Firstly, I’d just like to get it out that I was previously once exclusively a disciple of the church of open source and still believe in it! BUT I’ve had my eyes opened to a world of new alternatives and have become what I call CMS-agnostic, a believer that there are many different ways to skin the proverbial cat (or in this case – ways to publish your cat pic online). So now you know a bit more about where this post is coming from, below you’ll see why I genuinely trust in the following 4 reasons why Sitefinity is perfect for your new charity website. The areas I’ve looked at are ease of use, empowerment, security and cost of ownership.
Before I continue let’s understand the difference between what we’ll be talking about here. The most popular open source systems are Drupal and WordPress currently. These are written in PHP and are ‘free’, community driven content management systems.
On the other hand you have Asp.net, licence based, commercially driven, ‘open framework’ content management systems like Sitecore and Kentico. Sitefinity sits in line with these, if you’d like to find out more about the differences please read our previous post which provided tips on choosing the right content management system.
Having worked with a number of charities both large and small for over 5 years now I’ve built a really good picture of the makeup of their internal teams, systems, resources and requirements. Read on to find out how my mind was swayed:
1. Ease of use
Most CMS’s talk about their ease of use, how simple they are to pick up and how quickly you’ll be using them even if you have little or no prior experience.
Websites that have a lot of customised functionality will not be the same as simple ones and each CMS tends to operate in a slightly different way. Although each CMS is unique there are a few similar approaches that you can see taken by their providers.
For example, with Drupal there isn’t a pre-set user interface, instead this is determined by the developer who sets it up. Having said that, there are interface modules which are more commonly used. WordPress for the large part does have predefined screens but there is room for customisation though, so again it is down to your developer to get it right for you.
Sitefinity is more like WordPress where the interfaces are pre-set but can be customised. However, the main difference is that the intended users are predominantly marketers as opposed to it being designed for everyone. Right out of the box it’s designed to be as visual as possible, with much of the features simply being dragged and dropped into pages. Of course it’s difficult to describe an entire CMS but think of how simple the user interfaces are on an Apple devices.
Most larger charities will have one or a number of dedicated digital team members but medium and smaller charities tend to have more all-rounders who ‘also do digital’. That’s understandable, with limited resources you’ll need to have individuals who can cover a number of bases. Whether your team is large or small the demands for marketers to develop content are constant and never ending.
That’s why you need a website which empowers its users and isn’t full of workarounds, naturally it would just be better to have something which includes all of the functionality you know you need, and a lot you didn’t you know you needed until after the site went live!
It’s also why a CMS that can act as a central hub for the vast range of online marketing activity is a distinct advantage. Manage your email marketing, see contextual page related analytics or develop dynamic and personalised user journeys which adapt content to specific website triggers – all in one location.
Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the open source content management systems can provide the same or similar functionality as Sitefinity but they definitely do not have it out of the box.
As Sitefinity is licensed based, you might ask whether all the good stuff is only included at the higher levels. The truth is most of it is all available at the lowest tier licence. The exceptions are things like e-commerce functionality, content personalisation and multi-site management. There are far too many features to list on this post so click here to see more: http://www.sitefinity.com/features.
Security is a major concern for almost all of the charities I’ve ever spoken to. Not only for the damage that could be done to individuals if their personal details should be taken from a charity website but also the reputation of the charity / effects on fundraising efforts could be hugely detrimental.
For complete piece of mind, a commercially driven CMS like Sitefinity is definitely a safer option and less vulnerable to the kinds of attacks that some of the open source solutions have unfortunately had reported in the news.
There are a few different reasons for this. Of course you have to consider popularity, there are far more open source websites online that any other alternatives so naturally they’re a much bigger target to aim for. However, even taking that into account the fact their all of their source code is a freely available means there is more opportunity to try to breach it.
Open framework solutions like Sitefinity are free for developers to modify, tailor and customise but the source code of the CMS remains more secure, limiting what can be attacked. Lastly, the application of security updates and patches for open source CMS requires constant upkeep so if your developer only schedules in updates a couple of times a year there are long periods where your site could be less protected.
4. Cost of ownership
When it comes to costs it’s not just about the initial development but actually the cost of ongoing maintenance, introducing new functionality, major updates and complete redevelopments.
It’s not a level playing field either, cost can vary greatly depending on the site itself and its level of customised functionality as well as the costs of the agency that support the site and a number of other factors.
So, to offer some kind of indication and maybe lay a few misconceptions to bed at the same time I’ll discuss some of the more general elements associated with both Sitefinity.
Firstly there is the initial licence cost. Open source CMS don’t have one so that is definitely a thumbs down but if comparing to something like Sitecore there is a significant saving using Sitefinity with a comparable features set.
Sitefinity basic licences are far more affordable, enough so that they can be absorbed within the initial development cost and still compete with budgets which are aligned to open source solutions.
The licence cost is a one off, unless you decide to upgrade to more advanced one. You do have the option of paying a nominal fee on a yearly basis if you want to have the newest and latest features but I stress that this is optional! The maintenance cost is generally higher for open source, again it varies depending on your individual site but on a regular basis time will have to be allocated to implementing updates and security patches.
The big difference is major version upgrades. Whilst you can always make incremental updates to your site, every four years or so you’ll probably embark on a major overhaul. Upgrades are always notoriously tricky with open source solutions as the amount of flexibility they have means often sites become so customised there is no clear upgrade path for a new version. It’s not unheard of to have to completely re-build the site from scratch in these cases. In contrast major version upgrades with lots of new and exciting functionality are far easier to perform and much more cost effective on Sitefinity. It often just means purchasing a new licence and in some cases can be as simple as flicking a switch.
The reason I decided to write this post was because, like myself previously, lots of charities are sceptical about why anyone would want to have a licence based system when there were so many great open source solutions available. I wanted to highlight that there were some clear advantages.
As you can see above there are a number of misconceptions about licence based CMS’s being too expensive and too rigid but in actual fact they have a comparable level of flexibility with a much richer feature set, but of course it does come at a monetary price initially. Perhaps though, that price is not hugely different in the long term and could even be more cost effective.
I still wouldn’t say that Sitefinity is going to be the best fit for everyone, there are always going to be some organisations that would benefit greater from having an open source setup and there can be a large number of reasons for this. As an agency we don’t necessarily pin our colours to any mast, instead we look at the individual situation of our clients and help them to conclude what the best option is for their unique circumstances for now and in the long run.
If you’re thinking about your CMS options feel free to get in touch for an unbiased opinion!