Open Source Reignites the Build v. Buy Debate

Ten years ago, when a company made the decision to deploy a content management system, it was faced with the choice of either building or buying a platform.  It was just as common in those days for an organization to build a custom system from scratch as it was to buy a commercial content management system; indeed, the cost difference was negligible.  Since then the scales have tipped, commercial CMSs have become more affordable and the practice of building custom systems has been in decline.  Recently, however, the proliferation of open source CMSs has reopened the build v. buy question.

Companies have traditionally built their own content management tools because of concerns about the suitability of a pre-built, all-purpose CMS to meet specific needs, as well as the risk of being tied to one vendor.  In reality, these concerns are largely unfounded.  Vendors design such systems to deal with common enterprise situations, it is highly likely that a vendor exists offering a suitable solution.  Also, the risk of a vendor going out of business is less likely than that of a company’s lead programmer leaving, rendering the homegrown system near useless.

Furthermore, creating, upgrading, and maintaining a content management system is the core competency of a CMS vendor; they are able to better and more cost-efficiently improve their software, as need be, than the end-users themselves can.  Vendors also add features requested by other users, which may have widespread applicability.  Not surprisingly, sales of content management systems have spiraled in recent years.  This may, however, change.

Enter open source.  There are multiple open source content management solutions available today that come with the benefit of zero cost and full access to source codes.  Instead of building completely from scratch, setting up an open source CMS means downloading, integrating, and customizing the system initially, and ongoing work to support and maintain the system.  The core issues of the build v. buy debate still remain essentially unchanged.  The organization still must have the expertise to develop the system and maintain it, and pay for the weeks or months of developer time.  In the end, you either pay for the finished product or for the man hours it takes to build it.

A relatively new option, and one that merits serious consideration is the rise of open source specialists, who will pre-integrate open source, commercial, and existing systems using open source tools, and provide commercial level support.  One such option is the recently announced Bluenog ICE platform.  Bluenog offers Bluenog CMS, Bluenog RichPortal, and Bluenog BI.  All are available separately, or bundled as the Bluenog ICE platform.  Bluenog does the heavy lifting by building their products on open source projects, and pre-integrating with other open source and commercial products based on the specific needs of the customer.  The value added from this model is this: by using open source tools, the cost is significantly lower than a commercial product, the customer possesses the source code, and the system can be fitted to exactly the needs of the user, getting rid of excessive bloatware and unused features.  The negatives of open source, and building a CMS in general, are mitigated by the commercial level of support and pre-integration that negates the need to shift or hire staff to set up and maintain the system.

More and more companies are giving serious consideration to open source, and vendors such as Bluenog can present a pre-integrated, customized, and professionally supported open source-based CMS to decision makers.  For companies that do not have the resources to devote to implementing an open source CMS themselves, but are intrigued by the benefits of open source, solutions such as Bluenog ICE can bring the benefits of open source minus the negatives, and offer an alternative to expensive commercial CMSs.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

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