Drupal.org recently featured a detailed use case about InterMedia Outdoors switching to Drupal. InterMedia Outdoors boasts a network of 16 websites, a portfolio of 15 magazines, 25 market-leading television productions, 2 syndicated radio shows, and more.

What the use case didn't mention is that they are migrating off of FatWire, a proprietary web content management system (WCMS) that is Forrester's current poster child in the Q2 2009 Forrester Wave for "Web Content Management For External Sites". To me, that is the most interesting part because it means that Drupal is starting to disrupt traditional web content management systems, including the leading ones.

In other words: CIOs are starting to take notice of Drupal.

Many of the proprietary content management systems are difficult to customize, expensive, hard to set up, and slow to adopt new trends. Contrast that to an Open Source solution like Drupal and you get the exact opposite: all the code is made available, anyone can change it, it is very extensible, well documented, and massively adopted. Developers are plentiful, it is bleeding edge, and best of all, there is no license fee -- which matters a great deal in today's economy.

Furthermore, on the business side, Open Source companies get a ton of sales and marketing for free while proprietary vendors presumably have to put more resources into sales and marketing. In other words, Open Source companies should be able to win on all fronts: technology, sales, and marketing. And we do -- I see it in the Drupal community every day.

But no matter how many times we've whacked proprietary vendors over the head with a foam clue bat, some still think that open source is a fad. That is why it is good to see organizations move from proprietary systems to Open Source solutions.

Excited about this event, I reached out to Howard Stevens, the CIO of InterMedia Outdoors. In an e-mail conversation, he asserted the following:

The primary reason that we selected Drupal is the extensive flexibility that it provides us to enhance our sites over time. While we are very excited about the launch of In-Fisherman, we also recognize that it is a work in progress--the digital media landscape is evolving so quickly it was important for us to implement a content management system that enables us to continually improve our sites without the constraint of vendor roadmaps and proprietary code. The transparency of Drupal’s source code and engaged developer community ensures that any deficiencies in the code are quickly discovered and remedied, new features can be developed as necessary, and we will always retain the flexibility to keep our sites on the cutting-edge.

While use cases like InterMedia Outdoors are really helpful in convincing CIOs, we need to think about more and different ways to encourage CIOs to abandon their proprietary web content management systems. A common misconception among CIOs is that Open Source solutions require a lot more customization and development than proprietary CMS solutions. Howard Stevens wrote:

One of the hurdles that dissuaded us from implementing Drupal originally was our very small in-house development team. The promise of an out-of-the-box proprietary solution was appealing as it seemingly mitigated the majority of the development risk and complexity. In reality, Drupal was much more effective at helping us manage those risks ...

The reality is that with 4000+ contributed modules, Drupal has access to a lot more pre-built functionality than any proprietary CMS. Additionally, the number of developers who actively develop in Drupal combined with the number of developers who possess the prerequisite skills (and the plethora of published materials on developing in Drupal) greatly outnumbers the skilled resources with knowledge of nearly every proprietary CMS.

The point here, is that CIOs often look at Drupal differently than developers do. It is less about the technology, and more about finding ways to save time and money and to mitigate risks. Personally, I think the combination of commercial-grade support, Drupal distributions, electronic services and a healthy ecosystem of expert Drupal shops are key in removing barriers for CIOs. Other barriers to overcome include lack of a roadmap (I don't want to fix that), licensing issues (increasingly better understood), training and certification, and of course, functional gaps.

Personally, I'm most interested in identifying the functional gaps because closing those is what the Drupal community excels at. Whatever the functionality gaps, I'm confident we'll close them over time. If you're a proprietary vendor, you can't say we didn't gave you an advance warning. ;-)


Mike Seery (not verified):


As the former CIO of The Economist, I was responsible for getting buy-in for the use of Drupal as the CMS for Economist.com and I think you've overlooked a key point on what Drupal is missing.


And this is important because it’s not just the CIO that has a say. Journalists and editors need to be in the loop because they are the ones that will use it every day. And the business head will want to know its pedigree, so that they are assured that their investment will
not be wasted.

My background is in web development, so conceptually Drupal wasn’t that difficult a choice. That may not be the same for other CIOs, however.

Drupal does not have the same presence as proprietary solutions like FatWire or Escenic and therefore does not appear on the radar of CIOs. I found this when researching Drupal two years ago – quite a few CIOs at media organisations in the UK had heard of Drupal, but had not considered it. Most, but not all, use services such as Gartner or Forrester to support them in their decision making in much the same way that someone in the UK might use Which? When buying a new TV. It’s not that Drupal doesn’t feature in Magic Quadrants now, rather, it’s that it’s not very well understood and seen as too small or niche.

Drupal relies on word of mouth more than anything else for marketing and has done very well on that so far. To take the next step, though, marketing effort needs to be beefed up. When convincing the editor of The Economist that Drupal was the right choice for Economist.com, I had to do that without the help of a professional sales team. That, in itself, is not a problem, but when a professional sales team from Escenic or FatWire are involved, Drupal pales somewhat. The lack of something as basic as a flyer for people to read shows where Drupal is compared to established players.

Acquia is making a start, but it is just that – a start.

What senior business decision-makers want is to be able to talk to people like themselves, in their language (I don’t mean locale!) about how Drupal can work for them. Increasingly these decision-makers are going to Drupal events (like the rather good Drupal for Publications in London last week), and I think that they’d like to see something tailored to them. They want to understand what Drupal could do for them and to know that it’s supported. And they want to know what Open Source means for their business.

So, as well as the lack of a roadmap (that people might need help explaining), licensing issues, training and certification, and functional gaps, I think you should add marketing to the list.
It may grate a little, but I feel strongly that a little well done will make a huge difference.

Happy to talk more about this offline....


Terry Sutton (not verified):

Excellent points, Mike. I agree with many of them.

What rang true loudest in your comment, though, was the potential for Drupal shops to establish themselves as the proprietors of these sorts of software solutions.

I'm with Dries in that Drupal shouldn't issue formal roadmaps and brochures, and this-is-where-we-are-heading statements. I think companies/agencies should be making these themselves.

This is where the real potential for open source comes through. You use Drupal as your company's platform, evangelize its potential in the publishing industry, then start to give back with modules, documentation help, training, etc.

So in short, I think this sort of industry-specific Drupal publicity needs to come from private companies and agencies. Planatir, for example, could become the museum people, Dev Seed the government people, Lullabot the music industry people, etc...

In the healthcare industry where I work, its a field of potential, as far as the eye can see. I see wikis and intranets and policy document management, and event calendars, and all manner of others possibles. Everyone from physicians, nurses, hospital support staff, lab technologists, pharmaceutical industry, etc etc etc. The field is WIDE OPEN - but it needs dedicated evangelists.

Daniel Chvatik (not verified):

I agree with Mike's comments as well. We are a small tech start-up and, for us, Drupal was the natural choice. We recently tried it in production and were very impressed.

For larger companies with a much more formal decision making process, however, Drupal is a harder sell. It doesn't exactly scream 'enterprise ready'. Hopefully the drupal.org redesign and Acquia's contributions will help. Pressflow has an interesting product as well.

-Daniel Chvatik