People who work with digital experience (DX) and web content management (WCM) software “behind-the-firewall” tend to fall into two groups: technical users and non-technical users. Intentionally or unintentionally, DX and WCM software vendors have put up a virtual wall between technical and non-technical users. This leaves the heaviest daily users of the software — typically non-technical business users — reliant on the technical users, such as IT staff or marketing technologists, to accomplish many core tasks with DX and WCM software. 

What follows is my case for why this wall needs to come down.

Current State

Every organization I’ve encountered involves both types of users in the buying process for DX and WCM software. Generally speaking, the non-technical users define the business requirements, and the technical users evaluate the software for whether or how well it will fit into the enterprise architecture. Post-installation, the non-technical users always want to manage and create content with the software, with as little involvement from the technical users as possible. The problem lies in where this line is currently drawn.

Ideally, the technical users would primarily be involved with initial implementation. This is where back-office resources like data sources and digital asset management systems are wired to the DX or WCM software, links to directory services and users and permissions are established, etc. From that point forward, the non-technical (i.e., business users) want to — and should — be self-sufficient, partly for efficiency reasons but also because involving the technical users in the day-to-day management of the software comes at a cost (read:chargeback).

According to analysts Ted Schadler and Mark Grannan of Forrester and Tony Byrne from the Real Story Group (fee), business users still must rely on their technical counterparts when it comes to content creation and personalization. The “practitioner tools” available in most DX platforms and WCM software (fee) aren’t designed for business users. 

For example, when it comes to layouts and templates, business users are largely relegated to being “editors,” able to make relatively minor changes to content originally composed by technical users. Business users are generally unable to create content from scratch with the tools supplied to them by the WCM/DX software. Here’s where you should be saying, "Really?” 

Yes, really.

What Are Practitioner Tools?

The aforementioned analysts often use the term “practitioner tools” in their research. They are referring to the parts of the DX or WCM software used to create and manage content. This includes creating layouts (i.e., the structure and order of content), building templates from those layouts (i.e., defining what static and variable content should populate a given layout), and then creating final-form content like web pages from templates. 

Final-form content is the result of personalizing a template using variable or contextual content — sometimes called “relevancy modules” or “smart content” — which might include a different headline, copy, image or offer based on some visitor-specific criteria (referred page, geolocation, etc.) or otherwise personalizing content, particularly for known users as opposed to unknown or anonymous visitors.

Today, most DX and WCM tools require someone with deep HTML, CSS and JavaScript knowledge to build content as modules or reusable objects, to create a layout defining where content should appear on a page, and to create a template specifying exactly which content to use in the layout. Only then can a mere mortal business user access a template, make relatively minor tweaks and publish the final-form content. That’s just not good enough. Especially when you consider that the analysts recommend sharing content across organizational boundaries and the functional areas of marketing, commerce and service. How many folks in your service organization know what CSS is, much less are able to code it by hand?

Desired Future State

Non-technical business users need tools that make it easy for them to create a layout, define what content or content type (e.g., text, image, etc.) goes into each region of that layout, and then populate each region with content. Ideally, the practitioner tools would also allow business users to write the business rules for including or excluding content, and to choose variables (e.g., ||*UserName*||) that will be resolved each time final-format content is rendered for a specific end-customer.

Out of the many vendors evaluated in the recent web content management and digital experience Forrester Wave reports, only Adobe Experience Manager is celebrated for its practitioner tools. IBM and HP get credit for improving their practitioner tools, but when you speak directly with the analysts, it becomes clear that every DX and WCM vendor — even Adobe — has fallen short of true business user ownership of content creation and management.

We need to see the power and precision of a tool like Adobe InDesign combined with the simplicity of software like business-user-friendly MailChimp. We need practitioner tools that can handle creating, previewing and producing content for mobile, web and print. And we need the tools to work across organizational silos, content types and touchpoints. According to Ted Schadler, we could be waiting 10 or more years for those tools to appear on the market.

Always Room for Improvement

As of today, almost every web content management system and digital experience platform is missing something, especially when it comes to practitioner tools. 

But don’t despair. We’re still in the early stages of digital experience platform maturity, and even though WCMs have been around for nearly 20 years, there’s still room for improvement there, too. Read up on the literature, speak with analysts, and learn whether or how your current WCM and/or DX solution(s) could be supplemented to empower your business users to own the content they generate from beginning to end.

Title image CC BY 2.0 by  ibm4381