The WordPress Enterprise Paradox
“WordPress as a platform is putting us on the enterprise path. But what got us here is what makes us irrelevant,” says Magne Ilsaas, CEO and Founding Partner of Dekode. Magne wants to start an overdue conversation about three big risks — and opportunities — for WordPress agencies: 1) A lack of spaces for professional conversations and knowledge-sharing, including professional events, meetups, and mastermind groups catering to enterprise WordPress. 2) Successful agencies that use WordPress extensively with little or no community involvement whose work would benefit from enterprise WordPress peer networks. 3) An over-emphasis in WordPress agencies on short-term engineering solutions to the exclusion of long-term business solutions. What's often left out is design, user experience, and most of all the capacity to play a strategic advisory role in partnership with clients.
Estimated reading time: 73 minutes
As more and more enterprises move onto WordPress and digital becomes the backbone of modern business, we need to become more than developers and designers. We are now business advisors, thinking on behalf of the companies we work for.
Agencies focusing on open source and WordPress are in a pretty good spot these days. Demand for WordPress development has never been higher, and we continue to see bigger companies building their websites on WordPress.
At Dekode we are focusing on enterprise clients, and it's really fun when large, interesting projects come our way — because of WordPress. It is a real contrast to how it used to be when most of our client meetings were spent explaining why WordPress is a good choice. Now it's rarely discussed at all. Most clients that come our way have already decided that WordPress is the right choice for them. Even big public tenders call out for WordPress.
Most of them know it's not necessarily the best choice, but they are starting to understand that “best choice” isn’t relevant.
If a client in 2017 set out to choose a CMS and had the slightest idea of what they were doing, they would have a shortlist of three to five CMSs to choose from. The truth is that any of them would have been a good choice, and any of them could be bent into shape to suit the client’s needs.
WordPress as a platform is putting us on the enterprise path.
But what got us here is what makes us irrelevant.
Can We Overcome Success?
With the traction WordPress has gained over the last 15 years, we see that more and more enterprise companies are opening their eyes to what we can do with WordPress, but too often it’s for the wrong reasons.
For large parts of the WordPress industry, plugins, themes, and soon-to-be Gutenblocks are the fuel that keeps the WordPress snowball rolling. SMBs spinning up WordPress websites on the fly. The platform is really great at this because it's so easy and flexible. It's a Swiss Army Knife on steroids, able to adapt to anyone's needs.
But here is the paradox: this success is holding us back now because the thousands of plugins and DIY articles and solutions generally aren’t meant or relevant for the enterprise market. This means that a lot of enterprise companies are building patchwork WordPress installations that may or may not scale, be secure, or actually work as a modern digital tool for solving business needs. As we build more and more functionality and options, we are strolling farther and farther away from the enterprise playing field.
Some of the best WordPress projects are done by agencies that don’t really care about WordPress or the WordPress community. Why? Because they use WordPress for what it is. A tool that gets the job done, cheaply and effectively. But as the web gets more and more complex, some of these agencies don't have the people with the necessary skills, and we are seeing more high-profile enterprise clients with low-quality WordPress websites.
So we are putting ourselves in a pretty bad position at the moment.
With the rising demand for WordPress experts, everything should be great. But the fact is that there are too many high-profile websites out there with really poor-quality work under the hood. And the reputation WordPress has as an alternative for enterprise will deteriorate as these solutions fall apart piece by piece.
Even though we are busy discussing our tool and what it can and cannot do, some WordPress enterprise projects actually do end up with a skillful WordPress agency. But all too often, the decision of what CMS to build on is made after a lot of the important strategic decisions are made—or even after the design is done.
Too often other agencies are helping clients with strategic decision-making, design and communication, user testing, conversion optimization, and digital marketing.
When competing platforms can offer a full spectrum of expertise, it really doesn't matter how good we are as developers. If the solutions we help create don't deliver on basic user needs and business goals, where is the value to the client? But too often we are not in a position to affect quality and business impact. Most of the time we are missing the show by collectively taking ourselves off the playing field.
Is WordPress enterprise ready?
From a technical perspective, the answer is obviously yes.
From a people perspective, the answer is much less clear: yes and no.
For the enterprise, WordPress is still a pretty risky move. But not because there aren't agencies that can deliver high-quality code, security, and scalability. It's amazing what the best developers can spin up on WordPress, but that doesn't really matter if everyone but the developers understands how they are (or aren’t) delivering a positive user experience and solving the client's business problems.
Today when we get a project brief, there are no technical reasons why you shouldn't choose WordPress. Subjectively speaking, it's probably the best CMS out there, for many reasons.
But that doesn't mean that it is the right choice for an enterprise business.
There are plenty of examples of enterprise websites that run on WordPress. Technically many of them are flawless, and some even look good, but do they actually solve someone's business goal or a user's need? Mileage varies — a lot.
The Secret Sauce
Digital is becoming the foundation of modern businesses, and in order to stay relevant, it is not enough to be only designers and developers anymore. We need to develop our skills further and become business designers and long-term digital partners for our clients.
The best solutions can be made when we take our WordPress knowledge and developer skills and use them to create sustainable platforms and design systems that align with business strategy, user needs, and digital marketing.
We need to hold ourselves accountable to a long-term perspective for the decisions we make and the solutions we create. To stay relevant, we need to understand success is the value we deliver — on top of the technology.
There are plenty of WordCamps, seminars, podcasts, blogs, tutorials, and meetups out there.
But what they all have in common is that they are aimed at the mass market side of WordPress where price tags are low and scale is everything. This is fantastic, and it will keep the WordPress snowball rolling.
But why is there no arena for professional conversations around WordPress Enterprise?
Why is there no knowledge sharing about creating value on top of the tools we create?
What if we did business the same way we've built WordPress? What if we leverage our biggest asset, which is not WordPress the tool. It’s WordPress, the community, the culture, the openness, and the inclusiveness. What if we create our own way of integrating our open-source mindset into how we conduct our businesses?
Imagine a way of doing business that is not about redesign loops and short-term decisions but a way to create sustainable digital platforms and deliver long-term value to our clients.
In my opinion, there are enough strong forces in play to keep WordPress as a platform enterprise-ready and relevant. But I’m not sure that matters without a better understanding and focus on how we can deliver value on top of the tools we create.
My wish is for WordPress to be known as more than the most cost-effective, enterprise-ready technology. I want it to be known for a WordPress mindset, a WordPress way of doing business, that enables value creation for everyone involved.
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Magne, this is *fantastic*. It resonates with me so much – so many of our clients come to us because they’ve been served up a short-term WordPress solution when what they actually needed was a long-term partner with a business-design mindset! This issue doesn’t just apply to enterprise, either. Plenty of small businesses would benefit greatly from taking a long-term approach to their digital decision making. It’s certainly a tough sell, because it can get expensive fast (!), but I absolutely adore the call to a WordPress Mindset and a focus on value creation. Thank you so much for this piece, I’ll be thinking about it heading into 2023.
>>But why is there no arena for professional conversations around WordPress Enterprise?
The team that developed a coherent way to handle enterprise projects/clients with WP will keep this know-how hidden.
This is oversimplified thought but this angle is the most probable IMHO.
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