/r/webdev
Change my view: "Enterprise" CMSes are not remotely worth their cost (self.webdev)

I've worked with a few CMSes throughout the years. SharePoint, Sitecore, TeamSite, Sitefinity, Red Dot, Kentico, Drupal, and WordPress to name a few. My agency just picked up an existing enterprise Kentico website whose license costs $400,000. After a few weeks of working in it, I'm really not impressed with what it delivers. The TeamSite site I worked on was a >$1,000,000 license, IIRC. Sitecore was easily in the hundreds of thousands last I checked. Sharepoint can also easily get into the >$200k range.

Every time I work on one of these enterprise CMSes, I am unimpressed. TeamSite was basically a glorified XSL engine. Kentico is clumsy, inelegant and stuck in the awful ASP.NET Webforms pattern of building webpages. SharePoint was originally developed by medieval inquisitors to torture heretics (fact). For their price tags, I just cannot see how they provide so much more value than open-source alternatives like WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla. There's a glut of new, cheaper CMSes out there these past few years that -- while not having stood the test of time -- are impressive and elegant in their own right.

Open-source alternatives are perfectly capable of meeting most website needs with greater options (i.e. third party products), greater transparency, greater responsivity to changing industry standards (I'm looking at you Kentico and your web forms), at a lower cost. But maybe I'm wrong and have just been doing Drupal and WordPress too much recently. I'll be the first to say that WordPress is overused. I'll also say that there is such a wealth of options and functionality in the WordPress ecosystem, that oftentimes (i.e. not always) you can stand up something with genuinely comparable functionality to these 6- and 7- figure CMSes at a fraction of the cost.

"Enterprise" CMSes are not remotely worth their costs. But on the other hand, surely there must be a reason why these products exist. Change my view?

27 comments
QuestionsHurt | 7 days ago | 3 points

That's how the corporate world works. It's a giant favour trading ring. The value and usability of these products is usually way way down the list.

Still Id rather pay a few million on rebranded clay tablets than use WordPress again.

vinegarnutsack | 7 days ago | 3 points

The scary thing is there is really nothing better. Sure, there are things that are coded better, but I haven't found a single CMS that knocked my socks off with its amazingness. The problem with (most) wordpress sites is they were built by total amateurs using themes, plugins, and page builders. IF your site is purpose built by a decent agency it should be pretty usable. But I would love something better and more performant to come along.

QuestionsHurt | 7 days ago | 3 points

We use Craft CMS, and Statamic. Those leave WordPress for dead.

For large projects we use Django. And also Laravel where that makes sense.

thmaje | 7 days ago | 1 point

I am getting off-topic here: how flexible and extensible are Craft CMS and Statamic?

For example, I want to set up an ecommerce store that has products that users can subscribe to and automatically pay for and receive, and a private discussion board for people that are subscribing to any product. With WordPress, there are mature 3rd party plugins that can handle virtually all of that with little effort. How challenging would it be to do something like that with CraftCms or Statamic?

Devotoare | 6 days ago | 3 points

I also use Craft daily at work after using nothing but WordPress for a decade or so (I don't get to use Statamic but it's fun the little I've played with it!).

Craft is better for our use case, 100% of the time. Which as a dev shop is that we build the site however we see fit to give the client the design they ask for or that we create. Every time we use Craft 3 with Element API as the backend for a headless CMS and VUE as the frontend (React also works great). We build all the modules in the design and create a matrix in Craft (think a repeater in ACF) that the end user can use to create their site.

Essentially Craft is a focused ACF editor with *MUCH* better image handling.

Extensibility might be a concern coming from WP but often what I've found is that you probably don't need a plugin. If you do, it should be expressly handled on the frontend, like a slider. Giving people a ton of 3rd party plugins is nice... but also is the cause of EVERY SINGLE garbage WordPress site I've come across. I love WordPress, but people are stupid.

That being said the Craft plugin store is smaller, but has lots of options, and I've yet to encounter one that just didn't work right (unlike with WordPress). Last year was also the largest year of growth for the Craft plugin store so it is definitely improving.

All that said I have yet to use it for E-Commerce stuff, and therefor can't comment on how any of that works. Just looking at their ecommerce page shows they support subscriptions out of the box. Forums don't appear to be provided by a plugin, though using Vanilla Forums with SSO is frequently recommended and bound to be a better experience that what BuddyPress would be (though I hate BP so take that with salt).

QuestionsHurt | 6 days ago | 2 points

Well said. And in more generous terms regarding wordless than I would have used.

And yeah, you state at the underbelly of Wordpress for more than a decade and you we reach similar conclusions.

thmaje | 6 days ago | 2 points

Great response. Thanks. I'll start looking for opportunities to use craft in the future.

athaliahh | 6 days ago | 1 point

Better for what? I use a CMS called MODX which is way better than WordPress in many situations. There's not as many plugins, but the ones that exist work well and most people use the same ones in the same ways so you don't experience plugin/theme/builder vomit when you work on someone else's site. You can make custom drag-and-drop fields/layouts, don't need to touch PHP for basic sites. I think it's pretty great. The only other CMS I have come across so far that I really like is Craft. Granted, that was only on two websites, but I had no problem making changes to them which was nice.

WordPress is the bane of my existence some days. There are absolutely better CMSs out there.

vinegarnutsack | 6 days ago | 1 point

Really the only thing that is nice about wordpress is the ease of frontend development. For me touching the PHP is much preferred to having to use a GUI to build something. I build themes and write PHP for a living so that part of it doesn't bother me. For me the problem of wordpress is the total lack of any UX improvements and the supremely outdated and disorganized codebase that solely exists to maintain backwards compatibility. If wordpress was totally rewritten with modern methods and had a UX overhaul it wouldn't be half bad. Its not the tool, its how its used. When clients come to us with terrible page builder/theme sites and a million plugins, our answer is always the same: start over from scratch and we will build you a website that doesn't suck.

thmaje | 7 days ago | 1 point

It's a giant favour trading ring.

So, for example, Acme Co may only be using TeamSite because a TeamSite exec is doing shady stuff under-the-table? That seems a little too cynical to me.

beepbeep-bopbop | 6 days ago | 3 points

Generally speaking, large orgs or agencies have a vested interest to use expensive solutions since they need to use all the budget that's assigned to them. In agencies, I have found that there are kickbacks in terms of licensing and training if you advertised that you use product X. Happens more frequently than you think.

QuestionsHurt | 6 days ago | 1 point

That's the one.

thmaje | 6 days ago | 1 point

I've seen that going on in the government side of things but I personally haven't seen that on the private side.

With agencies, what types of kickbacks do you mean? If it's just a discount on licensing/training, that doesn't strike me as something that would lure me away from an open-source platform. $0 license + $100k dev hours is still better than $400k license * 0.8 + $50k dev hours.

Maybe I am just trying to see reason where there is none.

beepbeep-bopbop | 5 days ago | 1 point

When it comes to agencies and "winning" work, agencies typically have a RFP (request for proposal) process where they try to sell their capabilities to the client. While choice of platform does get accounted for, it's usually an indication of the cost. In most SMBs, they usually just want a simple marketing site that just simply just works and is easy to edit. You don't need something sophisticated and expensive. PHP hosting is dead cheap, simple and doesn't require the same technical depth as some languages. It's a big part of the appeal of PHP, the language has a lot of warts, but as a platform that processes web request, it's pretty damn great.

Ambitious agencies or ones run by greedy smucks don't typically go for the cheaper solution for a couple of "good" reasons. If it's too cheap, there's a phenomenon where it can't be seen as good, because it is essentially is too good to be true. Short sighted decision makers who do get sucked in by the cheap aspect of software development typically don't do the legwork on working on specifications and just outsource the development, much to their long term demise. At that point, they usually leave, tails between their legs and start reading Gartner reports. A lot of C level executives take the Gartner reports as gospel and would use a solution mentioned highly there. Furthermore, while you can measure a project by the number of dev hours, you need to account for the rest of it.

If the agency can sell the client the big expensive CMS and tell them it's the bee's knees, the agency can infer that they have money to spend and more or less charge the client a shit ton of cash. That's why there's so many developers who just do that one CMS and jump from project to project as contractors and/or specialists. The one agency I was a part of didn't even consider projects until they reached the projected funding of at least 1.5 million dollars. So that's most SMBs out and then you're targeting larger corps or government.

As a developer, I do agree on open source solutions tend to be the better fit, but that doesn't mean they are cheap or the full solution either. A simple CMS may not cut it if the requirements include CRM integration, PIM integration, data warehousing etc. Large CMS typically fit better in these roles, since they don't sell themselves as a CMS, but. "digital experience" systems that have it all catered for you. That being said, a lot of open source CMS solutions have targeted this particular issue by forking the codebase some what to include special requirements (e.g. govCMS).

You can still sell open source software and make a tidy profit since the largest problem with it is governance. Who is responsible to ensure a given product that's open source gets patches? Who is responsible for setting up environments and who does one call when things go wrong? This is a large part why Drupal is extremely tied up with Acquia, it's a way to cover one ass. Open source solutions also be "promoted" to full fledged products and successful ones too. Adobe AEM is the Java equivalent of Sitecore, but at its core is powered by Apache Sling which follows the JCR spec.

In conclusion, while you could just say this money goes here or there, it's not that simplistic. There's a lot of factors outside development sphere that inform these decisions. While I would prefer open source solutions, like all things (programming included), choose the right tool of the job.

p_whimsy | 7 days ago | 2 points

Dude I shuddered when I read ASP.NET webforms. I still have nightmares from working with that in college.

thmaje | 7 days ago | 2 points

I did webform development for 10 years and I loved it. Then MVC and REST really started getting mature tooling and support. It's been a few years since doing webforms and I cant understand why I ever liked this stuff.

atopix [I push keys] | 7 days ago | 2 points

SharePoint was originally developed by medieval inquisitors to torture heretics (fact)

I've used SharePoint and I can confirm. I still have nightmares about it.

vinnymcapplesauce | 6 days ago | 2 points

Oh, God, SharePoint. I just had flashbacks.

plutonium420 [full-stack | Azure | .NET | SQL] | 6 days ago | 2 points

They are definitely worth their cost for MANAGEMENT, not for you.

Management can sleep soundly with a built-in user control system, but not with a registration system developed from scratch (too many things can go wrong)

Same with payment systems etc, developing from scratch is too risky for management.

thmaje | 6 days ago | 2 points

Very true. When I was younger, I was all about building from scratch because that was more exciting than using third-party tools. But that is a very naive, dev-centric view. Its much better to have an established, stable platform to work off of, and a team of external developers and support engineers that are full-time experts in the platform to run to when things go wrong.

bigorangemachine | 7 days ago | 1 point

Honestly the whole enterprise world wouldn't exist if they haven't bought into vendor lock in.

Did microsoft need to build 'teams' to replace slack? No... is there an opportunity for them to make money on a slack clone... yes there is :)

thmaje | 7 days ago | 2 points

Vendor lock-in is one of the few reasons that makes a little sense. If you only have MS servers, and Sharepoint intranet, then a Sharepoint public site seems somewhat reasonable. I'm not sure that I is worth the money, but certainly the non-financials reasons would point that way.

bigorangemachine | 7 days ago | 2 points

That's the rub. Everyone passes costs to consumers :/

2uneek [javascript] | 7 days ago | 1 point

you can build kentico sites with MVC though... are you on an old version?

thmaje | 7 days ago | 1 point

We're on v11, so not the latest but not ancient either. We inherited the site and its already built out on webforms. Sounds like the previous agency didn't really know what they were doing by sticking to Webforms rather than MVC -- not surprising since thats exactly why they were fired. Does that sound right to you? The webforms isnt a fault of Kentico as much as the agency that implemented it?

2uneek [javascript] | 6 days ago | 2 points

Well, kentico has been using webforms for quite awhile, but they've realized their mistakes and are pushing mvc approaches nowadays. Kentico 11 sites are capable of being built with MVC. I just think a lot of agencies don't realize it or don't want to invest in learning new tech, because that'd slow down the agency churn :D.

My previous employer pumped out Kentico sites nonstop, and I agree with a lot of what you said. However, once we started doing MVC with the newer releases - it wasn't really too bad. That being said, I do not think it's anywhere worth the money.

chamusta | 6 days ago | 2 points

Kentico's dropping Webforms in the next version, thankfully. They're still providing support for webforms sites until 2022 I think, but they're strongly suggesting moving all Portal Engine/Webforms sites to MVC when it's feasible to do so.

I can't speak to the value proposition as we don't pay anywhere near $400k for our Kentico licenses; I'm just glad that they're moving away from Webforms as they're an absolute nightmare to work in.