Practitioners who select, deploy and manage software that helps them produce digital experiences for their customers face certain realities: managing integrations, leveraging APIs, investing in headless, finding actionable insights that help them better connect to customers. Ultimately they're hoping their software suite helps them achieve their business outcomes. Gartner’s first Digital Experience Platforms Magic Quadrant published last month and drew its fair share of buzz in the digital experience space. 

We've interviewed experts and practitioners to help uncover the fundamental questions and considerations organizations need to ask themselves and their vendors when selecting and managing digital experience software.

What is a Digital Experience Platform (DXP)?

First, let's offer some definitions of a digital experience platform (DXP):

Forrester Wave: Digital Experience Platforms, Q3, 2017 (fee required), Sept. 21, 2017: Software to manage, deliver, and optimize digital experiences consistently across every phase of the customer life cycle.

Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Experience Platforms (fee required), Jan. 17, 2018: An integrated set of technologies, based on a common platform, that provides a broad range of audiences with consistent, secure and personalized access to information and applications across many digital touchpoints. Organizations use DXPs to build, deploy and continually improve websites, portals, mobile and other digital experiences.

Liferay, a digital experience vendor: Digital Experience Platform (DXP) ... can be a single product, but is often a suite of products that work together. DXPs provide an architecture for companies to digitize business operations, deliver connected customer experiences and gather actionable customer insight.

Will a DXP Put You on the Path to Better Customer Experiences?

Tony Byrne of Real Story Group has a different perspective on the whole DXP trend. According to him, there is no such thing as a DXP. In a response to the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Experience Platforms, Byrne wrote, “There is no marketplace here, because no enterprise digital leader in her right mind would actually purchase 'digital experience' as a platform. DX is a strategy and approach, and no single platform or vendor on this chart will get you there."

Semantics of a DXP aside, there’s no denying companies need tools to deliver digital experiences. Here are some considerations as you select and manage your digital experience software suite.

Related Story: Gartner Names Digital Experience Platform Leaders

Know Thy Technology Stack

Kevin Joyce, chief marketing officer and vice president of strategy for The Pedowitz Group, said buyers must document their current technology architecture: what do you have, who uses it, for what, how is it connected? “Document what technologies are used in which parts of the buyer’s journey. If you don’t have a defined buyer journey map, you really need to create one before you get to discussing how you will deliver digital experiences. Once you map the technology usage to the buyer journey map you will probably observe gaps or weaknesses: parts of the journey where you really have very few technologies to help deliver great experiences,” Joyce said.

Determine which parts of the buyer journey map can you mostly improve by applying additional resources, and if necessary, new technology, Joyce added. 

Determine Use Cases

“Define and document your use cases for the technology that will help in the selected buying journey stage,” Joyce said. “Who will use it, how will it enable them to accomplish new things or make them more productive? How will it improve the customer experience in that, and potentially other, parts of their journey? What other existing systems and platforms will this technology need to connect to and how easy or difficult will that be?”

Select and deploy the technology that best fits your needs and fulfills the use cases, Joyce said, then train and drive adoption of the new technology and related processes. “Measure digital experience outcomes before and after,” he said, “and ensure the original goals are met.”

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Recognize Why You May Need a DXP

Jim Murphy, Gartner analyst and author of the Digital Experience Platforms Magic Quadrant, said the market is seeing a transition from the Web-oriented platforms to digital platforms. Businesses demand more comprehensive capabilities and unified platforms as they move from Web-centric or Web-only to digital experiences. Users should think about collecting a range of technologies in a rational way. Avoid duplication of systems and technical overlap when they have to cobble together numerous applications, Murphy added. 

“Increasingly our customers are asking for the capability to be in a single platform between portal (Websites with role-based content) and in Web Content Management (WCM),” Murphy said. In other words, they want to deliver content in a unified way: for external and internal experiences. Should we go with a Liferay, which offers the portal technology, or an Adobe, which is focused on the experience delivery mechanisms?

Murphy said those two vendors, as an example, are moving toward offering a comprehensive stack that embraces both portal and web content management.

Learning Opportunities

Related Story: Build Your Digital Customer Experience Platform Brick by Brick

Measure a Vendor’s Product Integrity

Product integrity should be a factor in your vendor selection, according to Murphy said. As an example, its a factor that Gartner considers when choosing its DXP leaders. “It’s not always checkmarks: they've got this and they've got that,” Murphy said. Rather, buyers should ask these questions, he said.

  • Is it integrated and rationalized?
  • Is there overlap with another product? 
  • Is it really integrated when they say they have analytics and web content management?

Avoid Monolithic Solutions

Your DXP vendor can't be monolithic. The systems should be interoperable with whatever comes next. You need flexibility on the edges, especially if you're focused initially on a customer experience effort, Murphy said. “There's a huge and ever-changing dynamic market for MarTech technology. [DXPs] have to have a strong consideration for openness and ability to integrate with whatever so that a customer using them as a center of gravity would still be able to take advantage of third party technologies,” he cautions.

Related Story: Understanding the Differences Between Microservices, Monoliths, SOA and APIs

Recognize the Culture Aspect

Digital experience isn’t a technology problem, it’s a cultural problem, according to Tom Wentworth, chief marketing officer at RapidMiner. “Buying a DXP,” Wentworth said, “isn’t going to turn your company into a customer-obsessed brand like Ritz Carlton or Disney.” Instead, start by taking an honest look at the relationship you have with your customers, and you’ll often find that buying DXP technologies is “just a crutch to cover up for a more fundamental customer experience issue,” he said.

Prepare Your People

Don’t underestimate the role people play in assembling your digital experience technology stack, Wentworth said. Nothing is worse than spending time and money on a platform that doesn't get adopted or used to it's potential.

“Organizations fall in love with magical product demos with more special effects than a Michael Bay blockbuster. But if you don’t properly staff, train and motivate your team to embrace your new shiny object, then you will fail. Failed DX deployments aren’t the result of bad products. They are the result of poor planning. I’ll take people over products 100 percent of the time,” said Wentworth.

Related Story: Digital With a Soul: Building More Human Digital Experiences

Ask: What Is Our Desired Business Outcome?

Murphy asks DXP buyers when they ask him about vendors, “What is the business outcome that you're after?” Many in the hunt for digital experience software haven't really thought about what they're after in terms of improving the business. Before you look at vendors, know what capabilities and qualities of the disciplines you need to account for in order to accomplish those business outcomes. Murphy said in forming research into this space his team at Gartner "wiped the slate clean" and forgot about categories. It broke it down to what's the complement of functional capabilities, irrespective of how certain categories have grown over time, that an organization would need?

Create Your Long-Term Roadmap

Where do you want to be in five years? What's the vision of the future? Once you define that, work your way back to where you are now, according to Murphy, “What's the incremental approach you’re going to make toward investing in a DXP platform?” You may find that a DXP is simply not for you. 

You may find your specific initiatives would be better addressed by a more direct solution like in the digital commerce space. “There's some interplay there, and we think of digital commerce as one of many use cases for a DXP, but if you need digital commerce and you need it now, then you're better off probably going with a digital commerce provider," said Murphy.