June 21, 2005

Chicago consultants follow own open source CMS advice

Author: Tina Gasperson

A Chicago technology consulting firm that adopted the Mambo open source content management system for its own Web site infrastructure found it liked the software so much it began offering it to its clients.Before Mambo, West Monroe Partners' 60-plus team members used a static Web site. But management team member Doug Armstrong said the firm wanted to expand functionality and provide an interactive real-time experience so that potential clients visiting the site would be exposed to more relevant content to aid in decision-making. In late 2004 the team began evaluating a number of different content management packages, both proprietary and open source, including OpenCMS and CMS400. Mambo came out on top, because that package allows West Monroe staff members to perform decentralized authoring, and it is highly customizable through the use of plugins and modules coded by the Mambo community. "It allows for a ton of functionality that I was quite impressed with," says West Monroe applications specialist Devin Breen.

Still, West Monroe needed Mambo to do a couple of things for which the staff could find no pre-written code. "We wanted to provide a good level of quality content but also wanted to provide a richer user experience," says Armstrong. So company developers wrote a module that enables the site to display items related to the user's desired content, such as white papers, articles, and solution briefs, "which added a lot of flexibility on our end."

West Monroe also wanted users to be able to easily see links to items related to the content they asked for. Mambo included a limited "related items" ability out of the box, but West Monroe coders expanded and better categorized that module. The company donated the code it developed to the community.

West Monroe launched its new, interactive site powered by Mambo in late March. The firm is happy with the results. "Since the launch, our Web site traffic has more than doubled," says Armstrong. "Since inception two months ago we have averaged over 10 new Web site user registrations per week. We have also received a large number of job candidates who applied directly from our site."

Still, Mambo isn't perfect. Wish list items include better documentation, official support, and improved adherence to coding standards in the Mambo community. "There's been some situations where we borrowed some code from the community and we had to clean it up and tighten it -- then we returned it to the community," says Armstrong.

Only about 10% of West Monroe's clients are using open source software, but Armstrong expects that to change. "There's been a lot of development in the past year that has made open source a viable solution. It allows us to be more competitive and save the customer more money," he says. "Instead of paying $50K for software and another $50K for services, they can rely on us for $50K in services and save 50%.

"It allows us to reach a broader range of clients who previously might not have been able to afford a CMS solution -- but now they can."

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