This is a guest post from Chris Lema, the VP of Software Engineering at Emphasys Software, where he manages high performers and oversees product development and innovation. He’s also a blogger, and an e-book author
WordPress is sneaking into the Enterprise
With WordPress powering over 17% of the Internet, it’s no surprise that it’s showing up inside corporations. And when WordPress does show up, is it any surprise that it can just as easily be proposed to management by business analysts as by software developers? If you’re a student of software development and IT, it shouldn’t be. Here’s why.
WordPress is nothing new
Remember when developers were busy on corporate IT projects while business analysts were using Microsoft Access to solve day-to-day problems? Just a few years later, those same analysts were creating Excel spreadsheets and using VBA to build their solutions. And a few years later, the BA’s wouldn’t wait for IT to get around to their projects, so they started using other tools like IronSpeed. As technology has grown more and more accessible, it has simultaneously freed up the enterprise to operate more efficiently, and it was only a matter of time until your corporate IT team wasn’t quite as essential to get your website built.
Non-Programmers love “hacking” too
I’ve been managing software development in and for corporate enterprises for almost two decades. In that time, I’ve seen the same pattern over and over. The VP of Sales or the VP of Marketing has an idea, a new initiative. They take it to the IT department who has no bandwidth for these “little” projects. And then some young, enterprising employee who is a non-programmer pulls a MacGyver – the decide they are going to make the project happen, and find the tools they understand how to work with, figure out what they can’t, and develop a solution.
There are constraints, but that’s part of the beauty
WordPress is amazing, but it has certain constraints that make it appropriate for marketing. It’s great strengths are also weaknesses in certain instances. WordPress isn’t typically hosted on official infrastructure, which limits what content you can publish on it. WordPress often hasn’t been vetted and approved by a committee and/or the chief software architect. Of course, this is part of the benefit. It means that you can implement the WordPress install without 8 months of approvals! It’s a solution that works, and works quickly. And because it works, it gets deployed, and your marketing department can manage the project, and control the message, soup to nuts.
WordPress isn’t only for blogs anymore
But isn’t WordPress only for blogs? Well, no. WordPress is a full-scale application framework. With thousands of themes, and 23 thousand plugins, you can expand WordPress to accomplish almost any goal for your enterprise – including an internal social network with BuddyPress.
So let’s say that VP of Marketing has an idea to build a new online community, but can’t get any traction with corporate IT. What do they do? Well today they can find someone with technical skills on their team, hand them a WordPress site (probably on a managed hosting platform) and then point them to any of the following three WordPress plugins that offer the ability to build an app without any programming.
1. Toolset – Build complete WordPress sites without coding
Initially they released Types & Views. Their Types module focuses on creating custom post types and meta boxes – expanding WordPress functionality without programming. Their Views module focused on displaying the data saved in those custom post types. But then they went further – creating a simple way for end users to add content via front-end forms. So CRED offers a database-like form interface that can collect any data at all. And Access determines who can access which screens.
In the paradigm of an architect, and construction crew, the team behind Toolset decided to eliminate the construction crew. Now even a marketing intern can step into the role of the architect and build an entire application without ever writing a line of code. All with one Toolset.
2. Pods Framework
Another option for that marketing intern is always the Pods Framework. It’s another way to build an application without coding. While Toolset delivers a lot of it’s power on the front end display, Pods spends equal time on the infrastructure. Think of Toolset as a product that really focuses on the facade of your construction while Pods spends more time on plumbing. You don’t need them both, but picking one is based on where you plan to do the most construction.
Last September or October, the same video was passed to me several times in a single day. It was the video of a demonstration of Piklist. And once you see it, you’ll realize why it was getting passed around. Again, this is another solution that lets everyday users create something more than a blog with WordPress. In our construction metaphor, our marketing intern still gets every right to choose their own tools, and Piklist provides them another option.
Should you use WordPress as an Application Framework?
I understand the debate that currently revolves around whether WordPress should be an application framework. Many “serious” engineers will highlight all the reasons why you should use something else than WordPress as your app engine. But while the engineers are debating the merits of WordPress for applications, savvy organizations skipped the debate and moved on to actually building applications on top of WordPress. Because it was easy. Because it was free. Because it was there and it was possible. Because they had too much to accomplish to wait around in committee.
The first time I used WordPress inside our corporation was a few years ago. Amusingly, at the time, I was both in charge of marketing and in charge of development. But like I’ve mentioned, my dev team was too busy to work on this internal initiative. Rather than abandon the project, I introduced WordPress to our organization.
The project was an innovation contest, which we were able to develop fully within the WordPress framework. The contest had three rounds, which became WordPress Categories. In each round contest entrants could submit a response with a WordPress Post to a prompt, which was part of the WordPress Category page template. Then, the Posts were voted on with the GD Star Rating plugin. Only the high scorers moved forward into the next round.
What could have been a .NET application that our dev team might have spent days on was instead a WordPress solution that was up in less than two hours.
Beyond having a great experience in our innovation contest, many users asked about WordPress and we ended up transitionung to our using WordPress for many things including our corporate extranets (4), knowledgebases (4), support solutions (1), and even a full-blown real estate product.
WordPress isn’t only for blogs anymore
As the Vice President of Emphasys Software, a 35-year old company that specializes in enterprise software products, and as an advisor of technology startups, I’ve seen and used WordPress as an application framework across dozens of projects for years. I choose to use WordPress for our enterprise projects for a variety of reasons. But I can distill it down to three. I use WordPress because it is easy. Because it is free. Because it is there and it makes amazing things possible.
Chris Lema is the VP of Software Engineering at Emphasys Software, where he manages high performers and oversees product development and innovation. He’s also a blogger (chrislema.com), ebook author (amazon.com/author/lema) and runs a WordPress meetup in North County San Diego (meetup.com/WordPress-San-Diego/).