CHICAGO — During one of the first workshop sessions on the  docket at CMSWire's inaugural DX Summit, The Real Story Group founder Tony Byrne advised attendees looking for guidance for their digital architecture roadmaps, not to look for platforms that purport to do everything on the user’s behalf.

“Any vendor who says, ‘I can do everything for you,’ is probably one you should stay away from,” said Byrne. “Because the chances are, they don’t do any of them particularly well.

“Even though Web content management has been around since ’96, and some people would argue ’94,” he continued, “the things that they do — even though, from a feature perspective, they may be very similar, the way that they work can really be quite different. Which is why, when we focus people on RFPs and other kinds of selection approaches, we really encourage you not to think, ‘What does the tool do?’ but ‘How does it work?’”

The Integration Imperative

Monday morning’s workshop was highly interactive, attended by Web marketing managers and supervisors, marketing heads and content management vendors.  After listening to their input, it became clear at the outset that the biggest dilemma marketers face today is their lack of ability to get at the data they know they’re collecting about their customers.

Data integration, especially now that “legacy systems” are as little as five years old, has become critical. Byrne noted he knows of some organizations (without naming names) spending millions on organizational data warehouses and integration retooling, including assigning the task to separate and independent teams.

There’s an implication there that organizations are actually building silos and charging them with the task of breaking down silos.

Byrne also noted there are some key segments of the WCM market where software-as-a-service has failed to launch as even he predicted.

“Ten years ago, I thought software-as-a-service, like CrownPeak and Clickability, would come to dominate the market. And they didn’t; in fact, they both have largely failed in the marketplace,” he added, compared to how established players have expanded, leaving these two brands in their wake.

The problem, as he explains it, has been scaling. Contrary to popular wisdom, he said, SaaS applications have actually been simple products, some of whose features may actually be quite good, and in many cases whose niche ends up being very well-served.

But the components of these products don’t scale like platforms. Whereas cloud-based software and services were supposed to be platforms that scale up as their users’ needs scale up, their feature base actually ends up being somewhat fixed.

The result, in some cases, actually appears to be a strengthening of silos in organizations, largely due to data’s native inability to integrate and to scale.

There’s not many ways to get at the data that SaaS products generate, wherever that may reside.  So the trend toward building operational data warehouses — streams of data that bridge the gaps between technology silos — has actually increased among the organizations Byrne follows.

Byrne’s Real Story Group has a client base consisting 100 percent of user organizations, not vendors and not technology firms.

The Danger of 'Power Users'

One attendee who has managed Web outreach for a major multi-national retailer told the story of how the corporation’s asset management tool of choice offered a kind of “power-user” interface, designed to serve as a way to get under the hood and access the data when all else fails.

Luckily, by virtue of answering a marketing employee’s call for help using this tool, he was able to stop the employee moments before inadvertently changing the default image for a quarter-million inventory items, to a picture of just one product.

His case study revealed the serious dangers that arise when a DAM product, or any platform with access to corporate digital assets, is given a “power-user” front end — giving folks unfettered, unchecked access to those assets.

It may be the easiest way for the vendor to open up the data to a possible external channel for data integration. But it may give users what this attendee described as “too sharp” a tool.

Such sharp scalpels, like light switches, are easier for vendors to produce than protected, secure interfaces that lead users by the hand, but protect them from accomplishing anything too dangerous.

“As a practical matter, you want to have a release-safe way of being able to modify this interface for your particular editor journeys,” said Byrne. “But I think the bigger story here is that we’re still kinda figuring this out.

“Twenty years in, and with all the changes in the marketplace, we’re still kinda figuring out, what’s the ideal contributor interface,” he continued, referring to the problem of designing a front end for asset management that gives users the access they need to both digital assets and user data, without inadvertently giving them free reins to overwrite huge swaths of it.

No 'DX Systems'

“There’s no such thing as a digital experience system that you would go out and buy,” pronounced The Real Story Group chief. A colleague of his refers to the art of making multiple technology selections as producing a “digital marketing cocktail.”

“It’s about balance and blend and suitability, and all those sorts of things,” he said, “a lot of good themes around that. The point here — I think you knew this — is, there is no single digital experience platform, although some vendors may describe what they have as such.

“It really doesn’t exist. It’s a question of blending these tools in a way that makes sense for you, and also making more or less investments in one area or another, based on what you’re trying to accomplish."

More news from DX Summit 2015 at the W City Center in Chicago as it happens.