have strong technology leadership with a mindset for staying current with market trends?

Choosing the Best CMS

This quick overview is meant to provide some high level considerations for choosing the best CMS for your organization. Making that selection takes time and careful consideration. If you are in the market for a new CMS solution or looking to plan your roadmap for 2014 or 2015 and beyond, Fig Leaf can be your partner providing help choosing the right CMS for your organization. Get started finding the Best CMS for you with our free CMS Assessment. We’ll spend the time to dive deep to understand your needs and make thoughtful recommendations based on your specific goals.  

Here are a few extra tips to help you on your way to finding a new CMS:  

Get a Demo

At Fig Leaf, we regularly demo Drupal, Ektron and CommonSpot. Set an agenda and communicate with the person providing the demo to let them know what features are most important to your organization. Most content management systems today have robust feature sets. Focusing in on the items that are most important for your organization will ensure that the time you spend on the demo is well spent.

Request a Trial

After the demo(s), you’ll be better prepared to make a decision on which CMS will work best for your organization. To give the CMS a test drive and experience the features first hand, request a trial account -- before you take this step, however, you should decide specifically what you hope to gain from the trial. Set a time frame for your trial and assign people to do their assessment based on clear goals.  





Written by: Arya Heidari (@aryaheidari1)

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