Why switch to a commercial CMS product?

Over the years I have run across an amazing variety of custom and consultingware CMS platforms installed with clients.  One question I get asked almost everytime is should they switch to a commerical CMS product.  Now I know there is an appeal of having something tailor made to your organization, but does that really outweigh the potential issues you might have in the future?  My standard response goes something like this:

Having a custom CMS presents a twofold problem for its owner and end users. It is easy to become embroiled in activities that go beyond just managing the content of the site. In many cases, you end up having to fulfill the role of product manager for a custom product with an install base of one. You also risk being left with limited-to-no support options if the relationship with the system creator sours (or in the case of an internal developer, leaves).  To that end, having a commercially-supported CMS allows the content creators and authors to focus on the site and not the overhead of supporting and maintaining a one-off system. They also benefit by belonging to a larger community of users who receive formal product support with regular product updates.

This is not to say there are some scenarios that would warrent custom work, but if you do decide to continue with or create something custom please think about what you are really taking on, its risks (and benefits) and what it truly costs.

About the Author
George Ross

With more than a dozen years of experience leading enterprise web projects, George has seen the good, bad and ugly when it comes to CMS deployments. George brings an objective eye and a healthy dose of cynicism in evaluating the role of technology in the enterprise.

More articles from George Ross


5 responses… read them below or add one.

  1. Chris Thorpe says:

    Commercial can be risky too – eg Serena Collage going end-of-life. How about the 3rd option – Open Source?

  2. George Ross George Ross says:

    Open Source  can work just as well (if not better) for the right organization.  Like commercial you need to do your homework on how viable the solution is.  I touched on this here: http://www.isitedesign.com/…/open-source-versus-commercial-web-software and here: http://www.cmsmyth.com/…/does-size-matter-with-cms-vendors/

  3. I’ve repeated a paraphrased version of your post to clients (and potential clients) several times in the last few months.

    Thanks for writing the post.

  4. ali says:

    Hi there! i was searching for CMS Architecture and got here.. Where should i go from here.  I want to know how simple php CMS’es are planned? just for information. Any help will be appreciated from you helpfull professionals

  5. Larry Zoumas says:

    In my experience, open source is not a way to save money unless you stick to good programming practices. That means using agile things like version control, DRY ( don’t repeat yourself ), and an outright ban of modifying the ‘core’ of the CMS.

    I have seen a lot of ‘Frankenstein’ CMS projects where the client is trying to save money by taking a open source CMS and modifying it until the core is hacked to shreds and the upgrade path is ruined. This effect can take weeks, months, or years, but it seems to be the general trend.

    Suddenly things start breaking and no one can figure out why. Bugs appear and reappear. Developers stop caring about adding hacks to the core because it’s ‘only one more ugly hack on top of 100 others’.

    Normally at this point any good developers on the team start hating their lives and looking for other work. Management gets confused and angry because they spent so much money on developers and their system is ‘end-of-life’ after 2 years.  

    So if you are involved in an open source CMS migration for the love of God DO NOT HACK THE CORE. You will live to regret it. If you can’t live without the feature then convince (or simply pay) the developers of the CMS in question to add it to the core.

    As for building a custom CMS…. I think that’s a good idea if:

    - you have at least one full time qualified developer responsible for the project

    - you truly have needs not met by an open source or commercial package

    - you see yourself as a company which will outgrow the needs of a canned system at some point.

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