Interview with Boris Kraft, CTO of Magnolia

By Mike Johnston August 16, 2013 Interviews

Magnolia is an open source company that produces the popular enterprise content management system, Magnolia CMS. Recently, we were given an opportunity to interview Magnolia co-founder and CTO, Boris Kraft. For those unfamiliar with Magnolia CMS, this brief history of the product (and company) will get you up to speed.

Who is Boris Kraft?

Boris KraftCofounder of Magnolia International Ltd., the Swiss company that develops Magnolia CMS, a commercial open-source Content Management System used by leading organizations around the world.

His goals are simply to develop the world's best Content Management System by building a company that attracts world-class talent and focusses on people first, technology second.

In summer 2007 he launched the New-York-based Magnolia Americas, Inc., to establish a stronger presence for Magnolia in the American market. He has won new clients like Sony Latin America, Johnson & Johnson, J2 Global (efax) and the US Navy.

At Magnolia International, his current responsibilities include product management, business strategy and marketing.

His experience as a speaker include the keynote speech at Magnolia Conference 2009, 2010 and 2012, talks about Magnolia for the Web Content Mavens, Washington, 2008, the Server Side Java Symposium in Barcelona 2006, Innovation & Transformation, Washington DC, 2006, at OSCOM 2004 and at LOTS (Lets open the source) in 2004 and 2005. Earlier experiences include teaching computer science at the University of Cooperative Education Loerrach and presenting his parallel real-time simulation environment at the 8th Workshop on Parallel and Distributed Simulation in Edinburgh.

His career in IT includes object-oriented software development under NeXTSTEP, several years of active involvement in a leading Internet security company, the development of a distributed real-time simulation environment, the use of Oracle web technology, databases and CASE tools as well as programming the first ever intranet solution for Roche Vitamins AG.

Since 2002 he has been focusing on the development of Magnolia from a strategic and marketing perspective.

He likes to blog about all things Magnolia and regularly publishes articles in print magazines as well.

He lives in Switzerland with his wife and three kids.

The Interview

What do you think makes Magnolia unique in industry?

That depends on the direction from which you look at us. From a business perspective, I think it is interesting to see that the company is led by its two founders (Pascal Mangold & Boris Kraft), who make all strategic decisions jointly. It is also amazing to see that Magnolia has had no outside funding, no VC, no debt. Magnolia is independent in its best sense. We have found a business model that is sustainable: software licenses subscriptions – which in turn means that we can execute on our vision of building the worlds best CMS. This is no small endeavor, but given that that is no VC breathing down our necks, and that the business model works, we can move forward one step at a time and produce a product that is second to none in its quality, usability and focus.

Magnolia doesn’t compete with its partners. We don’t do project implementations – they do. That is why we have a rapidly growing partner network and a lot of trust between the implementation partner, us and our clients. It is a nice separation of concerns that is beneficial for our customers and our partners.

Technically, Magnolia 5 is the world’s first major CMS that has been rethought from the ground up to work on tablets as well as desktops. This opens up new horizons for its deployment for our customers, like its use for field services and intranet apps. We also happen to sport the world’s best Spring framework integration, something our high end customers benefit greatly from in their need to bring business logic & applications to the web, for instance in the travel, finance or telecoms industry.

Magnolia also has a technological advantage by providing a sophisticated best practise templating framework called STK (http://www.magnolia-cms.com/stk) which reduces project risk and speeds up implementation time. It allows pixel perfect sites both on mobile and desktop and is the reason many large enterprises see a very low TCO in their projects.

There is also the aspect that Magnolia is open source but vendor driven, so you get the best of the proprietary support & sales bundles with the quality and transparency of open source software.

What made you, as a company, choose to be an open source product?

Pragmatic decision, see history. No ideology behind it. We originally wrote Magnolia because we wanted a product that focuses on usability and scales to enterprise requirements. There was no intention to sell the product, so why not open source it. In 2006 we started selling an Enterprise Edition, which at the time was a novum for an application. It changed our future.

What is the biggest advantage to using Magnolia over other products?

Our customers would say its flexibility and ease-of-use. Indeed given our history as a service provider and personal interest in usability, design & architecture, this is understandable. When we started out we were clear in our ambition: write the world’s best CMS. Build something that is user friendly and enterprise-grade. This has resulted in a highly flexible, usable and focused content management product, which is starting to be rare these days.

With the latest release of Magnolia, there seems to be a heavy focus on the user experience, can you address that?

Magnolia 5 has been on our minds for years, and when the mobile revolution and the rise of tablets came to the equation, we knew we had to drop how user interfaces of enterprise software are usually done and take a radical new approach. In our case we were starting from the question “What would software (a CMS…) look like if we would write it for a tablet computer?”. This was an almost heretical approach. We started from scratch and did more than 3000 mock ups for Magnolia 5. The result is an enterprise software unlike any other, which fulfills all our wishes regarding usability and extensibility. It is a platform for years to come, and in fact I believe that all enterprise software will  eventually take a similar path. At the core is its reduction to task focused apps – like on your smartphone. We have added to it a way to communicate between the system, apps and users (called “the Pulse”) and a smart way to create custom task lists called “Favorites”. The result is outstanding and blows our customers away in its simplicity, flexibility and usability.

With many vendors shifting their focus to online marketing, what changes are you making to stay competitive?

Vendors have always been shifting their focus. That is part of the problem. If you try to build the world’s best limousine and then realize that people are now starting to spend money on private planes, will you buy a wing manufacturer, attach the wings to your car and call it a plane? That is pretty much what the competition does. Except they wouldn’t call it a plane, they’d call it “airborne transportation vehicle” or “ATC” ;-)

But back to us. Content Management is hard to do right. We have been on it for more than 10 years now. The web has developed rapidly, and so have our clients’ needs. You rightly point out a shift to marketing – that is understandable, because much of the business now happens on the web. But what about the business part of it? How can you integrate those back end applications and bring them to the web and mobile?  You still need to pull that off. So I think the heart of your infrastructure should be able to do the right things right. That is what we work on with Magnolia.

There are a myriad of tools available for online marketing, and every day we see new ones pop up. Our approach to deal with that is what we call “open suite” – with Magnolia at the core, customers have the ability to plug in any new tool for marketing or business needs using Magnolia’s integration capabilities. With Magnolia 5, these third party tools can then be exposed as an app. This approach is unlike your typical “customer experience management” lock-in suite. Magnolia allows you to take one step at a time and add whatever is most relevant for your next digital endeavors.

Over the years our customers have added pretty much any marketing tool on the planet to Magnolia, and thus proven that it is great to have such an open platform.

If you were to choose the ideal target customer for a Magnolia deployment, who would it be, what industry would they be in and why?

Well, customers chose us, not the other way around. We are strong in the financial industry, travel, retail etc. Typically, our customers create considerable revenue from their online offerings. They have a strong java team in place which is valued and respected by business (and marketing) because they understand that these are the guys that provide their online offering with unique advantages. Whenever technicians with a need for Java evaluate the CMS space, Magnolia will be on their short list.

What do you consider your biggest accomplishment as a company?

Having survived for 16 years now, attracting great talent, making our customers happy.

Your biggest failure?

To educate more people out there why Magnolia really is the better choice.

What are your favorite Magnolia CMS based websites that are still running it today and why?

The Ticket websites (Ticket.se and Ticket.no), which are the largest online travel retailer in Scandinavia. This is not our largest customer by any means, but the innovation that went into developing these sites, the work with the implementation partners and the customers, shows the true strength of open source and collaboration.

By working with the customer to integrate Magnolia with the Spring Java Framework, we found one of our most talented new developers and created a new product, Blossom, which is currently one of our strongest selling points.

With Blossom, customers that have back-end systems created using the Spring Framework (and there are a lot at the high-end) can now just drag this code into Magnolia to expose them as secure services on the web and mobile devices.

What is the most under-rated feature of Magnolia CMS?

Simplicity. People confuse simplicity with a lack of power, but it is about delivering powerful features, efficiently, where and when they are needed. The effect this has on creativity and efficiency can be astounding.

Our customers typically are well aware of all the benefits Magnolia brings. One feature that is often overlooked by prospects and implementation partners are Magnolia's on-demand image manipulation capabilities. This is a very powerful feature referred to as image variations, and is asset management functionality to generate different format images for different use cases, e.g. From one base image we automatically generate a smaller one for a teaser and yet other formats for mobile devices. This saves editors a lot of time because they can simply rely on Magnolia to generate all formats requested by the various output channels.

What can we expect to see from Magnolia in the coming 1-2 years?

Several commerce engine integrations; the productizing of personalization and content pool functionality. We also expect a lot of interesting apps to come out of our partner’s development efforts. In fact, some will already be presented at this year’s Magnolia Conference in September.

Do you have any parting comments?

With the launch of Magnolia 5, we are at the start of a new era for Magnolia. The whole app-based approach, has opened up the user experience to new levels of input and innovation. As an open source community, we cannot wait to see where our customers and partners take this new platform. We certainly have our own vision, but the joy is in combining this with the ideas and real-world needs of our customers and partners.

Want to learn more about Magnolia?

Check out their website or read our related articles (see the right sidebar on this site) to learn more.

Mike Johnston

Mike Johnston Author

Mike started CMS Critic in 2008 and has become a recognizable face and valued expert in the world of content management. He has worked with many small business and enterprises to establish their online presence and to assist with marketing strategies. If you are interested in working with him, drop him a line.

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