A Fresh Way to Think About Your Next Site Build

Stuck with a slow-moving tech platform that’s struggling to keep up with the times? The secret to finding digital agility might just be open-source software.

By Eric Goodstadt

When it comes to technology infrastructure, you can’t just stay still. As innovation evolves, so too must your mindset. And in the case of content platforms, you should be looking at a refresh every three to four years.

But that can be a challenge if you’ve just invested in a big new technology. All too often, associations get bogged down in a familiar, but frustrating, paradigm: The organization invests a lot in a new technology, which grows out of date but is prohibitively expensive to upgrade.

This situation—common for many industry groups—creates problems down the line, as mainstream technology quickly goes vintage with no way to modernize efficiently. And that’s a bad place to be. In a world where small startups and major corporations alike need to move quickly, those that don’t can easily get left behind.

Fortunately, there is another place to look for new technology options, and that’s in the open-source realm. While a proprietary, do-everything content management tool has its merits and might work quite well for some associations, for yours it may simply not be a fit. Open-source tools can be a way for your association to land a spot comfortably ahead of the curve: agile, ready to adapt, and keeping pace with the world at large.

Facts vs. Fiction

Before you decide what’s right for your organization, let’s establish some facts about open-source software (OSS):

OSS is cost-effective. According to research from the Linux Foundation, OSS helps speed up development by relying on resources that are already there while cutting down on costs compared with commercial solutions by 20 to 55 percent. And community support is strong: Because so many people use the same tool, it prevents the risk of vendor lock-in and allows for more maintenance flexibility. These tools have track records, and they can be used to bolster the things you care about, such as personalization.

OSS doesn’t require the added bells and whistles of SaaS. If you look at any software-as-a-service solution, its flashy, unique features are admittedly enticing. But while proprietary “digital experience platforms” such as Adobe Experience Manager or Sitecore can bring complex marketing automation capabilities to your organization, they may simply be outside of your budget. According to a 2018 analysis by CMSWire, many modern platforms can run well into the six figures just for the software, and that doesn’t include the not-insignificant costs of integration and implementation. And the vendor controls the road map. As a result, you may end up buying a lot of things you won’t need in the long run.

OSS is secure. Often, open-source critics will point to bugs and security issues as a reason you should stay away from it. But the truth is, open-source developers take a more responsible approach to disclosure. Firms like the IBM-owned Red Hat openly discuss and reveal vulnerabilities because that’s what building on open-source software requires. In fact, that openness helps to squash bugs more quickly so they don’t become more dangerous over time. A recent report from the firm WhiteSource found that more than 85 percent of open-source vulnerabilities are disclosed with a fix already in place. In fact, large organizations with mission-critical needs—think NASA—rely on open-source software for their infrastructures.

OSS gives you creative control. Since you choose how to build it, you can work incrementally. With the right partner and a strong road map, you can build the digital foundation one year and build on top of it the next, in a thoughtful way. This helps to keep your focus on the things you actually want your digital platform to have: strong member engagement and opportunities to build new revenue streams.

A More Flexible Path Forward

Unless you have a crystal ball, you don’t know what’s coming. Consider building in smaller parts with open-source software—and working with the right partner to manage the direction of the project—so you can find the agility necessary to pivot with the demands of the times.

Sure, that leans on a sharper maintenance focus, but it comes with the benefit of having a software platform that is up to date, uses the latest technology standards, and can shift with an evolving member base.

Your needs are bound to change at least a little every year. Why shouldn’t your infrastructure change with them?

Eric Goodstadt, president of Manifest, has more than two decades of experience in the agency world, serving clients in diverse sectors—including associations, nonprofits, and Fortune 500 companies.

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