web cms: monolithic or modular
Which direction are we going with WCM? PHOTO: Hugo Silva

Content marketers will continue to leverage web content management (WCM) technologies to facilitate the “best next digital experience” as monolithic infrastructures are replaced by more “modular, granular and atomic” technologies.

That's the prediction from Gartner authors Mick MacComascaigh and Jim Murphy in their latest Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management.

Cloud services will win in WCM, they wrote, and “microservices with a high level of interoperability will enable WCM elements to be coupled with different sets of third-party technologies, depending on the requirements of the current phase of the customer's journey.” 

Rise of Microservices

As CMSWire author Scott Fulton wrote recently, "The value proposition of microservices is starting to take shape, with the promise of breaking down software platforms into components that are easier to host, simpler to manage and less expensive overall.” 

Gartner nailed it with its observation that WCM must become more modular, said Tom Wentworth, CMO of Cambridge, Mass.-based RapidMiner, a data science platform. Wentworth’s the former CMO of Acquia, a leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant along with Sitecore, Adobe, Episerver, IBM and Oracle.

head shot of Tom Wentworth, chief marketing officer at Acquia
Tom Wentworth

“The future of WCM isn’t the monolithic applications and marketing clouds we see today," Wentworth said, adding that "vendors must focus on allowing customers to assemble digital experiences by easily connecting services and APIs."

'Right Tools for the Job'

James Cannings, co-founder of London-based MMT Digital, which designs websites and applications, said the future of WCM comes back "to picking the right tools for the particular needs of your organization and then putting those tools in the hands of experts.”

Some of the main WCM players still try to hooked customers into their products, which clashes with deployment of lightweight, modular microservices. 

“What I do agree with is the importance of interoperability between the WCM and other third-party services,” Cannings said. “A great user experience with relevant personalizations and quality automated marketing needs these types of integrations. In other words, the architecture of the WCM itself is less important than this overall architectural approach for your integration strategy."

The Headless Debate

The monolith versus microservices argument isn't new, Pantheon's Josh Koenig blogged last year. Included in the conversation is the headless CMS; that is, a CMS that focuses solely on the back-end work that delivers content via an API.

But CMSWire author Boris Kraft wrote in April that a headless CMS approach won't solve all WCM problems. 

"Frustrated with the inability to use their skills and work quickly enough, many developers feel that they don’t need a traditional CMS, and have started looking for alternatives," he wrote. Kraft disagrees with that approach because a CMS typically provides things like asset management, navigation, security, workflow, access control, caching, categorization and link management. 

"These and many more," he wrote, "are not immediately available with a headless CMS approach."

Success Depends on the UX Team

james cannings
James Cannings

Cannings stressed that to leverage WCM, organizations must have the right people in place. Although Gartner’s contention that digital practitioners aspire to use WCM to help achieve the "best next customer experience,” WCM is only a tool, Cannings cautioned.

Without a qualified user experience (UX) team at the controls, enterprises could suffer as they try to execute on digital experience promises, Cannings said.

“I suspect a seriously good UX team and top front-end team — to make sure it’s fast, a key component of any great UX, and responsive across all devices — would build a better website using static HTML than an inexperienced team with any of the platforms listed by Gartner,” said Cannings.

Forrester Research analyst Ted Schadler, in his company's 2015 WCM Wave, called WCM the “backbone of digital experience delivery.”

Canning, however, contends the tool will only get companies so far. Core components like research, data, competitor analysis, user personas, information architecture, prototyping, etc. must be in place.

“Of course there is more to creating a great website than just a having a strong user experience team in place,” Cannings said. “You need a good integration strategy in order to have a single view of your customer journey (e.g. CRM integration). The point is, although they might have some handy tools, the WCM can’t magically create this amazing customer experience on its own. You need to combine the right tools with the right people.”

WCM is Central

Gartner’s MacComascaigh and Murphy contend that web presence is at the center of a broader multichannel, marketing strategy. Personalization and personalized content is essential. 

“The democratization of capabilities has provided greater agility for marketers and enabled WCM to be formally regarded as key to delivering engaging digital experiences to multiple audiences,” they wrote.

In an interview with CMSWire, MacComascaigh said WCM vendors are better off when they understand the aspirational strategic objectives of their target audiences and know who can leverage digitalization to expand their story.

“However,” MacComascaigh told CMSWire, “telling a better, bigger, more inspirational story is only one part of the question. In addition to being descriptive, they must also be prescriptive in paving the path along which their customers need to progress and be instructional where required/requested every step of the way. Leaders need to encourage customers proactively and set the appropriate pace — and not run too far ahead of them.”

Why Leaders Lead 

headshot of Ali Alkhafaji of Valtech
Ali A. Alkhafaji

WCM platforms today are not just powerful tools that enable rapid and on-demand content creation but rather a gravitational center for Customer Experience Management (CEM or CXM) paradigm, said Ali A. Alkhafaji, vice president, head of technology at Paris-based digital agency Valtech.

How do Gartner’s leaders fit into the paradigm?

Adobe has focused for years on putting the Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) tool at the center of the Adobe Marketing Cloud, ensuring all of these acquired “marketing super tools” integrate natively with AEM, he added. Even the new mobility offer was named “Adobe Experience Manager Mobile,” Alkhafaji noted. 

“Sitecore is no different,” he said. “Its focus is on enabling and extending the marketing capabilities of their CMS within and outside their digital marketing system. Those include campaign, mobility, segmentation and analytics features is visible and intentional. This was also apparent with their new commerce offering, powered by Microsoft Dynamics.” 

Episerver has been able to bundle up two powerful tools in one integrated platform: content management and commerce. 

“With the surely-to-come eventual sunsetting of Ektron, Episerver should be able to focus on adding and enhancing the marketing capabilities of their product,” Alkhafaji said.

Asked about Adobe and Sitecore, Gartner’s top two leaders, MacComascaigh told CMSWire, “Both of these players are driving the edge of the market very effectively and have been the triggers for the bifurcation. They both play the ‘suite’/ ‘best of breed’ cards interchangeably and effectively, and they both have a strong culture of innovation and vision to drive the wedge even further.”

Click here to access the full Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management (fee charged).