The Soft Sell of Open Source over Proprietary

Submitted By Bryan Ruby November 05, 2012

I do not know when it exactly happened, but a number of years ago I decided to become a pacifist. I am a pacifist that is in the war of open source versus proprietary. In my opinion, the debate over licensing and software development processes is only mildly interesting as it is the quality of the end product that matters to me most. I walk the fine line of being an advocate for open source and a defender of proprietary software. Admittedly I've confused a lot of people that have chosen to take sides in this war. However, there is always room for reasonable civil discussions of any topic when new data and new perspective is given. This is perhaps why within the past week I enjoyed reading a commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Acquia that shows the value of open source without necessarily attacking the value of proprietary software.

The independent study conducted by Forrester is titled “Is It Time To Consider Open Source WCM For Digital Experience?”. Given that the study is being promoted by Acquia, an open source Drupal company, it shouldn't be surprising to you that this paper highlights the benefits of open source web content management systems (WCM). However, the author of the paper does this in a way that that doesn't also dismiss the value of proprietary systems. This paper is an invitation with business reasons given for IT shops that for one reason or another remain proprietary to start considering using open source solutions. That soft sell in my opinion will win over more customers than the doomsday ideologies we often hear from both open source and proprietary proponents.

The case for Open Source WCM

The study found that open source WCM solutions have the highest satisfaction rate for creating dynamic, multichannel digital experiences. Of those who said they were ‘very satisfied’ with their existing WCM solution, open source had the highest satisfaction rate (37%) over “homegrown” (22%) and proprietary solutions (8%).

The Forrester study, commissioned by Acquia, surveyed 160 senior business, marketing and IT decision-makers from organizations with 1,000 to more than 20,000 employees. The survey revealed that 31% of organizations plan on switching WCM platforms this year and 58% indicate that their organization has considered or is considering open source WCM.

The Forrester study recommends that when organizations consider switching WCM solutions, they should explore open source as an option. Drupal was among the top five WCM solutions used by organizations that participated in the survey, and the leading open source solution. Among those who currently use open source WCM solutions, 72% said it gave them greater flexibility, and 68% said it was easy to customize.

When asked what other enterprise applications they would like to have bundled with their WCM solution, the majority of respondents (35%) said they prefer the ‘best-of-breed’ approach offered by open source WCM, as opposed to using all-in-one suites of pre-packaged tools and services offered by proprietary WCM solutions, which the report says often don’t live up to their promise.

According to one survey respondent from a UK educational institution, adding new functionality enhancements took nine to ten months with a proprietary WCM solution, but with open source, they were able to add new functionality within days. Another respondent said: “the ability to customize, along with the availability of the developer network, helped us keep up our pace of innovation.”

“As organizations retrench to become more dynamic and customer-centric, it’s abundantly clear that proprietary WCM solutions are not meeting the changing needs and expectations of business decision makers, who don’t want to be locked in to a rigid platform for the sake of convenience,” said Tom Erickson, CEO of Acquia. “The Forrester study revealed that marketers – who are responsible for creating compelling content, community and commerce experiences across multiple channels – are now the ones more aggressively pushing for flexible and open WCM solutions like Drupal.”

Marketer Dissatisfaction Prompting Greater Interest in Open Source Solutions

According to the survey, marketing professionals appear more likely than their IT counterparts to consider open source WCM (67% vs. 56%, respectively). The fact that marketers have surpassed their IT counterparts in this regard could be an indicator of their growing dissatisfaction with their present WCM platform.

Indeed, marketers expressed the most dissatisfaction with their WCM solution over IT pros by more than three-to-one (26% vs. less than 8%). With customer-facing digital experiences (including content delivery, community engagement and commerce) ranked among the top five functions of WCM platforms, it is not surprising that the majority of executives pushing for change in their WCM platform are marketers (55%) rather than IT executives (26%).

Planning Leads To Open Source Success

The study also noted that organizations that were focused more on key business drivers and objectives had greater success with open source, as opposed to leveraging it for its proven cost-cutting capabilities alone

For instance, the report showed that web site redesigns were more of a business driver for open source (30%) versus proprietary WCM solution users (14%), perhaps reflecting the more complex requirements of creating customer-facing multichannel digital experiences (as opposed to corporate intranets or other corporate/IT uses), and the dissatisfaction with current solutions in supporting those requirements.

Similarly, organizations that made specific plans to engage dedicated third-party providers (such as Acquia), and leverage pre-packaged modules from the open source community, had the most success with open source WCM implementations.

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About this CMS Enthusiast

Bryan Ruby

Bryan Ruby

Bryan Ruby is the owner and editor for CMS Report. He founded in 2006 on the belief that information technologists, website owners, and web developers desired visiting sites where they could learn about content management systems without the sales pitch. Besides this site, you can follow Bryan at Google+ and Twitter.

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