Be in Command of the Hidden Costs in Open Source Content Management

By CIOReview | Monday, August 8, 2016
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Commercial Content Management Systems (CMS) nowadays, cost enterprises millions of dollars, for their procurement alone. Considering the regular operational and maintenance costs involved with the system, that’s a couple more millions added to the enterprise’s annual budget. Commercial CMS certainly has its own perks; but why fork out such outlandish sums of money when there are many open source systems available? Open source CMS offers enterprises several advantages like better customizability, flexibility, and community support which commercial systems fail to provide.

The most widespread accusations leveled against open source systems are about their lack of robustness and security concerns. The Whitehouse’s official website is built upon an open source content management system. How about that for robustness and security? Though an open source CMS is more cost-effective than a commercial one, enterprises must be wary of some latent cost drivers such as custom development, maintenance, and employee training. These factors could drive up the cost of operating an open source CMS beyond that of commercial software products. However, the cost drivers can be kept in check with astute preparation and proper planning.

Documentation Issues

Documentation plays a far greater role in open source projects than many people imagine. Enterprises often face considerable challenges in maintaining and generating top quality end-user documentation. Documentation consumes valuable time while frequent changes in the source code may tempt enterprises to postpone the process until the software is fully deployed. Such instances can be of high risk for an enterprise operating on a strict deadline because it is unpredictable when or whether they will finish implementing the CMS project. Then again, documentation cannot be avoided in an open source project and if neglected, it will pile additional cost burden upon enterprises.

Enterprises can always rely on third-party manuals in place of official documentation. Third-party manuals are not expensive and are available in many formats including e-book, online subscription, and print. Besides, hiring a consultant or training a few employees in documentation will also turn out to be beneficial in the long run. Isn’t it better to spend money up front rather than squandering it indefinitely?

Maintenance and Support

Open source software is notorious for its lack of timely support and vague response systems. Enterprises cannot afford to lose their time on waiting for support. Moreover, administrators may be hesitant to try out new support systems like issue queues, internet relay chat, and online forums as they are more accustomed to other kinds of support such as telephone, e-mail, and live-chats. This results in companies often costing significant amounts in loss along with the expenditure for repair.

Support issues can be resolved through an enterprise’s internal as well as external know-how. Forming an in-house support team will help enterprises tackle support issues internally. The cost for creating such a team will unquestionably be lower than cost arising due to untimely support. Also, enterprises can always hire a company or an independent service provider for resolving issues. Now, there are many open source vendors that offer 24/7 effective maintenance and support based on the needs and requirements of enterprises. In addition, many strong community forums are available on the internet where discussions about issues regarding the software might have already taken place between the members.

Cost of Customization

In order to avoid an open source nightmare, enterprises should carefully examine the cost of customization before installation. Moreover, integration problems are another major concern faced by IT support staff which can only be resolved through custom coding. If a web content management system does not support a single sign-on mechanism, it comes down to the organization to add that code. However, if the in-house IT department does not have the required skills for adding the necessary code, the organization will have to seek help from a third-party. The consulting expense, in addition to the time wasted on upgrading will further drive up the cost of maintaining an open source CMS.

Though open source software customization cannot be fully avoided, enterprises can, of course, bring down the expenses. One way is to avoid unnecessary custom developments. Also, requirements identification and analysis of the project before implementation can help enterprises shortlist the most suited open source CMS.

Open source software is preferred by most enterprises for their cost-effectiveness. That does not mean commercial systems are all incompetent. But, when it comes to the value-for-money aspect, open source CMS is way ahead. Besides, with proper planning measures in place for reducing hidden expenses, open source CMS undoubtedly becomes more than it’s worth.