6th Feb
Category: Content Management , Top Tips and Advice

Choosing a CMS; Do I go bespoke, proprietary or open source?

The majority of our clients come to Webigence wanting bespoke web development - designed & programmed exactly to their needs; whether it's an application, platform, system, marketplace, or a complex website. Due to the very nature of these these types of programmed requirements, a web development agency like Webigence (that specialises in the complex and the bespoke), is generally a very good fit for these types of client's needs. However, we also work with a lot of design/marketing/PR agencies where the client hasn't come to us directly specifically searching for a specialist ASP.NET development specilist, and these types of clients we have found need a little more information to help answer the question of whether they choose a bespoke, proprietory, or open source CMS platform.

So here are a few points to consider when you / your client is asking these types of questions:


Pre-conceptions about Open Source:

  • Clients will have heard that open source gives them the ability to not be 'locked down' to one agency so if they find the agency they work with is either not very good, or slow to get back to their client etc then many clients think having an open source system will give them the freedom that if/when all else fails they can move the site to another development agency. This is true, although in reality no agency is really going to want to take on an existing site, with code that has been written by another developer and with an older looking design, which they wont be able to use in their portfolio, UNLESS there is significant financial benefit.
  • Whilst open source does give you the freedom to move around, in reality it may be both costly for a client as well as difficult for them to find an agency willing to take on an existing site. The same can be said of bespoke here too.
  • Clients seem to think it is cheaper and quicker to get stuff done in Open source as "The plugins are free right? So we just have to pay for the time to implement it?" This isn't necessarily the case as the agency will still have to search to find the right plugin which may not do EXACTLY what you need it to, and then you have to spend time/money paying the developer to adapt the plugin to work how you want it to.
  • Websites typically have a 'shelf-life' 2-3 years anyway, so clients aren't exactly tying themselves in for life, although when clients make decisions about which CMS platform to use, they seem to think that it's a life long commitment.
  • If the agency is doing something so poorly that you are considering leaving, then there is a good chance likely the code that has been written is poor too.

If the client doesn't think there is the right chemistry with an agency in the first place, and they don't have the confidence that the company they are choosing from the start is the right agency to choose, then they shouldn't be choosing that agency to begin with. Selecting an agency on the basis that they use open source so there is a 'get out', is totally the wrong approach in our opinion.


Does the team/agency have the right experience?

We have built our own CMS called 'WebiCMS' which we started in 2005 when there weren't very many CMS systems around that were flexible enough to enable clients to have any design, and handle any functionality. Our own CMS is proof in itself that having built a system from scratch which powers 400+ sites, we have the experience and expertise to take on and deliver any type of project requirements as we know our CMS system inside out.

An agency that offers open source development will never be able to know an open source system as well as we will know ours as they can't possibly as they haven't built it! So whilst an open source agency may be able to find a plugin or module which does something 'similar' to what the client wants, we are confident in saying we can develop something totally bespoke which meets the clients 'exact' needs. 


Focus on the 'team', rather than the 'platform'

It's more about the ‘team of developers’ who will be working on setting up your site and maintaining it going forwards, rather than the ‘platform’ you choose. There is no point in having a poorly built / slow loading site just to have it open source so you could move it if all went wrong. It's more important to focus on choosing the right team of people for the job and make your choice wisely having looking at the development agencies portfolio, testimonials as well as actually meeting the people who will be working on your project.

All our web developers know the WebiCMS system inside/out, and so if one developer is on holiday or off sick, another one can step in and assist the client. With an open source CMS, when the one or two people who know about a certain open source CMS leave the company or go on holiday, then the client is stuck (also there is the same risk here with employing freelancers to work on these open source systems).


Other points to consider

  • If the client chooses to work with an agency that offers both ASP.NET & PHP & multiple open source CMS systems they will tend to be more of a 'jack of all trades/master of none' and the client will inevitably end up with substandard development.
  • Another risk for any client who wants an open source CMS, is that if the agency they choose to work with decides a few months later to work with another open source CMS as they like it better and they then no longer fully support the previous open source CMS, this will then mean the client will no longer get the best service from that agency.
  • Open source CMS systems might be able to do most of what a client will want, but there is no guarantee it will definitely be able to do ALL they need/want now AND in the future. Working with a team of programmers that know WebiCMS inside out, or who have built a bespoke CMS for a client, means that whatever the client wants now or in the future, that they will be able to pogram it.


Addressing client concerns

The main concern clients seem to have with going with either a proprietory system is thinking that if they wanted to leave us for whatever reason that they are then 'locked in'. This isn't necessarily the case, as then the client can take the front end of the site, and then contact another technical agency and ask them to migrate the site into another CMS. We have done this with other agencies who have wanted to move from an open source CMS to our WebiCMS.

Just becasue it's an open source CMS, doesn't necessarily mean that its going to be easy as to find a web development agency to take on an existing site that has an older design with no immediate scope to re-design it, and it has old code which is written by another developer (and as stated before, no web developer likes working with another developers code, even if the CMS is the same open source system).   



In conclusion, find an agency who has a portfolio that impresses you, and also that you like and feel you can work well with. Also ask the web development agency for client testimonials of some of the work they have done and see what their clients say about working with them, and lastly meet the team or agency so you can see who you will be working with. Do the team members have the right experience, do they fill you with confidence? Overall, enter into the relationship positively, not with a significant focus on a get out clause - of course there is no harm in asking questions about what happens if things would go wrong and it is one of many elements to consider, but based on what we are saying above hopefully you can see that it doesn't make sense for this to be a primary concern. 

Hope the above helps in some way as these are some of the questions/considerations that clients will be looking at when choosing a development agency and CMS system to work with. If you have questions like this that you would like to talk over, please get in touch with us on 020 8739 0030 or

Blog written by Ed Kemp