Does which CMS you use matter?

Does which CMS you use matter?

By Mark McGrath, July 2015.

Which Content Management System (CMS) you use matters. Not just for now, but even more so in the future.

When clients select an agency to develop a new website for them, almost always, whether they realise it or not, they are also selecting a Content Management System (CMS)...that the agency prefers. So it begs the question, does which CMS you are given to use matter?

You could answer this question by saying, well most CMS's pretty much do all the same stuff, albeit in different ways, some a bit better in some areas, some a bit worse in others, but overall there's not much difference, you are still going to use a system that allows to add and edit your web content.

There's some truth to this view. But there's also a lot of falsity about it too.

Horses for courses

There's a wide range of CMS's and most of them are geared towards servicing a particular segment of the web market:

  • Large scale websites with multiple requirements for integration into 3rd party systems (Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems).
  • Websites with a broad and deep content structure that also provide a diverse range of web services (eg Drupal CMS).
  • Small scale websites with a more simple content structure (eg Joomla).
  • Simple blog or personal websites (eg Wordpress).

Wordpress will not easily drive a large-scale organisational website that requires a complex and diverse mix of integrated web services. Conversely, using an ECM just to run a blog site is cracking a nut with a sledgehammer and a waste of resources.

There's also a fairly broad consensus that Drupal is better suited to larger more complex websites and Joomla is better suited to smaller, more simple websites.

So it's horses for courses and what CMS you use does matter, not just for now but more importantly for the future.

Product development is crucial for future proofing

There's another factor to consider: future proofing or the ability of the CMS and the team behind it to meet your needs in the future.

What this boils down to is two things:

  1. The range of features, modules and extensions that the CMS has right now.
  2. The product development capacity of the team behind the CMS to produce new features, modules and extensions to meet future needs.

The ability to respond to new needs of clients becomes crucial with CMS's. The web is a fast moving environment where if you stay still you get left behind. As the engine that drives websites, CMS's have to keep pace with the constantly evolving demands of clients and their websites.

...small to medium scale vendors of proprietary CMS's nowadays have little or no hope of competing with open source and large scale proprietary CMS's when it comes to ongoing product development.

Open-source versus proprietary CMS

So who has the capacity to meet these demands and who hasn't?

In the can do camp there are two types of players:

  1. Large scale proprietary CMS's.
  2. Leading open-source CMS's.

Both of these CMS's, in different ways, have the capacity to fund and drive extensive and constant product development. Large scale proprietary CMS's have the budget capacity to fund dedicated product development teams. Leading open-source CMS's like Drupal have vast developer communities that can produce and maintain literally thousands of modules that can extend the core product.

Here's the rub though; small to medium scale vendors of proprietary CMS's nowadays have little or no hope of competing with open source and large scale proprietary CMS's when it comes to ongoing product development. It's simply beyond their capacity to keep up whilst still servicing current demand.

I say this not as a mere opinionated claim, but as someone who has previously worked for two software agencies offering proprietary CMS. In both cases, the agencies struggled to meet the product development demands. Product development was either a part-time operation or done on the run on an ad-hoc basis within current development projects. Either way the end result was the same; they could not keep pace with product features of large-scale proprietary CMS's or leading open-source products.

So unless you are a large scale organisation with a large web development budget, you are much better off selecting a leading open-source CMS product rather than a proprietary product of a small to medium sized web agency.

I'd argue that even large scale organisations are better off using leading open source CMS products over proprietary rivals simply because even large software companies cannot compete with the open source development communities like Drupal who at last count have 31,000 members producing over 16,000 modules.

Major organisations like The Whitehouse, the Australian Federal Government, Oxford University, Twitter, Warner Music Group, 2016 Summer Olympics, United Nations and Puma all agree with this argument as they all use Drupal as their CMS.

So before you select a web agency to develop a new website for you, ask them what their preferred CMS is and have a good look at what it's best suited for and what it's ongoing product development capacity is.

Mark McGrath is a Web Consultant and Director of Social Change Media.

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Last updated: 5 September 2016