shelf with rubber heads of toys lined up
PHOTO: Random Institute

Who should own control of the digital experience? Developers or business users? Both?

As headless content and headless commerce continued to gain traction in 2019, we’ve been seeing more and more digital environments where the ultimate control lies with the development team. But what about the business user? What about the people who have KPIs to meet and products to sell?

This debate has been going on for over 20 years, with control swinging back and forth between developers and business users. Of course, both groups just want to have a system that allows them to get on with their job.

As we’re starting a new decade, it’s worth taking a step back to examine what kind of digital experience platform we want. Which brings us to the question: What can we do in 2020 to keep what is great about headless for developers and at the same time add maximum value for business users?

Since the year 2000, there were three broad periods when the industry flocked to a particular solution, only to find the solution came with some major drawbacks, prompting the next round of soul-searching.

I’ll show you what the three periods are and why 2020 might be the year that the industry may have found its soul — i.e. a solution that is fit for purpose and likely to stick around for quite some time.

1. The 2000s and the Age of the Webpage

In the year 2000, just under half of US households were online. This rose to 75% in 2010, leading to an explosion in total number of webpages.

All this information needed to be managed efficiently, hence the introduction of content management and commerce platforms. Initially, these processes were owned by developers, with business users making constant requests to publish, edit and amend.

The industry realized it needed a solution that allowed business users more control over content management. And so — for a brief period — the industry found a solution in the monolithic suite.

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

2. The 2010s: The Death of the Webpage and the Rise of Headless

In 2010, Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen famously declared "The Web is Dead." Even though we now know it didn’t die (and that’s also not what he really meant), it started changing so quickly that people didn’t recognize it anymore.

With mobile, apps and video becoming the dominant drivers for web traffic, the traditional “webpage” became less and less of a factor for consumers globally.

As a result, we have had to deal at an incredible pace with new types of digital experiences we hadn’t anticipated. Beacons, responsive design, chatbots, Google Glass, virtual and augmented reality, voice assistants, and the list keeps going. Dealing with this rapidly evolving digital world required something different than a “webpage management system.”

Suites — the much hailed solution of the 2000s — were reaching their limits.

In order to increase the system’s agility while keeping costs down, the experience layer and the content repository needed to be decoupled. As a result, headless was born.

The industry quickly embraced the use of APIs and viewed it as solid ground in a world where you never know what channel or device might be the next big thing.

Related Article: From Web Pages to Journeys: How to Prioritize Customer Pathways

3. In 2020, We’ll Start Managing the Head

With an API-based system, the industry has come to a place where developers have almost everything they need.

Content and commerce APIs have shown to be the most efficient way of sending information to the right page on the right channel and make developers’ lives much easier compared to the old monolithic suite days. The next step is to take what worked in a monolithic “webpage management suite” and turn that into a set of APIs. This means the introduction of an experience manager for headless: dashboards that give business users the control they need.

This experience API would sit next to content and commerce APIs and perform the important task of giving maximum control to business users while maintaining flexibility and agility for developers.

Business users regain all the features they need and were used to back in the suite days:

  • Preview.
  • In-context content editing.
  • Drag & drop.
  • Personalization.
  • Preview of personalization.
  • Workflow of content, product information, experience layouts.
  • Merchandising of search results and product categories.
  • Search results curation.
  • A/B testing and optimization.
  • Analytics and insights.
  • Etc. ...

An experience API makes it possible to add a head to headless architecture. The beauty of this solution is that nothing will drastically change for the developers. Content management and experience management will continue to be neatly separated. But, the developer will use this new API to do the "under the hood" wiring of components of experience pages. Then, using an experience manager, the business user can adjust the wiring to their needs, without needing to get the developer involved.

This future-proof architecture gives both developer and business user the control they need to do their job effectively. The industry can continue to use it for the foreseeable future and adapt it as technology evolves, without needing to overhaul their system every few years.

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