Is the term CMS holding you back?

Jeff WhatCott, Acquia, asked some important and thought provoking questions on his blog, "A Dormant Drupal Opportunity". While the post focuses on Drupal, I think the contents of his post can apply to almost any content management system (CMS) out there.

In the article, Jeff asks whether defining Drupal as a CMS does more harm than good in describing the scope of features Drupal has to offer. In his words, the term CMS is a "20th century term that completely undersells what Drupal is capable of" as social software and a means for collaboration. Considering I really didn't understand what a CMS was until the 21st century, I beg to differ that the term CMS is as ancient as he makes it sound. However, he is entirely correct...many of today's Web applications that we call a CMS, really are not just a CMS.

Jeff asks three questions in his post:

  1. Do you think we should put the CMS term to bed?
  2. Would it be possible to grab some of that team collaboration social software market opportunity for the Drupal community?
  3. Why isn’t there already a billion dollar Drupal services ecosystem for team collaboration? What’s missing?

While I appreciate comments here, please be sure to go over to Jeff's post and respond there too. In fact, if you only want to comment at one site...go there so we don't steal any of Jeff's "thunder". I've already made my comments at his site and I've attached my response to the above questions below.

I think the problem with completely putting the term CMS to rest is that there really aren't many terms available that best describes what software like Drupal is all about. Your mention of SharePoint in this post is well suited for this discussion as I really see SharePoint and Drupal capable of the same functions behind the corporate firewall. But even Microsoft has had a tough time describing what SharePoint is to their customers.

Office SharePoint Server 2007 is an integrated suite of server capabilities that can help improve organizational effectiveness by providing comprehensive content management and enterprise search, accelerating shared business processes, and facilitating information-sharing across boundaries for better business insight.

Whew, you and I know what Microsoft is trying to say, but try describing that to the boss! However, I do think their slogan for SharePoint captures the heart of Web 2.0 (and could just as easily be describing Drupal), "Connecting people, process, and information".

The problem with describing Drupal as "social software" is that the enterprise is just as confused with that term as it has been with CMS. Andrew McAfee, Harvard, is a big Enterprise 2.0 advocate and has been an advocate for businesses to adopt the technologies that software such as Drupal has to offer to the enteprise. You get a sense from his writings that this is an uphill battle for bringing social and collaboration software to the enterprise, but a battle that can be won. One of the most inspirational posts I've seen from him is The Ties that Find and it gave me my own thoughts for my own blog post.

So no, I don't think the term CMS is holding Drupal back. What I do think though is we're just not sure how to throw the other terms out there that make sense to non-IT managers and financial decision makers who need to buy off implementing social software within the enterprise. I'm starting to wonder though if we just need to drop the term "content" and describe it in the broader "management system". For the business people, Drupal becomes a management system to meet your team collaboration and content management needs. For the external Web 2.0 folks, Drupal becomes a management system to meet your social networking needs. I don't know...we have to do better...but as I have said before the problem isn't with the term CMS but the fact we don't know how best to describe Drupal when the sum of all its parts are put together.

I think though, this confusion in the enterprise isn't going to last long and this is the right opportunity for Drupal! For companies that don't want to make a significant investment in something like SharePoint because they're unsure how it can help them, Drupal is a fantastic alternative to SharePoint. Since SharePoint is geared to meet the needs of the enterprise, you have to wonder how well suited it will be to meet those smaller groups within the enterprise with demographics or an IT culture that doesn't fit the corporate mold. I think most large organizations now recognize while they need to support the stable well established enterprise software...they have to allow for the "cutting edge" applications to also be explored within their own organization. That's where I see Drupal making headway into organizations...and if you insist as "social software".

For my own organization, I'm actually advocating the use of both SharePoint and Drupal. I really see SharePoint well suited for taking on the collaboration and content management needs at our national and regional offices. But our field offices have needs that are unique to the middle and upper levels of the organization. Budgeting each field office to have their own SharePoint server is out of the what do you do? You're going to look for alternatives and for me that is Drupal.

In a lot of ways, Drupal can be to SharePoint what BlackBerry has become to Microsoft Exchange. While Drupal can stand on it's own (just as BlackBerry does), it also has the power to coexist with Microsoft's products. Companies are much more willing to be open to open source software such as Drupal, if they know it won't lead them to a dead-end and no way back to the their enterprise applications.

Would the Drupal community be happy with making Drupal more compatible with Microsoft? I'll leave that answer to those that know the answer better than I do. But what about a private company who desires for the business world to apply the best of open source into their applications?

Update: Jeff has a new website and the original article and comments can't be found. We've linked to the mirrored post with no comments at Acquia.