Open source as a secret weapon

TechForge recently spoke with VP of sales at Umbraco, Adam Bateson, as he explained the benefits of hyper-automation and digital workforces, and the importance of sustainability.

Could you tell us a little bit about the company you work for?

Umbraco is the largest open source CMS. We are a Danish software company that’s been around for some 17 years, and we’ve also been in the US for a few years now – initially with just one or two salespeople working with our business partners. I came on just under two years ago and, since then, we’ve ramped up a team here in Charlotte, North Carolina, to almost 20 people. 

We’re primarily a sales and marketing team in the US but we do have some support people. We have a follow the sun support team at Umbraco, based out of Denmark, here in the US, and also a new Vietnam team, to support our clients. And we also have a developer relations presence, which is a big deal, because we’re open source and we have a big community.

Speed to market would be the big key element for Umbraco. If you look at any G2 comparisons, we’re very fast to market for small websites, mid market and even for the large enterprise clients that we work with. We offer a much faster, go live from the start of a project. If you compare with some of our proprietary competitors, we offer generally a lower cost as we don’t have a licence because we’re open source. And how we make money is through offering services, support and add-on products. 

I think the open source nature of Umbraco is our secret weapon. We have partners and customers coming to us that exclusively only want to work with open source vendors. So I think the ability to innovate, customise and change midway through a project, through access to the code is offering greater flexibility for developers. We also have a very intuitive interface. For content editors and marketing teams, it’s a great technology to keep you safe, but also easy to use without the need to access developers to necessarily do things. 

We also have the Umbraco marketplace. That offers some 200 Plus packages, some of those free, some of those paid, some of them from Umbraco ourselves, but also created by business partners, some of the MVPs from our community. Even some of our employees have built some of these packages, and they really helped to future proof the investment in Umbraco to allow new clients, or existing clients – if they come up with a new idea or a new innovation or something they need to do online – they can use these packages and springboard to outcomes. 

What have been the latest developments at Umbraco?

We’ve just launched beta for version 14, which offers some really great new features, particularly around the back office for developers, but also for marketing teams. 

We also launched Umbraco commerce midway through 2023. We have strong  integration with the likes of Shopify and uCommerce for people that want out of the box commerce solutions. But Umbraco commerce is a little different. It offers a toolset approach for people that are wanting to perhaps build something a bit more custom for their online presence, and really offers the tool sets to do that and do things that are maybe a little bit more specific to a requirement. 

And I heard you’ve recently launched a sustainability challenge. What does that involve?

Sustainability is a really big deal for us. We started looking at how we can become carbon neutral as a company a while back. We launched our second impact report recently, and we’ve done that for two years running. Focusing on our carbon footprint got us thinking maybe we should help educate and focus our partners on how they can also embrace sustainability?

Many of our partners are already doing that, and are very good at it. But I think by having a community all talking about sustainability was really the purpose for that sustainability challenge, and it actually then transfers to clients. 

So Umbraco clients, whether they’re working through an agency or with us directly, can build more sustainable websites. And what that does, is it actually ends up with faster online experiences, and potentially makes you more money and attracts more eyeballs to the site, if that’s what you’re doing online. So it translates into dollars and cents. Some of the examples of the award winners from last year’s Umbraco Awards are excellent examples of highly engaging sustainable websites. 

If you look at some of the statistics, Gerry McGovern talks about the cloud being run by some 70 million servers, the European Commission talks about between 5% and 9% of all electricity being used to just run the internet. And if we think about that being run just off fossil fuels, that’s a real problem when you’ve got 3.7% of greenhouse gas emissions contributing to online, which is on par with the aviation industry. Those numbers are quite compelling and really worth us focusing on how we can become more sustainable in everything we do online.

In 2023 the company also launched a new platinum partner program, which supplements the current Registered, Silver and Gold partnerships. Could you tell us a little bit about these different partnerships and their importance?

The Platinum Partner programme, or the new partner model, was launched in June last year, and it is a little unique as far as it’s a credit-based partnership. The partners invest money, which they get returned back in credits at a greater amount than their investment, and that can be used towards purchasing services and add-ons for Umbraco for their clients. 

Credits can also be used to purchase training and support for their own business. It allows Umbraco to dedicate our time to those dedicated partners for marketing and joint marketing activities, sales activities, assisting them with lead generation, technical support and really technical discussions. The level, whether it’s platinum, gold or silver, indicates the level of certification that the partner has with Umbraco.

What trends are you seeing in content management this year?

We’re seeing a big trend towards headless. And the main technologies that we offer, Umbraco Cloud and Umbraco Heartcore are both headless CMSs. And that allows companies to separate concerns between the back end and the front end in development. So you can do more integrations and you can potentially be more flexible in the way you’re developing your online presence or application. 

Another big one is personalisation. That’s something that’s been a challenge for a long time, but with some of the recent innovations in technology, personalisation is becoming more and more advanced, and something that is really making a difference for clients that are building online presences. 

I think a third one that is interesting is voice to search optimisation. My daughter, when she’s texting her friends, all she does is voice to text, so I think voice to search is just the natural progression and a subtle change to how we cater for different end-users online. And, for certain types of people, maybe it’s the only way that they’re going to use search in the future. 

What are the advantages of digital workforces?

They definitely increase productivity, and increase flexibility for organisations. I think a big one that potentially gets overlooked is the ability to attract the best talent and for employee retention. Having a really great remote, from anywhere, secure ability to do work is important to young people joining organisations. And the ability to attract those people and retain those best and brightest is something that a really good digital workforce or workplace platform will do. 

As far as running a digital workforce, I think you need to have the proper tooling in place. You need to have good collaboration tools. You need to have the ability to work remotely, securely from anywhere, and you need to have proper training for that.

How can hyper-automation benefit companies, and what are the main issues companies should be mindful of when attempting to implement this?

That’s a great question and very topical. Hyper automation is such a tremendous change for enterprises, for any clients. It’s a little like Tailor Swift’s fan base, it is here and now, and it’s happening whether you like it or not – and both are experiencing exponential growth curves. The big change for hyper automation, particularly as it relates to IT infrastructure, is the significant reduction in errors. And if you implement a hyper automation strategy effectively, and you don’t go around and meddle with it, once you’ve got it up and up and running, you really can have some substantial error reductions. 

And that translates into a reduction in major incidents within organisations that can often take down whole departments for anything from hours to days, and really cost businesses. I think some of the savings, through reduction in risks and improving efficiencies are a big deal. 

Regarding the challenges with hyper automation, particularly for enterprises with legacy applications, how do you integrate with hyper automation? Do you run in parallel, a new greenfield hyper automation programme? Then how do you account for the costing of your legacy systems? Or do you integrate? Or do you try to renovate or refine the legacy using hyper automation? 

These are some big questions that I think are facing enterprise customers. And how do you budget and cost for the ongoing administration and scalability for usage? Really big challenges. 

Another one that we’re seeing here at Umbraco is that employees might be fearful. They don’t want to be replaced. They need to understand and be educated as to how their role may evolve in the company. How they potentially will be needed to do less automated type functions and more that apply grey matter. 

And I think data privacy is another big one, particularly for executives that are using hyper automation. You don’t want to be accessing a publicly available AI tool, and then have some of that secret information somehow be available on the internet.

What plans does Umbraco have for the year ahead?

We’ve got Codegarden coming up in June 2024, which is Umbraco’s big annual event based in Odense in Denmark. We’ll have nearly 1,000 people converging on that city – a lot of developers, community members, business partners, technology partners – all of the employees will be there. So that’s very exciting. 

And we will have a lot of news and information being launched at Codegarden. We’ll also have a smaller version of that, which is a US festival in Chicago, later in the year, and a partner forum at the same time. So there are lots of events happening and we have, on average, an event that we attend, or are running, every other day at Umbraco globally. So we do a lot of events and a lot of open source community work. 

We’ll have a big push on sustainability. So you’ll continue to see information from us about sustainable practices with websites, sustainability from our own internal company, and our business partnerships. 

And I think, as an open source company, we do a lot with the community. So you’ll continue to see innovation with the community, and also from sales and marketing an expanded market presence globally. We have expanded in the US, but we will continue to expand into other markets. Out of the US, we also manage Canada, Australia and New Zealand markets. We launched a data center in Australia late last year, so we’ll continue to see more of that, globally.

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