Bespoke CMS == Vendor Lock In?

Bespoke content management systems are nearly always just vendor lock-in. There, I said it.

Hopefully Google will index this and some hapless business owner will avoid commissioning a web agency to implement their website using a proprietary CMS.

Our world is full of examples of vendor lock-in. Everything from parts for your car, your disposable razor blades to the power adapters for your mobile. Vendor lock-in is so ubiquitous it’s become the norm in many industries. It makes it operationally and financially very tricky for customers to use a competitor’s product or service.

As consumers we grudgingly accept this vendor lock-in because the product as whole still represents value for us. When it comes to commonplace software like content management systems though, this is rarely the case. The client often isn’t aware of the implications of the lock-in they’ve submitted to. Why should they? They’re experts about their business, not the software industry.

In my experience, the quality of bespoke content management systems is normally pretty poor. They’ve often been developed under commercial pressure by a small team of developers. They tend to compare badly with open source solutions like WordPress, Typo3, Joomla or Drupal that have been developed over many years by a community of thousands of developers. There’s no comparison.

Bespoke software is a good thing because it can provide leverage on existing investments. When you’re using a web agency’s proprietary CMS, the only people gaining any leverage are the agency themselves. The client pays the price of the vendor’s cost saving in the long term – increasing the cost of future content changes and integration work.

As the web industry matures we begin to see CMS’s as essential infrastructure in a business’ marketing mix, having to develop continually to make the best of opportunities in the social networking space. Better to have thousands of developers working (for free!) on your standardised solution than just a small team on something niche at your expense.

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