In the past decade, enterprises have increasingly turned to open source software (OSS) to replace proprietary solutions, due to four factors:
- Open source software are more mature
- The innovation achieved by a collaborative community is arguably better than closed, proprietary solutions
- Services and support are more widely available
- The true total cost of ownership is far less than proprietary vendors
However, with this increase in adoption comes an increase in OSS solutions to choose from, and this surge has created expectations in the market that not every OSS meets. Here are ten critical things to consider before choosing an open source content management system (CMS). Note that most of the questions apply to open source solutions in general, if you’re looking at OSS for other areas of your business.
1. When you say open source content management system, do you mean software you don’t have to pay for?
Open source software (OSS) are known for being free, as in “free speech”, not “free beer". This means that users have the right to change and redistribute the source code. The creators of OSS projects can distribute the software at any cost they want; as long as there is access to the source code, it’s still considered free. As you start reviewing open source content management systems, stay aware that the promised benefit is in the access to the source code, and not necessarily the cost (though many open source CMSs are free or offered at a more competitive price than proprietary solutions). However, there are still other costs involved if you’re planning to launch a successful website, such as paying a web host for a web hosting account.
2. Do they have an enterprise edition (or enterprise support)?
Many companies offer a version of their OSS that has been coded for enterprise use cases and provides additional security and support that a typical open source user may not need. If there isn’t an enterprise option, have a plan for how you’ll support the solution in the long run.
Because OSS is developed with a community, it can often be created at a lower cost than proprietary solutions. Even the additional cost for an enterprise edition tends to be more affordable than non-free programs, which is another appealing benefit of OSS.
3. How active is their community?
Part of the promise of open source is the innovation that comes from the community — but that requires an active community. You can check this by looking at the volume and frequency of posts in their community forums, seeing if there is a healthy amount of conversation on sites like Stack Exchange, or doing a simple Google search to see if there are open source contributors that are actively working on the project.
4. Does your dev team like it?
Open source CMSs are, by nature, incredibly flexible. With enough elbow grease, all of them can be developed to do whatever you need them to do. But if your development team is unfamiliar with or doesn’t prefer a particular CMS platform, getting the right functionality will be difficult. One of the biggest draws of open source CMS usage is having a more affordable solution, but extended project timelines or new development trainings undermine these cost savings.
Another consideration is whether the CMS software works with your current technology stack. For example, if most of your organization uses Microsoft and .NET, it doesn’t make sense to use a CMS built on Java. These are some of the more popular open source CMSs for different platforms:
- Microsoft ASP.NET
- Kentico CMS
- Django CMS
- Ruby on Rails
- Browser CMS
- Refinery CMS
5. Do your end users like it?
After the initial development, you still need to convince your content writers and administrators how to use the CMS software. Many CMSs have trials or interactive demos online that will give your users a sense of what it’s like to use the system. Give them a chance to identify significant pain points so that your dev team can review whether they can create easy fixes for them.
6. How mature is the product?
The three popular open source CMS providers — WordPress, Joomla and Drupal — are all mature products with at least 12 years of development behind them. That history ensures a level of stability that enterprises and advanced users need, something that other CMS platforms (particularly younger open source projects) may not have reached yet.
7. Does it fit with the rest of your platform?
Many open source and headless CMSs are evolving into digital experience platforms, and integrating capabilities normally associated with portals or ecommerce platforms. DXPs seek to meet the needs of companies undergoing digital transformation, with the ultimate goal of providing better customer experiences, especially for ecommerce stores. They can be single products or a suite of products that work together; both options rest on the understanding that every component of your web platform should be integrated and capable of sharing data.
CMS platforms are particularly critical, because of the increasing need to release and manage content on every channel as quickly as possible, which requires companies to eliminate data silos and streamline workflows. As such, the user interface, the ability to put out user-generated content, and the content management on these platforms are factors to always take into consideration.
8. Are extensions/plugins/modules actively maintained?
While an open source CMS software may have great support for its core out-of-the-box features, that doesn’t always extend to functionalities that you bring in with plugins, additional extensions, or integrated applications. Often, these third-party apps or tools can vary in their support and security. Just because an open source CMS can provide all the features you need with third-party applications, doesn’t mean that it will receive the same support and ongoing innovation as the core software.
9. Is a CMS really the product you need?
Because of the popularity of solutions like WordPress CMS, many people will recommend open source CMSs for all kinds of websites. However, there may be better open source product categories, such as portals.
If you’re thinking of an open source headless CMS as a general website builder for your web pages or blogging platform, it would be good to research other categories of website products to ensure you’re really using the best solution. This is especially important if you have different needs, such as having a flexible CMS or being able to build an ecommerce store, create websites, create content, and so forth.
10. How often are updates released?
Solutions that run updates often can risk your entire site going down. Updates are unavoidable, but ideally, you should be able to run the update on a test site to scan for any possible errors. If the software provider is releasing updates every other week, this can quickly become burdensome, so it’s good to gauge before you commit to a solution. Check online user reviews to see if people complain about frequent updates breaking their sites.
Open Source Is Key to Digital Innovation
Open source software offer more flexible, affordable solutions, and for a common solution like a headless CMS, choosing something that will help you sustain digital innovation is critical to staying competitive. An open source headless CMS should exist within a broader platform that weaves all the different digital experiences together. It’s important to take key features such as an easy-to-use interface and user-friendly software into consideration.
Even if you plan to start with a small project, the technology choices you’re making should have the potential to scale and support your company’s innovation elsewhere. Digital leaders who manage to accomplish this have greater agility and are able to act on opportunities faster, because they aren’t hunting for new solutions every time they have an idea.
In addition to these considerations, your company should still conduct a thorough evaluation of open source CMS options such as the WordPress site and perhaps include some proprietary solutions as well to find the best CMS software with all the tools you need. Every project is different, and taking the time to review what you really need will benefit your project in the long run.