(DISCLAIMER: contiigo develops solutions primarily using Java)
Comments by recently departed Magento founder and 8-year CTO, Yoav Kutner should raise doubts in the minds of those retailers that have chosen Magento as their eCommerce platform because of it’s so called ‘open source’ status.
Kutner says that eBay has a different interpretation of ‘open source’ to his original vision, and that they are struggling with getting the fabric of their next generation platform right. This would seem to infer that if and when eBay does figure out what it’s going to do, at least some elements of the Magento code base will be brought in-house – and this does make corporate sense for eBay. Unlike a free-wheeling founder, eBay has to control their own destiny, deliver on a roadmap, and provide proper enterprise support to their clients. But the question is, what does this mean to Magento customers that have been sold the open source story? What changes will be occurring to the code-base? How long will clients have to wait? Will existing customers be able to upgrade? Will 3rd party plug-ins be entertained?
Australian retailers face a choice of platforms for their new website. They can either go with an entry level proprietary package from the likes of EstarOnline, or Powerfront; they can go with Magento based on PHP; or they can choose one of the global eCommerce platform solutions such as ATG (Oracle), hybris, Blue Martini (Red Prairie) or Websphere (IBM), all based on Java.
For those with a short-term view and a web-only presence, Magento is a seemingly valid option. It provides a decent set of promotions and the basic administration tools you need, and it’s cheap to licence (or even free if you want a very basic presence).
However, Magento is not a suitable solution for any retailer looking to provide a cross-channel customer experience. For one, it’s missing the broad level of functionality required to deliver a comprehensive cross-channel solution, and if you’re a retailer looking to meet the demands of the connected consumer, then you don’t need another ‘silo’. According to Brian Walker at Forrester, in ‘Is An Open Source Platform Right for You‘ (June 2011) the experience of retailers in the US has been that Magento has been unable to deliver a solution that their meets enterprise needs as their sites have grown.
One of the key selling points for Magento implementers is that it is ‘open source’, and that what it lacks in functionality can easily be made up via customisations and 3rd party plug-ins from the ‘community’. And it’s easy to be seduced by arguments of a low licence fee, plenty of cheap developers in the market, and access to a vast pool of 3rd party utilities. Unfortunately, this is a double-edged sword.
The more customisations you have, the more difficult it is to upgrade your platform , and the more locked-in you are to your implementation partner. To make matters worse, there is a lack of control with open-source – there is no real enforcement of development standards or frameworks, making support difficult. Hence eBay’s inevitable need to bring some order to things. For IBM, hybris, ATG etc, there are formally documented process frameworks for building any customisations, and partner quality standards are enforced by the vendor, who has to support the solution at the end of the day. This also means it’s easier for you to switch implementation partners if you have a fall-out with your current provider.
In any case, the community offers little value to enterprise deployments. The plug-ins are available typically serve simple needs, and don’t replace the major chunks of functionality that Magento lacks, like Product & Content Management, Workflow and cross-channel order management. And who is going to support the custom code? Is it documented? What happens if eBay changes their code base – will it still work? What will it cost to maintain? Who’s backside are you going to kick if something goes wrong – some developer in Uzbekistan?
A cross-channel commerce & order management solution should be a retailer’s most significant platform decision of the next 5 years, just like the ERP was over the last 10 years. IBM, hybris and Oracle stand behind their solutions with established 24×7 support organisations and a product roadmap that extends several years into the future. In contrast, Magento is in release 1.7 after nearly 3 years in the market. Are customers going to be relying on proprietary customisations for ever? And if/when release 2 does arrive, will it be compatible with the original code and all the extensions and what effort will be required to upgrade? This is a significant consideration.
But an even bigger risk for your business is that of lost opportunity. As Gartner says in their most recent eCommerce Magic Quadrant, leading vendors hybris, ATG and IBM have an ‘ability to see around the corner’. They provide you with a solution that gives you the opportunity to innovate more quickly to gain competitive edge — in web-time. Not just a ‘me-too’ website.
And you need to think about this NOW, not in 3 years. If you try to change your platform then, it’ll be like changing the engine on a moving car.