CEO Corner: CMS Build or Buy–Where's the Respect?

I've been pitching one of Canada’s largest and most interesting brands for about 5 years now. It’s one of those dream customers that every CEO has. They are the perfect fit for our unique mix of capabilities and I was fully convinced that with a little patience, we would be given the chance to prove it to them. My systematic, persistent relationship building and follow-ups finally paid off early this year when a they emailed me an RFP for a new CMS.

I became giddy as I read through it as it basically described the features of Agility in minute detail.

I pulled out all the stops. We picked one of our top partners to bid with and gave it everything we had. I called in favors with everyone I knew who had connection to staff there. I wore my best blazer and shiny shoes to the pitch and rocked it. I had our top customers call them and gush praise. I was completely confident that all of my hard work had come good and we would have another great brand to add to our lineup.

Yesterday, after waiting two months past the decision date, we finally got our response. Through our partner. In a cryptic email.

We didn't get it.

My first thought was, WordPress!. But when I read the email a second time this morning, the answer was even more shocking – they are going to build a – wait for it – Custom CMS.

Custom CMS is Back

I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. The custom CMS discussion has reared it’s ugly head a few times this year. Ron Miller asked his Fierce audience “why would companies still be building a custom CMS” as recently as this past February, which also spawned a discussion on CMS Connected the same month. For us, this is the third time this year we've come up against this most ethereal of competitors. The first was in a pitch in March with a local ad agency who insists that a custom CMS is the most efficient way to go. That was followed by an ongoing discussion with one of our long-time customers about whether they would renew this year in the wake of building an internal development team.


It’s All About Value

These are the reasons I hear about why building a custom CMS is a good idea:

  • We have developers - we can just build it ourselves
  • If we build it ourselves we have compete and total control
  • I have built 10 CMSs already. What’s one more?
  • We can make more money from our clients if we build our own CMS
  • How hard can it be?

Let me ask you this, custom CMS builders: Have you ever built a CMS before?  Have you ever used a custom CMS?  The answer to both is no. Because if it was yes, you would not even consider doing it.

It’s a question of true value. Sure, a CMS is essentially a database with a web interface. It seems trivial on the surface. But it’s the little things that add up to give you immense value over time:

  • The ability to add customized workflows that can change over time, without recoding anything
  • Looking back in your version history for that perfectly written page
  • Customizable access to specific content for specific users
  • Being able to schedule content publishing for 2:00 AM on Sunday rather than having some poor schmuck stay up to click a button
  • Adding analytics scripts to every page on the site with two clicks
  • Caching mechanisms that have been tested under the most extreme load
  • Pre-build modules and widgets that save you weeks and months of custom development
  • A platform that can be taken over by new developers when the current ones leave
  • Industry case studies that prove that you’re making the right decision
  • Literally hundreds of commercial and open source options for every conceivable combination of requirements
  • Support!!!  If one thing is consistent in the CMS world, it’s that support is worth paying for. This is why Drupal and WordPress, free CMSs, are big businesses

CMS Deserves Respect

Of all commercial software, CMS is definitely the most under appreciated. You don’t hear about companies building their own email client or CRM or accounting software. For an industry with so many options starting for as little as $0, building a custom one makes sense about 0.001% of the time. Before you heed the advice to your gung-ho developer or your super-keen IT director, spend a little more time thinking through the long term impact of your decision. The CMS deserves your respect.

Help me out here CMS Report readers!  Tell the world how much CMS matters!