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The dangers of a proprietary CMS
Investing in a proven content management system allows users more freedom in just about every aspect of a Web site.

By Roy Chomko, president, Adage Technologies

Would you buy a new computer if you were told it was incapable of receiving updates? What if only one company knew how to deal with that computer’s problems? And what if that company went out of business?

You’d be left with an out-of-date product that would be useless the first time something went wrong. And the next time, you’d probably prefer a computer that can stay current with upgrades and be managed by most knowledgeable experts.

Unfortunately, this is a situation that many Web-site owners have experienced after choosing a proprietary content management system (CMS). While they may be lured to a proprietary CMS by slightly lower initial costs and a slick demo, these owners could come to regret their decision down the line. My stance on this may seem odd given the fact that my company derives most of its revenues from building custom software. However, we are firm believers that if a product can helps us deliver a better solution for our clients for less money, we embrace it. This is the case with content management.

We’ve met with countless companies tired of using Web developers to manage every aspect of their Web site. So before you invest in a proprietary CMS, consider some of the following potential dangers.

Poor documentation and support
When you choose a vendor that uses its own CMS, you rely on the few people who truly understand it. While that may work out fine in the first few years, it can lead to some long-term problems. What if those people leave the company? Will the replacements know the system as well? And what if that company goes under?

This could lead to a big problem, especially as that technology gets older and there may be fewer experts on the software. Small Web-development shops often have a small staff and a high turnover rate, meaning getting an answer to even a quick question can take some time.

Using commercially available content management tools, on the other hand, means there are plenty of experts in the field. They also include up-to-date user manuals and administrative guides to help you work through the problems by yourself. If you still need help, you can then turn to your development partner to work out a solution together.

Lack of upgrades
Web-site software is improving every day. However, when on a proprietary CMS, you’ll likely never get a chance to incorporate those improvements into your site. Upgrades are very difficult (and expensive) to include in these systems, so the technology you begin with is what you are stuck with for years. It is unlikely your Web-development partner can keep pace with the features developed by dedicated CMS teams working to improve their product every day. Additionally, CMS developers are constantly participating in the community, bringing innovative upgrades and maintaining the latest in security standards.

Ownership issues
Since you can’t even access your own source code with proprietary content management systems, you aren’t really in control of your own Web site. Many companies feel like they are held hostage by the developer, forced to use its software, run on its schedule and pay its pricing. Waiting for the developers to make changes for you severely limits the ability to reach your audience in a timely manner. This puts you at a great disadvantage to competitors who may be able to post information as it comes in.

We’ve also heard from companies that, although not happy with their proprietary CMS, are afraid to move away from it. Many agreements give the vendor rights to the code and only allow it to be run on their servers. This makes switching platforms especially difficult.

Investing in a proven content management system allows users much more freedom in just about every aspect of a Web site. Instead of paying a Web developer or designer to make simple text edits, companies can quickly add, edit or delete virtually any copy they choose as well as take advantage of constantly improving features. With up-to-date software, consistent support and the ability to control your own content, it just doesn’t make sense to take the risks of a proprietary CMS.

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