Acquia vs Sitecore – A guide for marketers

Acquia vs Sitecore – A guide for marketers
5th May 2020

Understanding the subtle differences between Acquia vs Sitecore is key when deciding between two highly sophisticated pieces of software. But which will provide the most optimised experience for your organisation and its audience?

If your organisation is in the market for an upgrade to your Web Content Management (WCM) system, researching and understanding the subtle differences between the products on offer can be time consuming and sometimes frustrating.  The variances between vendors are small. But slight differences in product functionality can make huge differences to your business, depending on your organisation’s individual needs.

During your cms comparison journey, shortlisting a number of options will help you decide which WCM platform best suits your organisation’s goals. Acquia and Sitecore both offer highly flexible systems. They provide many features that will meet the needs of most businesses, however there are number of differences between the platforms that need to be explored.

Round one: Open or proprietary software?

Sitecore is a global leader in providing proprietary experience management software. This means it is a closed source, paid for software. Users require Sitecore licensing and specialised developers to develop a solution. Sitecore’s model is geared towards enterprise-level organisations that need a solution with a high standard of security, that’s built and governed to industry best practices. Generally, organisations that are serious about their digital roadmap and creating superior digital experiences with sophisticated capabilities are best suited with a closed-source platform.

That’s not to say that open-source software doesn’t have its benefits too. Acquia is an open source digital experience company that is heavily intertwined with the open-source WCMS, Drupal. Technically, it’s an open-proprietary platform which removes the common benefits of open source. For example, perceived benefits to open source are that its cheaper, it comes without a ‘vendor lock-in’ and has security advantages. To fully understand its structure, it is important to appreciate its origins in Drupal and why Acquia’s ‘open-proprietary’ set up doesn’t quite deliver in the same way as open source.

The first Drupal CMS was developed in 2000. In 2007 they went on to develop Acquia, billed as the open digital experience platform for Drupal. This new cloud-based software was built around Drupal to give enterprises (who were already using Drupal) the ability to build, operate and optimise their digital products. Acquia has now grown to provide a digital experience platform with Drupal at its core.

Open source software can often keep initial cost down, provide high security, good quality and avoid vendor ‘lock in’. However, Acquia, in this sense, is not a traditional ‘open source’ platform, which is explained over the following comparative rounds between Acquia vs Sitecore.

Round two:  Pricing

There is no licence fee to use Acquia’s Drupal distribution, Lightning. This essentially means the initial outlay for an enterprise is zero. True to the ‘open source’ nature of Acquia’s roots in Drupal. However, like most ‘open’ platforms, additional costs tend to stack up later down the line.

In comparison, Sitecore works on a paid licencing model, where various factors are taken into account. The price you pay to licence the software is dependent on the bespoke package of elements your enterprise needs. Sitecore pricing will differ depending on from how many user visits you estimate to have per month, non-production installations, concurrent users and which add-on modules you choose.

But what does a free licence get your organisation? It is very important to take a step back and look at what ‘out of the box’ components you are getting with Acquia. Yes, it’s free initially, but do the tools that Acquia provide fulfil your organisation’s needs and future ambitions? On closer inspection, it is here where Acquia loses its ‘open source’ nature and becomes more of an ‘open proprietary’ platform. In order to customise your core software, to meet your business’ needs, you must choose from several of Acquia’s paid for, pre-packaged modular solutions. You also pay additional fees for ongoing access to Acquia cloud hosting, maintenance and support.

Moving forward, implementation of the chosen platform represents one of the highest costs associated with getting any software package off the ground. When you compound the costs of adding on Acquia’s pre-packaged solutions, hosting and support plus implementation, the supposed ‘open source’ software may have a much higher price tag than initially anticipated.

So, between Acquia vs Sitecore, who wins on price? In the short term, Acquia is without doubt the cheaper option. However, if your organisation has plans to grow and evolve within this digital era and meet customer expectations, then you’re going to get better value in the long term from Sitecore and avoid any hidden extra costs later down the line.

Round three: Vendor lock In

For some organisations the pull of a traditional ‘open source’ platform is the ease of which you can access a global community of partners. These partners can provide endless ‘add on’ modules to suit your businesses individual requirements. If one application isn’t working, uninstall and try another. Avoiding ‘lock in’ to one particular vendor.

Whilst Drupal Core provides this, Acquia Lightning is a Drupal distribution and works differently. Acquia Lightning has Drupal Core at its foundations, but comes pre-packaged with Acquia components, essentially attaching you to a specific vendor: Acquia. As mentioned above, if this basic package doesn’t suit your business requirements, you can customise this by choosing from a number of Acquia add-on applications, further tying you to the platform. These components come with individual subscription fees, as does Acquia cloud hosting and support. In this sense, Acquia is a closed ‘eco-system’.

Similar to Acquia, Sitecore is completely customisable. Sitecore can provide a bespoke selection of modules to suit your organisation’s ambitions. These modules are all native to the platform providing reliable solutions with top notch security and robust support all with one vendor: Sitecore.

For vendor lock in commitments, both platforms are similar, it comes down to which software is going to be the most beneficial to your organisation and its long term goals.

Round four: WCM+ or DXP Interface

82% of marketers believe their brands are meeting customer expectations, however only 10% of consumers strongly agree that most brands provide a good experience. This demonstrates that providing a basic website is no longer meeting the expectations of the majority of people who are digitally active.

In order to meet the ever increasing needs of users, Sitecore launched the first version of its digital experience platform (DXP) in 2008. Since then, Sitecore has developed a DXP that unifies creating, managing, delivering and measuring personalised digital experiences. It is in fact, the only vendor on the market that provides this.

Acquia initially offered managed cloud hosting and modified services for Drupal. Slowly developing over the years, it can now be classed as a WCM+. Self-labelled as a DXP, it approaches that capability but still is lacking in a number of areas.

For ambitious enterprises, Sitecore most definitely edges into the lead in this round with their market leading DXP. Continuing with this comparison the following rounds look closely at what Sitecore’s DXP and Acquia’s WCM+ can provide your organisation in more detail.

Round five: Headless content management

Headless content, ‘write once – publish everywhere’, is particularly valuable to marketers. This is especially true for enterprise level businesses who want to offer an omnichannel experience.  Both Acquia and Sitecore offer headless scenarios. However, it can be said that Sitecore’s offering ‘Sitecore Omni’ is more mature. Sitecore offers all content stored in a single location, available to use anywhere on the site. It has a decoupled presentation layer, which can deliver personalised digital experiences for all users.

In comparison, Acquia’s headless architecture is still in its infancy and can present technical challenges to developers. These challenges can often be costly to fix and can mean losing the ability to provide a personalised customer experience for users. Something that is now seen as a necessity not a nicety.

Between Acquia vs Sitecore for headless, there’s no real contest, Sitecore is leagues ahead from years leading in the industry and years refining its technology.

Round six: Personalisation

Online user expectations have risen sharply in the last few years. Customers expect brands they engage with to know them and offer a seamless, personalised experience. Sitecore have been refining their personalisation capabilities for over a decade. Sitecore’s personalisation capabilities provide marketers with a suite of tools from behaviour based targeting to machine learning and valuable insights. Native to the Sitecore platform, its sophisticated tools can provide an omnichannel experience. Plus, its interface is user friendly even for beginners.

With Acquia, personalisation can be added onto the core distribution of Lightning with Acquia Lift. Lift is the only personalisation tool for Drupal and is billed as a ‘no code’ application. Like Sitecore, users have the ability to create content, collect data and build personalisation on one simple interface. However, in Acquia, when content is used in ‘headless’ scenarios, personalisation capabilities can be lost or require developer input to fix.

Sitecore again edges forward with their capabilities, providing a top tier level of hyper personalisation from years of refining this feature. If personalisation was a car, Acquia’s capabilities would be closer to that of a second-hand Vauxhall. Does a reasonable job in getting the user from A to B in the journey, but nothing like a Mercedes or Tesla, that’s considered everything it’s driver might enjoy during the journey.

Round seven: Seamless content management

One of the major advantages of Sitecore, is its integrated platform ‘Content Hub’ which provides end-to-end content management. Other platforms like Acquia offer a ‘white labelled’ alternative, where their platform is in fact made up from hundreds of third-party modules – all under the digital asset management umbrella. This can mean one poorly built module leading to issues throughout your whole site.

Sitecore Content Hub is fully integrated into the CMS, DXP and commerce products. The Content Hub includes Sitecore DAM, content marketing platform (CMP), product content management (PCM), and marketing resource management (MRM) capabilities. This gives marketers the ability to work efficiently end-to-end developing the content that makes up a user’s personalised digital experience.

Both Sitecore and Acquia are very capable platforms, when utilised to the fullest they both possess the tools and processes to take your organisation further along its digital roadmap. The question is how ambitious is your organisation?

Acquia vs Sitecore – which is best for your organisation?

After weighing up the various pros and cons of each piece of software, only you can decide which you think is best suited to your organisations needs and ambitions. Acquia would be a suitable choice for smaller organisations that aren’t planning on growth that requires a scalable solution. It ticks the box for a lower budget solution, with limited features.

However, if you’re a results driven organisation and focused on future progression, Sitecore can provide you a first class enterprise level solution that will carry your organisation through into its digital future and provide outstanding value for years to come.

If you’re unsure of the steps you need to take to begin your organisations digital transformation, talk to us – we would be happy to chat through your different options. We are Kagool, a top tier Platinum Sitecore Partner with over two decades of experience creating optimised Sitecore experiences for enterprise-level organisations around the globe. Contact us today to discuss your project requirements.