figurines of business men-types discussing a decision on a notebook
PHOTO: shutterstock

In this era of plentiful, standardized APIs and the explosion of powerful JavaScript frameworks and libraries like Angular, React and Vue for web development and building front-end experiences, it can be tempting to think that a full-blown Digital Experience Platform such as Liferay DXP or Adobe Experience Platform may not be needed. After all, it’s relatively easy to build your own front-end experience on top of headless CMS and microservice-backed APIs — why do you need all the additional bells and whistles?

Comparing a Digital Experience Platform With JavaScript, API-Connected Apps

Reasons Against a Digital Experience Platform

Here are some of the most common reasons made against using a Digital Experience Platform as the foundation for your digital initiative(s).

  1. You can build your digital presence from scratch without a platform approach. This strategy will give you the most freedom, since you can create the ultimate customized solution to meet your needs.
  2. Digital Experience Platforms are monoliths and it is not “cool” to use a monolithic architecture in 2019. Besides, with a monolith, it is harder to take advantage of containerization (think Docker and Kubernetes).
  3. A Digital Experience Platform is a heavyweight compared to JavaScript front-ends with RESTful microservice APIs.
  4. A Digital Experience Platform is harder to scale up for internet-scale applications, and it is harder to handle traffic bursts.
  5. A Digital Experience Platform has significant product licensing and maintenance costs or annual subscription costs.

Related Article: What Does the Future Hold for Digital Experience Platforms?

Reasons for a Digital Experience Platform

However, even with these issues in mind, a DXP still offers organizations substantial value beyond what would be possible with front-end frameworks or other solutions. These include:

  1. A single unified platform that can be used to handle multiple use cases around which an enterprise can train its team.
  2. A whole slew of out-of-the-box functionality including content management, personalization and targeting, security, collaboration, forms, workflow, analytics and optimization, commerce and more.
  3. Multiple deployments. It is highly unlikely your organization will be deploying just one page, or even just one site. A Digital Experience Platform offers a way to manage all your pages and sites from one place, with a robust permissioning system to define roles and workflows. This is critically important to account for compliance and regulatory issues. In addition, a Digital Experience Platform brings together customer data from disparate systems across the enterprise to support the entire customer relationship from a single platform.
  4. Better metrics. A Digital Experience Platform often provides engagement metrics that help businesses understand which content is performing well and which isn't so they can make informed decisions about what pages and messaging are resonating with customers.
  5. Collaboration is key to creating modern digital experiences. Business users in marketing and other departments need to be empowered to modify content and messaging on the fly with minimal intervention from IT. A Digital Experience Platform allows developers to create pre-set content fragments that business users can reuse at will across sites and pages.
  6. Headless and even decoupled capabilities for organizations with robust front-end development teams that wish to create their own presentation layers.

I also want to take a couple of minutes to respond to naysayers of Digital Experience Platforms:

  1. While the option to build your own digital platform and solution can look enticing to your engineering team, it is not to be taken lightly. Ask yourself whether you want to be in the IT plumbing business, and whether you have the resources to build, maintain and enhance a core IT platform for years to come.
  2. There is truth to the point that a Digital Experience Platform is a monolith from a deployment perspective, even though some Digital Experience Platforms (such as Liferay DXP and Adobe) are modular internally. So, while you get all the benefits of modularity from a developer perspective with these platforms, they do suffer from the limitations of a monolithic deployment. The question you have to ask yourself is “how relevant is this limitation in your scenario?” And by the way, you can (and we have) containerize Liferay DXP successfully, and you can do the same with most other Digital Experience Platforms.
  3. Yes, a Digital Experience Platform is heavier compared to JavaScript front-ends with RESTful microservice APIs, but it also comes with significant, out-of-the-box functionality that can be used to create personalized, collaborative experiences for your users.
  4. Yes, a Digital Experience Platform is harder to scale up for internet-scale applications and traffic bursts compared to JavaScript front-ends and microservices. However, Digital Experience Platforms scale just fine for 99% (or higher) of use cases, many with millions of users and over a hundred million page hits a month. And many Digital Experience Platforms offer elastic pricing to support normal and peak traffic.
  5. And yes, most Digital Experience Platforms are commercial products with upfront licensing or annual subscription costs. However, in my opinion, they typically provide significant value for their price for the right use cases.

Related Article: What Should Your Digital Experience Stack Look Like? It Depends

Is a DXP Needed for These Common Business Use Cases?

Having reviewed some of the arguments for and against a Digital Experience Platform, let’s discuss a few concrete business cases and whether a Digital Experience Platform is a fit for them.

1. 'Simple' Web or Mobile App

If all you are building is a web or mobile app that provides functional features with no requirements for content management, personalization, and/or role-based access control (RBAC), then you can do without the complexity of a Digital Experience Platform. You can use a modern JavaScript front-end with an API-driven back-end.

Recommendation: A modern JavaScript front-end with an API-driven back-end.

2. 'More Than a Simple' Web or Mobile App

If you are building an app that combines app functionality with content, and you prefer the agility of putting content management in the hands of the team members that “own” or “originate” the content, you may want to consider an approach where you add a content management system to the JavaScript front-end and the API-driven back-end. Often enough, in scenarios like this, you may consider a headless or decoupled CMS. In some cases, this may be a good choice, while in others you may want to go with a hybrid DXP approach where you can leverage an API-driven content approach, but which also provides the flexibility to leverage personalization when needed. 

Personalization is becoming more and more of an expectation in our digital experiences, and a headless CMS can limit you in regard to future personalization since you remove the transmission of customer interaction data between your front-end and back-end in real-time.

Recommendation: A modern JavaScript front-end with an API-driven back-end and a headless CMS where the headless CMS capabilities could come from either a simpler CMS or a full-blown Digital Experience Platform.

3. 'Simple' Website

If all you want is a simple, content-driven website where you ease site maintenance via a simple-to-use content management capability, then you have multiple options. You can opt for a WordPress-like content management system, or use a Digital Experience Platform, which is more full-featured. With a Digital Experience Platform you will have more flexibility to add advanced capabilities, such as personalized experiences and collaboration, when you are ready to take your website to the next level. 

Recommendation: A Digital Experience Platform or a “simpler CMS.”

4. 'Enterprise' Digital Experience

If you are a global enterprise with multiple public-facing websites, mobile and web apps, and enterprise portal(s) that serve prospects, customers, partners, suppliers, and employees, then an approach based on a Digital Experience Platform offers many advantages over a roll-your-own JavaScript app. With a Digital Experience Platform, you can take advantage of an API-led microservices architecture for integration into your enterprise, cloud-based SaaS products, and/or your external partners. Additionally, compared to JavaScript apps, a Digital Experience Platform gives you many features including web experience management, personalization, collaboration, forms, workflows and more that allow you to create compelling digital experiences for your users.

Recommendation: A Digital Experience Platform

5. Customer Experience

If you are an enterprise that wants to engage your customers throughout their journey from prospect to customer to brand advocacy, then you need a platform-based approach with a Digital Experience Platform that allows you to create a delightful customer experience. This use case is similar to the “enterprise” digital experience scenario above in terms of the rationale.

Recommendation: A Digital Experience Platform

6. Partner Experience

If you are an enterprise that has a large partner network or an insurer that sells policies through independent agents, and are building a portal that aggregates multiple apps, content assets, and collaboration tools and delivers personalized, contextualized experiences to your partners or agents, then a Digital Experience Platform-based solution is the best way to go.

Recommendation: A Digital Experience Platform

7. Microsites

Efficiently build and manage microsites that can be delivered quickly (again, with little or no reliance on IT).

Recommendation: A Digital Experience Platform

Related Article: Build Your Digital Experience Platform Brick by Brick

It's Good to Have Options

The world of development is becoming ever less monolithic and ever more extensible. That’s a good thing, as it means developers have more flexibility to build the products and experiences they want using the tools they prefer. However, it would be silly to expect this to eliminate the need for unified platforms entirely. A Digital Experience Platform still has an important role to play in the creation of digital experiences by virtue of its ability to bring together information and insights, save IT and marketers time, and account for regulatory and compliance issues.