Why would companies still be developing a custom CMS?


Last week, I was talking to an editor who told me the company that produces his publication will be transitioning this year from Drupal (which we also use at FierceMarkets to publish this newsletter), to a customized content management system they're apparently building from scratch. It got me wondering, why with all the choices out there would anyone still create their own?

I haven't spoken to the 'Powers that Be' at this particular publication to get their thinking on the matter, but my guess is that they just don't feel there is a system out there that can do everything they want it to do, and the best way to approach the problem is to create one that does.

But with so many options, many of which are open source and highly customizable, I find it hard to believe any company would go this route anymore. In fact, this newsletter is produced on a highly customized version of Drupal, designed to meet the needs of a company publishing multiple newsletters, each of which incorporates all of the ads and promotions in the finished copy. What's more, this newsletter has the added complication of being produced as both a web version of individual articles, and one that gets published in newsletter format and distributed via email.

This is a unique usage scenario, yet Fierce didn't choose to roll its own CMS to solve the problem. Instead, it took the existing Drupal framework and modified it to meet the unique needs of this particular organization. I'm willing to bet that upgrading isn't a simple matter, but with the basics in place at least, we have a system that still can take advantage of Drupal plug-ins. such as the totally awesome spell checking app that actually goes through the document, rather than simply underlining misspelled words in red and forcing you to find them.

While I can sympathize with a large publication system believing it can't find what it needs in the world, when you look at the fact that WordPress offers a VIP service for larger and more complex publishing entities, such as CNN and Dow Jones, it's hard to believe there isn't a decent solution out there that could meet just about any publishing company's needs, no matter what their requirements might be.

But Tony Byrne from Real Story Group says an extremely high-end media company might need one. "The only sector where I've seen it make sense to build a DIY CMS is in the media segment, particularly at the highest end. The intense performance and functional requirements in some media scenarios can supersede what an off-the-shelf platform or even available toolkits can do," Byrne told me.

But 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?

What's more, a custom system requires that instead of concentrating on your core business of producing content and distributing it to the world, you now need a staff of people just to build, manage and maintain your custom CMS--the framework for developing, delivering and managing your content. When it's time to update it you're on your own and you are very likely caught in the same slow upgrade cycles that you encounter with any large, complex system. Can you really afford to be on 1-2 year upgrade cycles, maybe even longer? It is very likely going to be a rigid system fixed in place while the rest of the industry moves forward.

If you're using WordPress, Drupal, Joomla! or any of the myriad of open source or proprietary offerings out there, there is a community of like-minded individuals offering advice, building add-ons and solving issues. When you build your own, you're literally on your own little island.

With so many good options available today, I'm surprised anyone would attempt to go their own way, but there are still companies doing it, trying to defy the odds. - Ron