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PHOTO: ann-dabney

Digital customer experience technology has changed dramatically in the last four or five years. In 2014, in its first Digital Experience Platforms (DXP) Wave, Forrester cited three core capabilities which set DXPs apart: content, commerce and data. In its third Wave on Digital Experience Platforms in 2017 (fee required), Forrester named eight core components: content, marketing, commerce, service, analytics, customer data, personalization, and development and operations.

To help understand how and why the industry has evolved in recent years, we caught up with some vendor industry veterans who have seen the evolution of DX technology and asked them to compare trends from five years ago to now.

From Websites and WCM, to Multiple Touch Points and DX

Five years ago: We were still talking silos, and connected customer journeys while remaining primarily focused on a website with marketing, according to Nate Barad, senior manager of product marketing for BloomReach.

Today: Now we are talking about business applications online, of which marketing is one of many that contribute to the online business, Barad added. One of the big changes for Barad is when comparing web content management (WCM) to DX. "DX," he said, "is so vastly different than WCM that it would be odd to try and list the applications." DX is "whatever your business is, now available digitally." 

The most significant difference between WCM and a DXP or DX stack is the focus on services and recognizing that integration is a must for DX. More than the traditional WCM integrations (CRM, DAM, translations), digital experiences are defined by bringing elements of the business online, Barad said. For example, personalization is one type of digital experience, and it's where a large portion of WCM-oriented software and vendors build and discuss. 

"However, that is only one part of the business, typically marketing," Barad said. "Digital experience is different because it brings the products and services of a business online. Systems that are now exposed to customers are payments, returns, customer service, and bringing all aspects of customer touch points online. This means the ERP for a B2B manufacturer and a ticketing system for a theme park."

Related Article: Investigating the Cost, Integration and Other Realities of Digital Experience Platforms

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Enter the Mix

Five years ago: Loni Stark, senior director of product marketing for Adobe Experience Manager and Adobe Target, said WCM was used by marketing and IT teams to assemble, edit, manage, and deliver web and mobile content. 

Today: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning infuse web content management tech, which now support emerging channels like IoT, single page applications, POS, voice, in-venue kiosks, and more. 

DAM: From Passive Assets to Center of Gravity

Five years ago: A digital asset management (DAM) acted as a passive asset repository that helped marketers organize, tag and distribute static assets across their organizations, Stark said.

Today: A DAM should be the "center of gravity" for an organization’s digital asset operations. DAM now supports the growing amount of video content as well as immersive content such as 3-D, augmented and virtual reality, and voice. AI and machine learning can automate tagging and cropping, connect workflows between marketers and creatives, measure asset performance, and improve the delivery of assets and experiences. 

Data Analytics Get Smarter

Five years ago: Data analytics was focused on collecting data from digital marketing, social media, mobile apps, and more and predicting what customers might do next, Stark said.

Today: AI and machine learning drive analytics tools to help automatically derive insights to help them "make critical decisions within milliseconds." 

Experience Optimization: A/B to One-to-One

Five years ago: Personalization and customer experience optimization were primarily done by testing two experiences against each other and broadly pushing out the best performing experience to a certain segment. This was done via A/B testing or manual and rules-based approaches, Stark said. 

Today: AI-infused personalization and experience optimization is done through one-to-one customer analysis. "This removes the bias and assumptions in personalization decisioning that have historically delivered less than optimal business results," Stark said.

Related Article: DAM Plays for Keeps

Headless and APIs Come Full Circle

Five years ago: Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) were important, but they were mostly accessed through the back-end by other back-end system developers, said James Min, Liferay's sales and solutions engineering manager for North America. Front-end and JavaScript developers would cross their fingers and hope for some sort of RESTful interface, or possibly JSON. The term “headless” wasn't new, but it wasn't a mature paradigm for portals or web CMS and was very rare in production.

Today: With the rise of mature front-end UI/UX frameworks, and JavaScript as the language of choice for a new generation of web developers, many technologists want to create their own apps or front-end, and access a "Headless DXP.” They benefit from the reduction of silos of collateral, and an easy persistence store for JavaScript developers who champion their framework of choice (e.g., ReactJS, AngularJS, etc.). "This trend," Min said, "is continuing with products offering a more complete set of APIs and the ability to operate in a headless fashion, relying less on the native or out-of-the-box UI to manage content. Because DXPs may have numerous different and unique touch points, the support for APIs is paramount."

Related Article: Personalized Marketing: Where We Are in 2018

Drivers of Successful DX Today

Rather than naming specific capabilities, Jason Cohen, WP Engine founder and CTO, said identified seven drivers that any DX tool must include to be successful:

  • Growth: For most businesses, digital experiences need to drive sales or customer acquisition in some way.
  • Engagement: It must have a customer-centric strategy that delivers personalized, intelligent and omni-channel.
  • Performance: Site speed accelerates acquisition and engagement. Several studies across multiple industries show that ecommerce conversion and content engagement drastically improves as performance improves.
  • Integration: SaaS tools and services explosion mandates integration of business data and features.
  • ROI: Investments in digital experiences must translate to business value.
  • Agility: Rapid and constant innovation is critical to maintaining online leadership.
  • Security: Change is constant, competition fierce, brand reputation always under fire.

DX Platforms should also improve time to market and cost of ownership by leveraging developer tools and flexible workflows, provide analytics to pinpoint how to increase site performance and application performance and insights on top performing content and authors, Cohen added. “A well integrated digital experience platform can leverage a variety of APIs,” Cohen said, “work well with anything across the MarTech stack, provide integrated partner solutions (e.g. Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform infrastructure, etc) to enable best-of-breed experiences.”