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Your CMS is on Fire. How Burning Platforms Kill Your Digital Strategy

Remember the web content management systems of yore… TeamSite, Vignette, Percussion, RedDot, Stellent, Interwoven, Sharepoint, Tridion, Fatwire. Are you using one of them? Many even using a couple of them? We call these “burning platforms”, and unless you put out the flames, your digital strategy is going nowhere while you continue to use them.

It’s pretty clear that every organization is going through the journey of digital transformation, and web content management remains a foundational technology. Gartner says that “web content management remains a vibrant and growing market, fueled by the aspirations of digital strategists on the demand side and continuous innovation on the supply side. IT application leaders, marketers, digital experience specialists and merchandisers all now view WCM as mission critical.”

While web content management remains an important priority, many companies are still fighting the fires burning on these dying platforms. Sometimes spotting a burning platform is easy, like when a vendor announces the “end of life” for a product. For example, EMC/Documentum was pretty clear when they killed Documentum Web Publisher in favor of a partnership with Fatwire in 2010.

But often vendors aren't completely transparent about the future of a product, like in the case of OpenText, who bought Vignette in 2009. At the time, OpenText owned RedDot (rebranded as Web Solutions), and post-acquisition it owned two directly competitive products. The acquisition press release claimed Open Text would continue to support both products, but that didn't happen. Vignette sort-of survived, while RedDot received no investment and has been a dead product for years.

Acquisitions are a common cause of burning platforms, like HP/Autonomy acquiring Interwoven TeamSite and Oracle acquiring Stellent and Fatwire. Ektron will soon suffer a similar fate post EPiServer acquisition. It makes no sense for vendors to maintain overlapping products, no matter what you read in a press release, or see on a PowerPoint slide. Sometimes burning platforms come from vendors like Percussion and SDL Tridion, who simply haven’t been able to keep pace with the rapidly evolving digital business requirements, and can’t afford to invest in their products at a level to keep them competitive.

Maybe the most common cause of a burning platform is when organizations attempt to maintain multiple web content management systems. For example, when global multinational organizations let lines of businesses make their own technology decisions, or when companies make acquisitions and don’t standardize on a single platform.

Regardless of what causes the burning platform, it creates significant pain for customers, starting with cost. How much are you paying in annual license, maintenance and support fees across all the web content management systems you are using? Not to mention the cost of disparate teams with different skillsets required to develop and manage these various platforms.

Enterprise software vendors typically charge 20% of the initial license fee annually for product updates and customer support. In the case of burning platforms, the vendor is providing bare-bones support, and the product is seeing little, if any, innovation. This is the dirty little secret of enterprise software… killing a product is usually profitable! Customers will keep paying their annual maintenance bill for many years, while the vendor scales back R&D and support investments. This greatly increases margin and profit for the vendor, as they fight to hold onto the customer revenue stream for as long as possible.

In addition to the annual maintenance bill, being stuck with a burning platform is costly to maintain and adding new features to the website can be prohibitively expensive. Finding skilled resources with burning platform experience is nearly impossible. For example, here’s a look at job trends for enterprise web content management systems, going all the way back to 2006. (By the way, 2009 looks to have been a GREAT year to be a Vignette developer!) CMS

Another cause of burning platforms is a “Do it Yourself” approach. Some organizations have grown so frustrated with legacy proprietary software that they look to build a web content management system on their own. The hope that cost will be more easily managed, and that they will gain greater flexibility and control over their future. While DIY projects often start well, they are difficult to maintain over time, as the tribal knowledge of the original development team leaves the organization, and just keeping the platform running is a chore.

Perhaps the most significant challenge of living with a burning platform is the opportunity cost of stagnant innovation. Burning platforms built on legacy architectures can’t keep pace with even modern requirements, like cloud delivery, security, responsive design, personalization, and integration with existing applications. While companies on burning platforms struggle to simply keep the lights on, competitors with modern web content management systems such as Drupal can focus on innovation, and the overall customer experience.

So why do companies continue to live with burning platforms when spotting them is so easy?

Analysts like Gartner and Forrester Research closely cover the web content management market, and produce research every 12-18 months or so covering the state of the WCM market. These reports are somewhat of a report card on the performance of a vendor relative to their competitors. For example, looking at the 2015 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management, it’s clear that only a few vendors, including Acquia, are demonstrating strong momentum. The majority of the rest, like OpenText, SDL, Oracle, IBM, and HP continue their slow decline.

While switching to a more modern platform takes time, planning, and investment, it’s simply the only solution to extinguish the flames of the burning platform within your organization. The State of Georgia switched from Vignette to Acquia, at a projected cost savings of nearly $5,000,000 over 5 years. The City of LA is currently migrating from Oracle/Stellent to Acquia. Every week I learn of new companies moving from their legacy burning platform to Acquia, and it makes me smile. Because once you make that move, your organization can get back to navigating the journey of digital transformation.

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