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Most CEOs and marketing officers fail to ask a critical question when purchasing a new website for their company: how does the content management system (CMS) my site is built on affect my business? Often the main concerns when selecting a vendor and the accompanying CMS are related to features and functionality – not the potential risks of which CMS is actually being used.

In full disclosure, Engenius once built our own CMS, the Top Hat CMS, which was and is a proprietary piece of software. We launched this product in 2008 at a time when most CMS’s were poorly performing, had a steep learning curve, and were difficult to utilize without the assistance of a developer.

Picture of Engenius' old CMS Top Hat

Our goal in launching the CMS was to make things easier for clients — and it did. But in 2013, due to the advancement of the WordPress platform, its ease of use, and growth beyond a simple blogging platform, we discontinued Top Hat and began using WordPress. We officially retired our CMS in 2016.

Why did we move away from a proprietary CMS?

There were a few critical reasons:

It Held Our Clients’ Hostage

When a site is built on a proprietary CMS, moving a site to a different vendor is not as simple as downloading files and transferring. In fact, there is no way to simply “move” your site from one vendor to another.

A mouse trapped in a cage.

The site must be completely rebuilt in a new CMS, costing thousands of dollars. When a site is hosted on a proprietary CMS, clients are held hostage to that CMS, with a steep exit cost to redevelop with a new vendor.

There is certainly a business case for web design agencies to do this – it boosts retention. We decided this was not a good practice for Engenius or any business for that matter. Clients should be free to leave if they aren’t provided an excellent quality of service and should never be penalized with exorbitant costs to transfer.

Security is Limited

In a day and age where website hacks of major US companies are common news, website security — even for small companies whose brands are not household names — should be a concern.

Many proprietary CMS systems are operated by relatively small companies of 5-10 employees. Sounds great right? Small businesses provide that extra special touch of personalization. But on a team of 10 typically, only 1-2 are web developers will have the skill required to make constant security patches to their proprietary CMS.

Picture of an anonymous hacker

Our own company was in this spot in 2013 when we discontinued our CMS, so we know this situation well. It is financially challenging for a small company like this to invest dozens of hours per week of development time to maintain security patches.

On the contrary, a CMS utilized by hundreds of thousands of clients has a much higher vested interest in advancing security due to the risks involved and will maintain a higher grade of security.

We trust a system that is updated daily for security risks versus a proprietary system with one developer’s attention every few weeks (or months or years) to address security. The risks to your website’s legitimacy and the information of your clients is too great to trust to one or two people.

Efficiencies of Scale

As business people, we understand the reality of costs of scale, where utilizing a widely used product or service can save our customers thousands.

Adding a unique functionality within a proprietary CMS can cost $10,000 or more – just for one feature. There is research, design, development and testing time. All on the payroll of a small business. Whereas using a CMS like WordPress, with a library of thousands of already developed and tested functions, can cost our customers only around $100.

Updates and Advancements

The digital landscape changes at a rapid pace. There are constantly better and new ways to do what we have always done – often taking less time and improving the customer experience.

The costs of making these updates to a proprietary CMS only used by a few hundred clients is steep. Trust me – we’ve done this and have the experience to prove it. Likewise, making the same update to a CMS being used by millions worldwide is fairly inexpensive and much more likely to happen at the speed that the web is moving forward.

Similar to efficiencies of scale, businesses should be concerned about if their software is keeping up. Many proprietary CMS systems fall behind the times and fail to incorporate the best practices that make web design more efficient and keep costs down. We choose to use a CMS that adds features almost daily to improve the user experience and reduce time required to update your site, all at a minimal cost.

Risk Management

As business leaders, it’s our job to understand and manage risks. Using a proprietary CMS often means it is owned by a small company. If that small company were to dissolve or a key developer who is responsible for the CMS departed the company, the proprietary CMS would be defunct and cease operation.
Person standing on the edge of a cliff

This would most likely require your company to completely redevelop your website – at a cost similar to or higher than what you originally spent – and also potentially lead to months of your site being completely offline.

This scenario is a worst case situation, certainly. However, it is a risk worth considering. By utilizing a CMS that is relied on by millions of companies worldwide, including a wide variety of notable brands like the NY Times, Walt Disney Company, Mercedes Benz, Microsoft, and the country of Sweden, the risk is much, much lower.

Engenius chooses to trust a system that is not reliant upon a few individuals, but rather a system that is built by thousands of developers and depended on by brands with a lot more skin in the game.

Life Without a Proprietary CMS

In the years since we discontinued using our proprietary CMS, we have saved our clients hundreds of thousands of dollars in custom add-ons that we now incorporate into their sites for mere hundreds (or less). We’ve reduced risk for our clients, but most importantly we’ve made it easy for them to leave our company and choose a different vendor. That choice is a big risk, but it tugs at the foundation Engenius is built on.

If our clients can leave us, it forces us to remain a client-centered business, giving Engenius the opportunity to go above and beyond in our customer service and satisfaction. We aren’t in the business of trickery; being open, honest, and providing the best solutions to the needs of our customers is what we do best. As a result, we put our best foot forward every day and keep our eyes on what is most important: the success of each of our clients.

Chris Manley

Author Chris Manley

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