row upon row of model cars lined up
PHOTO: Karen Vardazaryan

The web content and digital experience (WCM) marketplace is highly fragmented. That's analyst-speak for: you'll find a hell of a lot of WCM vendors out there. Real Story Group's vendor evaluations cover nearly three-dozen WCM players, but you can source hundreds more around the globe. In fact, this profusion represents one of the consistent themes in the market over the past two decades.

How to Filter a Fragmented WCM Marketplace?

So the question arises: what's the most useful way to categorize the market into groupings so a potential buyer can better understand their choices? Clearly this represents a multidimensional challenge. You can slice the WCM marketplace many different ways, including by regional emphasis, license model, cloud deployment options, architecture, customization language, channel orientation and more.

At the risk of oversimplifying, at RSG we've long used overall system complexity as the most useful classifier in any two-dimensional groupings.

WCM Complexity Tiers

A complexity spectrum yields several interesting buckets.

WCM Marketplace According to RSG, Circa 2019
Fig. WCM marketplace on a complexity spectrum. Source: Real Story Group

From the far left ...

  • Toolkits: Platforms you can contort to do pretty much whatever you want.
  • Upper Range Platforms: Sophisticated solutions with a wide range of features.
  • Legacy Platforms: Mostly systems you leave rather than license anew.
  • Mid-Range Platforms: Systems that try to balance extensibility with simplicity.
  • Simpler Products: Solutions offering out-of-the-box goodness in exchange for some limitations.

Note that (with the exception of legacy solutions) I'm not making value judgements here. There is no "best" category. The goal is to place yourself realistically in a given zone, which may often span a couple of buckets as you perform early exploration. Sometimes RSG subscribers come to us with short lists including vendors from across the entire spectrum. This prompts some ... candid conversations about the true extent of their internal capacity and resources.

In that spirit, take a hard look at your internal capabilities and program-level maturity. If you can boast comparatively advanced internal resources and experience, you might obtain some competitive advantage via a more complex solution. If you're running lean, then admit you can't address the complexity that comes with exploiting all that extra power, and consider solutions further to the right.

Related Article: Selecting a Web CMS for the Long Run

Products vs. Platforms

Note that between the far right bucket and the middle tier, RSG makes an important distinction between "products" and "platforms."

Products are simpler to deploy and offer workaday features in a straightforward way — at the expense of extensibility. Platforms require greater funding, developer support, and user skill, but offer richer capabilities, higher functional potential, and greater extensibility. Of course, vendors will pitch their offerings as both a platform and product. ("It's out of the box, yet extensible!") Don't believe it.

The distinction is important for you, the customer, in at least two ways. If you go with a platform in lieu of product, you'll want to:

  1. Budget annually for ongoing external assistance.
  2. Hire at least one in-house developer who's conversant — or better — in the system.

To paraphrase Michael Corleone: "keep your data close, but your developers closer."

Interestingly, this line between platform and product used to lie further to the left. In the past decade WCM tools have become more complicated as digital teams have become more savvy. What's a prospective WCM customer to do today?

Related Article: With Content Delivery, What Goes Around Comes Around

When it Comes to Content Technology, Don't Overbuy

In the WCM marketplace, more complicated platforms often look slicker and may demo better — especially to editors and marketers who might underappreciate the level of technical investment required to leverage all those cool services.

Remain especially wary of the far left of this chart. The reality is many customers simply don't have the human, organizational or financial resources needed on an ongoing basis to exploit the highest-end WCM platforms. Small changes start to take a long time to execute, and people get frustrated. What was supposed to become an empowering solution becomes an anchor instead. Sound familiar?

In this light, enterprises considering new WCM investments will want to carefully re-examine business cases, internal capacity, and long-term organization and stack structures. Today you typically run a greater risk of over-buying content technologies than under-buying.

As we turn to a new decade, moreoever, enterprises enjoy an opportunity to more effectively deploy simpler WCM tools, rather than the more bloated platforms, by pushing complexity lower in an omnichannel stack. To which I say: Congratulations!

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