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Open source opens up CMS options

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Open-source software has transformed the landscape for Web content management systems (CMS). While debates over open-source CMS continue, there is no doubt the community- developed software has dramatically increased choices for online publishers. “It's a good time to be choosing a CMS,” said Ray Anderson, chief technology officer-online at IDG, who recently implemented Drupal, an open-source CMS, on InfoWorld.com. “The CMS market is mature on both the proprietary and open-source sides because open-source systems are able to handle more complexity and deliver a lot more value than ever before.” On the other hand, Anderson said the growing number of CMS alternatives increases the complexity of the choice, and added: “If your goal is to implement an open-source CMS—just because it's open source—you're going to be disappointed.” “There is a lot of polarization when you talk about the technologies,” said Christos Moschovitis, CEO of tmg-e-media, an independent consulting firm, who serves as CIO for Summit Business Media. “Many people are so devoted to a particular technology that it's impossible to convince them that another is equally applicable or better.” Rather than letting a preference for open-source or proprietary software make the choice, “look at your business requirements,” Moschovitis said. “You need to make your CMS decision based on your business goals, your environment, your culture, your budget and your time line.” Moschovitis said all systems have strengths and weaknesses. “If you do your due diligence, you will find that out,” he said. “The marketplace is very fragmented,” said Rick Garvin, managing director at consultancy Ten Mile Square. “If you look at the number of commercial products, the number of open-source products and all the options that are emerging, this tells you that no one has solved the problem perfectly—and the nature of the problem [managing online content] continues to change.” Open-source software has gathered buzz for two reasons: low cost and a vast community of developers around the world that continually updates the code and adds new features. But as everyone will tell you, open-source software is not free. The systems almost always require some level of customization—and that development has costs attached, whether it is outsourced or handled in-house. In addition to customization, developers or third parties charge for service and support of open-source products. Even acknowledging these costs, many online b-to-b publishers have found open source to be less costly than proprietary alternatives. Before deploying the Drupal CMS on InfoWorld.com, for example, Anderson compared solutions that were totally open-source to ones that combined proprietary and open elements. One of the options included upgrading the pre-existing proprietary CMS. “That would have required paying the license, as well as all the costs of customization,” he said. “Everything considered, the difference in cost of using Drupal was 40% lower.” Another Drupal user, MedTech, a 6-year-old b-to-b media company with 24 employees, cannot match the scale or technical resources of a company like IDG. But it, too, is saving money. “If you looked at the total cost of licensing, maintenance, development, design and hosting over a three-year period of ownership, there wasn't a strong cost argument,” said Jack Beaudoin, VP-content at MedTech. What made the case, he said, was ongoing flexibility and innovation. For example, when MedTech wanted to create a new microsite for an advertiser, Beaudoin was able to hire someone to do the work for one-tenth the cost of his previous, proprietary vendor. “Plus, it took just 30 days to get it up,” Beaudoin said. Another open-source user citing cost savings is Scott Delman, group publisher, ACM Media Group, which publishes Communications of the ACM, the magazine of the international association for educational and scientific computing professionals, and its Web site. “We saved something on the order of 25% using open source,” Delman said, adding the main savings came at the beginning of the project. “We selected a system that did a lot of what we wanted in terms of features and functionality, whereas the proprietary systems we looked at would have required a lot of upfront customization,” he said. Delman said the integration with his existing systems, some of which were open source and some of which were not, “was the most complicated and expensive part of the entire project.” “Our ability to work with an open-source platform lowered those costs, even though it did not eliminate them,” Delman said. Another highly touted feature of open-source software is the vast community of developers who are constantly fixing bugs, improving the code base and generally expanding the functionality and stability of the programs. “What we liked is that we could tap into a large community of developers. As a small company, we had no leverage with the proprietary vendor,” Beaudoin said. “With open source, we have a lot of developers to call on—which gives us amazing strength in negotiating.” Anderson said some publishers can be intimidated by the open-source culture, since working with this community is not the same as picking up the phone and contacting a vendor. “One of the key enablers is finding out how to get the most out of the Internet community,” he said, adding that one tactic is to develop relationships with programmers so they are more likely to help when needed. Moschovitis holds a different view. “Years ago, the argument for open source was that it is based on a very large, strong community”—a developer pool proprietary vendors could not match. “This is no longer true,” he said. “There are communities now for proprietary technologies. An excellent example is Microsoft Corp.'s .NET, a huge community that rivals the size of any open-source community.” (See page 11 for a sampling of open-source and commercial CMS platforms.) Summit Business Media uses a commercial CMS, selecting the Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS). The system was in place when Moschovitis took on the CIO role six years ago. “At this point, it is very easy for us to develop Web sites because we configured the SharePoint CMS so that our unified content repository is so well-optimized that it is very scalable,” he said. “Also, we've done some very interesting things integrating with third-party solutions that make rolling out new features very rapid. When we compared that whole package to something new, the ROI just wasn't there.” Garvin helped Hanley Wood in its CMS selection process in 2007. Like Summit, a unified content repository was a key issue. “At the time we were looking at this, Hanley Wood had 40-plus magazines, each of which had its own P&L and a different editorial view, and content reuse was very important for them at the enterprise level.” Another important change at Hanley Wood involved putting the day-to-day management of the Web sites into the hands of the editors and publishers rather than technicians, Garvin said. Incisive Media North America upgraded its out-of-date FatWire CMS a year ago. Jill Windwer, VP-digital products and Law.com, noted that while FatWire is proprietary, it is also very flexible. “FatWire is a high-level system that's used by a lot of other companies, and they have been able to grow and evolve with their customers' needs,” she said. Incisive is not so constrained by the CMS that it cannot do development on its own. Recently, Windwer tapped in-house developers to create mobile versions of its Web sites, a functionality that launched across all the sites in March. “I rely on my developers to tell me what we can and cannot do internally,” she said. “In the case of mobile, they said, "This is not a problem.' They wrote some code that works with our CMS and, essentially, strips out the graphics and coding that interfere with viewing our sites on mobile devices.” “The use of mobile devices to access our Web sites went from almost nothing to tens of thousands in a couple of months,” Windwer said. “People are using it.” While mobile applications, social networking features and multimedia are becoming more important than ever in b-to-b e-media, experts advised against making them deciding factors in CMS selection. “You always want to look at product development separate from the underlying platform,” Moschovitis said. “If you have a solid, scalable underlying platform that fits the content model of your company, integration with new applications is easy.” M
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