Today was Wednesday and as such it was our weekly Educational Lunch Session. We do this ritual almost every week in an effort to help both our potential clients and existing clients learn more about our industry and how it affects them. Today the web has had a massive affect on almost every industry. The problems resulting from this particular paradigm shift are too numerous to go into any detail, but the two problems we encounter most often are a lack of education, and a dependence on proprietary software. Both of these issues are completely understandable as the web is still relatively new, and people are still relatively inexperienced, and this is exactly why we hold our weekly lunch & learns.
The first problem, a lack of education, is relatively easy to fix, but the biggest opponent to this problem is time. Almost everyone has some level of desire to learn about the web, to protect themselves at the very least, if not to empower themselves, but the problem is that our lives are so busy we can hardly break away to learn new things about our own industry, much less one that is only related in some fringe-manner. This is really where our Lunch & Learn philosophy makes a lot of sense for customers. Almost everyone has the time to eat a little lunch. If you can learn something in the mean time, all the better.
The second problem, proprietary software, can be a much more difficult task to address. I say this in almost all our meetings with clients, but we, as a company, are not dis-similar from our competition in that we spent a significant portion of our first 5-7 years of business creating our own content management software. However, about three years ago, we started seriously looking at the software we'd created and evaluating the situation of our customers who used it, and we didn't like the answers we were coming up with. A proprietary content management system puts customers and vendors in a bad position, here's how:
When customer chooses to leave a vendor (for whatever reason) that vendor has essentially two choices they can make, and both of them are bad. The first option is to allow their customer to take the proprietary content management system, which the vendor's company has put many years of time and effort into, with them when they leave. This is painful for the vendor because the software could be considered a "trade secret". This is also painful for the client because at some point they will need extra work on their site done, and chances are most new vendors will be unwilling to support some other company's proprietary software. This will inevitably lead to throwing away all the existing code and starting over from square one, which can be quite costly.
The second option the vendor has open to them is the option of simply informing the client that the code is proprietary and that they cannot leave with it. In lay-men's terms this essentially means that you get all the content of your website on a disk, but any of the tools used to manage it are no longer at your disposal, and chances are you'll have to rebuild the site from scratch again in this scenario as well.
In both cases the client will almost always end up rebuilding their website from scratch, and in today's industry, this is simply not an acceptable answer. Such was the case of a potential client who came to visit with us today. They'd previously been with one of our other competitors, and used that competitor's proprietary CMS. After numerous failures of technology they chose to leave the vendor and strike out on their own, rebuilding their site from the ground up themselves, and in the process, crippling any sort of reasonable method for keeping a growing website up-to-date. The value of a CMS however is incalculable in some cases, and as the site became more difficult to maintain, they ventured once again into the jungle that is web design and web development vendors. Luckily one of our Lunch & Learn cards made it to them and so they came to visit us. Hopefully we'll be able to do some work together and get their website up and running with a Drupal solution.
Open Source solutions are a truly amazing route to developing a top-notch website today, but the open source communities have a saying. "Open source doesn't cost less, it just costs different." I would propose, for the sake of thought, that if the choice is between an open source system that is supported by thousands of individuals and companies world wide, and a proprietary system that's supported by a handful of individuals that are all too busy implementing websites to do any real improvement on the software, then for me it's not really any sort of choice at all.
If this is of interest to you at all, then contact us today, and ask about the next Educational Lunch Session we have scheduled. At the very least, you'll get a free lunch out of the deal, but maybe we can open your eyes to a whole new way of doing business on the web.