Young woman with a suitcase waves to the departing train.
PHOTO: Регина Ерофеева

According to CMSWire’s State of Digital Customer Experience 2021 report, more than 90% of surveyed respondents said delivering quality digital customer experiences was important for them. Amongst the tools that respondents use for delivering these experiences, “Digital Experience Platforms (DXPs)” ranked a lowly 18th, with only 14% of respondents using those within their organizations.

But What Is a DXP?

Perhaps this poor showing indicates how hardly anyone knows what exactly a DXP is. At Real Story Group, we believe the phrase was originated by failing portal platform vendors looking for a fresher label, and then adopted by Web Content Management (WCM) vendors looking to acquire their way to growth. Let’s assume in any case that respondents in the CMSWire survey assumed that DXPs represent single-solution offerings. 

Clearly there’s a gap between what vendors think is a DXP and how enterprise digital managers look at this space. Let’s examine this further.

Vendors and their analyst industry shills claim that DXPs exist to provide a wide range of functionality. While the core is mostly around web content management, extended capabilities could include personalization, CRM, marketing automation, digital asset management, ecommerce, social media management and so forth. Some self-described vendors also want to provide capabilities such as customer data management and activation. 

Some vendors claim they provide all these capabilities as part of a single, unified offering, but in reality a DXP will typically encompass a wide variety of tooling, with diverse architectures, usually cobbled together via acquisition. How did we get here?

Related Article: What Marketers Need for the Digital Experience Platforms Multivendor Reality

Lessons From History

Portals tried to combine a broad range of functionality under a single umbrella. During their peak, you could find a “portlet” or “widget” for pretty much any functionality. You would then assemble them to create Portals that provided a variety of functionality ranging from discussion forums to employee intranets to process management portals.

The model failed.

Enterprise Content Management (ECM) vendors tried this, too. There were vendors providing Web Content Management (WCM), Document Management (DM), Business Process Management (BPM), Digital Asset Management (DAM), promising a unified repository and single source of truth for all your information needs. 

enterprise content management
Back when ECM consisted of a wide range of functionality.PHOTO: RSG archives

We know what happened. 

In both cases, there were two key reasons for failure of this “umbrellazation:”

  1. The use cases that different tools within the broader umbrella address are widely different. For example, a WCM has very different requirements from say a Document Management system. Combining them into one ECM platform only resulted in a bloated platform. And an expensive one at that.
  2. Many vendors built their platforms via acquisitions. Therefore, the individual tools within the platforms were all different. In the case of ECM, for example, they had different underlying repositories, different security and content models, different infrastructure requirements and so forth. So if you had to have different tools anyways, why limit your choices to a single vendor?

I see a lot of similarities with the current crop of DXPs, and so we are witnessing similar phenomena. Several vendors are using DXP as the term to package broad functionality that enterprises increasingly want to purchase a’ la carte. While WCM still remains the core of most DXPs, vendors are bundling all kinds of extended capabilities ranging from ecommerce to customer data platforms (CDPs).

DXPs Following ECM, Portal Playbook

DXPs are attempting to repeat what ECM and Portal vendors tried earlier. They want to provide a broad range of functionality as part of a platform. Sure, they’ve added some modularity, some cloud-native services and other newer concepts to keep up with times. Many vendors will also tell you they provide an “end-to-end” solution or that they offer a single package.

But look under the hood carefully, and you'll see most "DXP" offerings actually consist of a panoply of disparate products and architectures. Many of the so-called DXP vendors have cobbled together their suites based on several acquisitions. As a result, their offering is not really a single tool in terms of user experience and architecture but often a badly cobbled together package of multiple products and tools. 

Related Article: What Is a Composable DXP?

What You Should Do Regarding DXPs

DXPs are not topping any popularity charts, but they still get a disproportionate share of discussions in industry fora. If you’ve been considering DXPs, it’s time to rethink your strategy. An “end-to-end solution” or a single platform to do everything does not exist out-of-the-box.

Therefore, consider building or composing your own Digital Experience Stack (DXS), based on capabilities that you need, using tools that best meet those needs. The larger the enterprise, the more likely this will constitute a composable stack, with offerings from multiple vendors, with more modern, integration-friendly tools. 

RSG model
RSG’s Composable Stack Reference Model. PHOTO: Real Story Group

What you need for managing digital experiences is a composable stack that a modern WCM needs to live in. One irony is that this actually constrains — in a good way — what you need a WCM for. You don’t need your WCM platform to provide personalization, outbound email marketing, chat, DAM, or ecommerce or other services where it’s not going to excel.  

Even in a composable stack environment like the one above, you will still see major vendors pitching you a multi-platform solution, all (or mostly) from them.  Caveat emptor:

  • Consider individual products in the package based on their own merit and not because they are part of what the vendor calls DXP.
  • Don’t assume all the components of the package are well integrated. Plan for additional effort/resources. 
  • Enterprises with mixed stacks report better outcomes and lower risk.

DXPs vs. Digital Experience Stacks

Here’s a quick comparison summary:

Digital Experience Platform

Digital Experience Stack

Comment

Single-vendor offering, mostly a packaging of multiple tools.

Consists of best-of-breed tools from multiple vendors.

DXP limits your choices to tools that may not be optimum for your requirements.

Single vendor eases contractual burden.

Multiple vendors add additional management overhead.

Which is more important: contract complications or the right business and technical fit?

Most DXPs have built their platforms via acquisitions. Therefore, under the hood, it’s not a single unified package (there are exceptions).

Separate tools, so you can select whatever works best for your requirements.

DXPs have some advantages, if those tools work for you because they may be relatively better integrated. But then your choices are limited to only those tools, and integrations are always tricky.

Individual tools within DXP have varying architectures and may carry considerable technical debt.

You can decide to invest in only modern tools with low technical debt.

DXP vendors will claim they provide an integrated platform, but dig deeper and you’ll most likely find those integrations limited to tools within the DXP. Their integration capabilities with tools outside DXP may not be as good as those of best-of-breed tools.

Vendors often bundle tools free as part of a broader package.

You will have to license each tool separately.

Free bundles by vendors are often limited and you will end up paying a lot more.

Best wishes as you compose an omnichannel stack of the future. Feel free to ping me with any questions or comments!