Posted 2 years ago by Pat Ramsey, Director of Technology
With increasing frequency we are finding mid-market and enterprise organizations replatforming their websites, moving away from antiquated and expensive proprietary solutions and towards Open Source technology like WordPress and Drupal. While Crowd Favorite is helping to lead the charge in bringing the power, dynamism, security, scalability, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness of Open Source software to the enterprise, we’ve also learned some valuable lessons along the way.
Like what? The short version is that technology is inherently complex and things are rarely as simple as they seem. The width and breadth of what is involved with a replatforming can be staggering. Imagine deciding that you like the house you have only you’d like to change out the pier and beam foundation with a concrete slab, the interior six inch studs with eight inch studs, and the exterior walls with stucco instead of brick. And while this renovation is happening you’re not only living in the house but also hosting dinner parties.
That’s replatforming in a nutshell. The website is still live. New content is still being created. Integrations and data-collection haven’t stopped on the old site. And somehow all of that activity has to cleanly align between the old site and the new site at just the right moment.
Why the Move to Open Source?
Open Source tools are significantly less restrictive and more extensible than closed systems, translating to more potential for customization.This customization isn’t just about what your new website can DO, it’s also about HOW you can do it. Creating new workflows and integrations is one of the most powerful things users can do with WordPress, Drupal and other Open Source systems. This fits well with how people now use the web. As recently as five years ago, websites were largely static and presented information to site visitors. Now? Websites must be interactive, collecting data from users both through their feedback and their on-site activity. Lacking flexibility in your website is a competitive disadvantage when customers and clients are expecting to have a two-way relationship with the brands and services they choose to consume.
Years ago closed systems also provided safety and comfort to users precisely because they were closed; the chances of breaking something irreparably were much smaller. When the internet was still a new marketing platform, simplicity was important for users, and control was important for administrators. But as time passed those systems stopped meeting the needs of users and became more expensive to support.
Open Source technology has also gained in adoption because marketing teams are finally having more input on the tools they use. As recently as a decade ago, internal IT teams often dictated what software was allowed for marketers. And why wouldn’t they? The IT team was tasked with the care and security of anything software related, so choosing a closed system made a lot of sense. However, the rise of managed platforms like Acquia, WP Engine, and Pagely removed many of the concerns IT departments previously had. Now, those same IT teams can be assured that infrastructure is safe, code is secure, and oversight is not compromised.
Fidelity of Site Content
The most obvious challenge when replatforming a website is what to do with the content that already exists. The challenge would be significant enough if it was just a matter of copying over previous pages, images, and links. But more realistically there will be old and outdated content that needs to be pruned, links that are broken and should be removed, and images that need optimization. Planning for content transitions requires mapping and organizing what should be migrated and what should be left behind.
In addition, it is critical to understand ahead of time, any possible system or file format incompatibilities in order to prevent conflicts from happening once the migration begins. Doing this work ahead of time helps to ensure content that might be in a database, as well as static files, work correctly in the new system.
Finally, if your previous site has a significant amount of content, then both the actual size of the files as well as sheer volume can be a concern. Data takes time to transfer and planning for such a shift can be complicated when new content is being created every day.
Infrastructure Considerations When Replatforming Your Website
Many older and closed-source systems require different infrastructure than Open Source options like WordPress. While it is possible, it is unlikely that your current infrastructure will be appropriate for your replatformed website. We’re not just talking servers, but Firewalls, CDNs, and other components that lead to excellent long-term health of your digital properties.
The proper alignment of your new codebase and infrastructure is critical to recognizing the greatest possible return on digital investment. To extend our housing metaphor from earlier, you wouldn’t pour a concrete foundation before first testing the soil beneath the surface for stability. The infrastructure to support your website is akin to the dirt beneath the house, needing careful consideration and exploration to avoid potential disaster in the future.
Workflow and Training
One of the oft-overlooked parts of updating from an old, proprietary system to a new, flexible Open Source system is the development of the workflow for users and the training of those users. It’s one thing to take a stock install of a CMS like Drupal and provide some guidelines. But our experience is that most enterprise-grade solutions need different, custom user workflows. For example, these can include restrictions on image sizes, different editing and approval processes, and different permissions about who can do what, when they can do it, and where it’s supposed to go.
The goal of any user interface when publishing new content to a site should be simplicity. Reducing friction for users in most any system or tool is critical, and the website is no exception. But that doesn’t mean the website should be a free-for-all where anything goes. More reasonable, new workflows need to be constructed and implemented. Once construction and implementation are complete, the way internal users actually interact with the site will need to be explained and documented. Any new system will have a learning curve involved. While Open Source does not always translate into “simple to use”, it carries with it the benefit of flattening that learning curve by reducing training and education costs, as there is no gated or exclusive access to the software.
Integrations and Applications: Complexities for Larger Organizations
Quite often smaller businesses and smaller website can make the transition from an antiquated system to a CMS like WordPress or Drupal without a lot of friction. Needs are smaller, content to migrate is not plentiful, and only a handful of users actually need to publish content to the website.
But larger organizations almost always have one or more mission-critical integrations and applications that simply must tie in properly with the new website. Think of your CRM for tracking customer leads. Think of your Google Analytics and Facebook Pixel that are customized for hundreds of pages. Think of all the SKUs that tie in to your Netsuite inventory system. Mid-market and enterprise organizations rely on too much integrated technology for replatforming to be a simple process.
The Path to a Successful Replatforming
If the factors above are considered ahead of a migration, a clean and orderly transition from an old web platform to a new, Open Source environment is possible. Even better, the Internet has evolved in a way that the largest Open Source options (e.g. WordPress, Drupal, Joomla) are supported by thousands of contributors. That is to say you may never have to weigh this kind of decision ever again.
Our experience is that replatforming a mid-market or enterprise website is not a journey to take alone, particularly if you’re doing so for the first time. There are a number of experienced navigators to help you on the journey. From choosing the right platform for your new website to making sure each challenge listed above is properly addressed, your next digital investment is in better hands when you have expert eyes looking over your shoulder and expert engineers lending a helping hand.
If your organization is considering a move to Open Source technology, our team here at Crowd Favorite would welcome the opportunity to share our experiences and lend a hand. The evolution of the Internet has made a strong digital presence more important than ever. Ensure your growth and marketing goals are on track by choosing the right platform for your online message. Contact us and let us help you transition to a more powerful and flexible solution.