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How Acquia is Reframing the Build vs. Buy Decision

I met with a Fortune 500 company earlier this month who is considering building their own web content management system from the ground up. This would mean spending millions of dollars architecting and coding a custom system to replace the existing legacy custom system they have already invested millions of dollars into, building bespoke CMS technology that still doesn’t meet their requirements. Build-your-own content management systems have been part of the world from the earliest days of the Web. Ron Miller, a well known TechCrunch writer covering the CMS space, published on this topic a couple years ago. His conclusion? In some cases, such as Media & Entertainment publishing properties, the decision to build their own was driven by the feeling the available tech couldn’t meet their needs or drive the important strategic role a CMS plays in their business mode. Miller makes a great cautionary point:

... when you decide to roll your own, you head down a slippery slope, one that many companies learned about the hard way in the 90s. Sure that system might meet your needs today and even next year, but with a constantly evolving publications marketplace, how can you possibly adapt and change the system quickly when those inevitable changes are required. You could find yourself with an expensive, obsolete system in short order with very few options available to you for upgrading. How many of the older systems could adapt to mobile delivery or easily incorporate social media?

The evolution of the Web as it progresses in sophistication and capabilities means the role of content management has been transformed from the earliest days of the mid-90s to today, when digital experiences mean so much more than merely browser-based websites:

tech timeline

Dries Buytaert recently published his thoughts on The Big Reverse of the Web. He covers the transition from consumers “pulling” web experiences to the new model of expecting highly relevant and data-informed-experiences being “pushed” to them. In essence, in the early days of the web, a Website with static content did the trick. To deliver static sites, Custom CMS solutions were often the only way to launch and manage websites in those early years. Then so-called “Web 2.0” brought about the dawn of site experiences that were highly dynamic and started to cross into the first social and mobile channels. Keeping up with the ever-increasing opportunity wasn’t possible with custom-built solutions which had proven to be too rigid and unmanageable.

In this timeframe, hundreds of proprietary point solutions were created to address each new opportunity. You needed a mobile experience? There were/are app providers galore. You needed to build a customer community? There was/is an entire selection of social business software to choose from. Email platforms, web content management platforms, social media marketing… the list goes on.

The result for most was a sheer mess. Today organizations are saddled with complex, legacy systems that have become unaffordable, impossible to integrate, and incapable of keeping pace with innovation and customer expectations. These patchworks of custom code, point solutions, and the need to integrate with legacy back office systems means most organizations are unable to harness customer and user data, and proliferate that data across their solutions to ensure each system delivers for each user’s personal context.

So we get to today’s technical decision point: How is an organization going to architect data-driven, contextualized experiences? What investment will achieve this goal and not leave them in the same spot 2-3 years down the road?

This is why “Build” is coming back: the perception of control and the desire to be in control of their own fates, the hope that cost will be more easily managed, and that greater flexibility and control will come from releasing the shackles that have chained enterprises to proprietary tech roadmaps. In the past, their tech didn’t move fast enough, or integrate well enough, and being a customer was more like being a prisoner.

But control is the wrong decision criteria. These are the decision criteria that should drive today’s technology investment decisions:

  1. Agility - How easy will it be to change this system? Add features? How quickly can this be done?
  2. Flexibility - Can this approach easily integrate with solutions I don’t want to or can’t leave?
  3. Freedom - Do I have some level of control over my own roadmap? Can I change vendors without too much pain?
  4. Sustainability - Will this solution evolve with the pace of technical change? When the next “Pinterest” launches, will I be able to integrate that into my digital experience quickly and at a low cost?
  5. Resiliency - Can I trust this approach to deliver my experience reliably even among unplanned traffic spikes?
  6. Manageability - Will this approach simplify the existing technical environment for my business and technical teams?

So how is Acquia reframing Build vs. Buy? It’s pretty simple. It’s a redefinition of what it means to Build. In fact, everyone who has created a site with Acquia is a builder. But Acquia customers don’t build from scratch. They don’t build the foundation, instead benefitting from the innovation of Drupal, one of the largest open source projects in the world. When Acquia customers build, they build differentiation - the 20% of every project that really matters the most.

Repeat: Our customers are builders. The difference? They don’t build the foundation, they build differentiation.

We offer customers a foundational solution - The Acquia Platform. They own their core application by taking advantage of open source Drupal, and are therefore in charge of their digital destiny and not held to an exclusively proprietary roadmap. We ensure their success by helping them start their build near the finish line.

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