John Faber Managing Partner Follow
October 23, 2023

Last week I was in Lille, France for DrupalCon Europe 2023. DrupalCon was as illuminating and engaging as it always is, but the real highlight of the week came right before the event, when I had the opportunity to speak to the crowd at ComposableNOW: The Future of the Open Web on Monday, October 16.

At ComposableNOW I had the opportunity to talk about a subject that I care a lot about, which is composability and the open web. In a talk entitled “The Composable CMO in 2024 and Beyond: Using the Open Web for Digital Acceleration and Data Privacy” I discussed the options today’s chief marketing officer has in terms of web software and why I believe the composable stack is the best option for those who care about scaling their offerings, saving money, and protecting their data.

Composability and the PASS Equation

Today’s CMO has essentially three options for building their technology stack. The first is a commercial off-the-shelf product like Adobe Experience. The second is the traditional Drupal or WordPress-type open-source offering. The third is a composable stack assembled by way of multiple vendors. In this talk I made my own case for composability both from the standpoint of performance and data privacy – albeit with some important caveats, which I will address shortly.

Commercial proprietary software has the obvious advantage of being the lowest barrier to entry, which is why many companies go with it. However, this low barrier to entry comes at great cost, both financial and otherwise. Ultimately, commercial software fails over time with increasing operating costs, slower feature delivery, and decreased organizational agility as the commercial software gets larger. There is also the fact that a corporation owns your data, and you have no idea what they might be doing with it.

What about a traditional Drupal or WordPress stack? This open-source model has worked well for 20 years and obviously solves the data ownership problem. However, this model has the liability of requiring an ecosystem of specialized providers that you all but need to scale your project to the enterprise level. Are you going to be able to find PHP or MySQL experts in five years’ time given that they no longer teach these in the colleges? It’s an important question for any CMO to consider.

As I wrote about in my July 6 post on reasons to choose decoupled architecture, when discussing options with CMOs I generally employ the PASS equation to make the case for decoupled and composable approaches. The acronym PASS stands for performance, accessibility, security, and scalability, with all four of these being major advantages of the composable model.

Performance? What happened when you had that huge surge last month on your Drupal site? What happened is you got a $500,000 bill from your provider. That wouldn’t necessarily happen with Next.js or another decoupled solution because you’re working with static files, and static files are always going to be faster and demand less and can be thrown out onto the cache very easily. The result is a lightning-fast website that can weather any traffic surge.

Accessibility refers to access to the engineering talent that you’ll need to maintain and scale your site. As I mentioned earlier, the traditional open-source platforms rely on front-end technology for which expertise is increasingly thin on the ground, while a decoupled front end opens things up to a greater talent pool. As for scalability, this is really a non-issue when you’re dealing with static HTML pages – bandwidth becomes more of an issue than scalability.

And then there’s security, which is a big one. Anyone well acquainted with Drupal will know that an urgent new Drupal security patch comes out every few months and all your engineers are forced to drop everything they’re doing and patch up the hole. If you’re running a Drupal site internally and you don’t patch – a likely occurrence if you’re running a super-complicated Drupal 7 site written over five years – you will quickly end up with a compromised site. With Next.js, you will never have this problem.

Each one of these four points could very much lower the total cost of ownership over the long run. This is all part of what I think the CMO should consider with the composable stack.

Data Privacy: A Warning

OK, so you’ve decided to go with the composable stack. This is advantageous for all the reasons I listed above, but it still doesn’t ensure that you own your own data. People continue to give all their data to corporations, and these corporations have licensing agreements and terms of service that most people don’t read all the way through. What happens to your data when Company X gets bought by a private equity firm? You likely have no idea.

At present the decoupled software market is awash in proprietary vendors that are busy sucking up people’s content onto their platforms, each with their own terms of services that can give them a great deal of power over your content. Sure, you can always ask for your content back, but chances are they’ll send you a CSV file with all your content on it, meaning that you’ve lost years of content architecture work and the clean APIs and interface that you’ve created.

As the OG open-source content management platform, Drupal is without doubt the best way to maintain ownership of all your own content and your content architecture in a true open web. Hosting, however, remains an issue. The large hosting platforms are closed proprietary systems with terms of service that deny clients access to the underlying architecture. What are they doing with your data? They could be scouring it with AI models, creating advertising models based on your content, and reselling it.

What is a CMO to do to ensure data privacy in a composable setup? The answer is to find and work with innovative vendors who support the open web and data security values. There are trusted relationships to be made with smaller, more agile and creative vendors. Having a purely open-source platform that’s managed by a trusted vendor just feels better. There are great companies out there like Amazee that are doing very innovative things on the platform level to let you rethink data ownership and web privacy.

Five Takeaways

When it comes to the composable model, there are five key points to consider:

  1. The composable model increases innovation and speeds up iteration.
  2. Composability reduces the total cost of ownership.
  3. If you don’t fully own your data, someone else will, so any decisions must take data privacy and ownership into consideration from the start.
  4. It’s important to find and work with innovative vendors who support the open web and value data security.
  5. Substantive digital evolution requires time and leadership. It’s best not to settle for the path of least resistance.

At Chapter Three, we build unified platform solutions for clients with unified billing, making managing your platform much easier. We also firmly believe that clients should own and control their own content and will help you find innovative solutions to provide such control. If you’re a CMO and you’re interested in building a composable stack for your company, we encourage you to reach out to us.

For more on composability and the open web, please check out my interview on the AgileDrop podcast in August of this year. I’ve also written about the subject elsewhere on this blog, in Drupal evolves from Content Management System to Content Management Platform and What does a composable Drupal stack actually look like?