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Marketers and brands investing in digital experience platforms (DXP) are faced with growing requirements for digital optimization and/or digital transformation. These brands have different levels of maturity, will need a comprehensive report on their integration requirements and must weigh that against the capabilities they want to enable through DXPs.

Those were some of the findings by Gartner in its Magic Quadrant for Digital Experience Platforms published Jan. 29. Researchers Irina Guseva, Gene Phifer and Mike Lowndes compiled the latest report, which ranks vendors that offer DXP software. Gartner defines a DXP as an “integrated and cohesive piece of technology designed to enable the composition, management, delivery and optimization of contextualized digital experiences across multiexperience customer journeys.”

What Digital Optimization Means for DXPs

Young organizations on the path to digital optimization want “simpler, leaner” DXPs and sometimes go with web content management (WCM) products as entry points to the larger field of digital experience management, according to Gartner researchers. And “highly mature” organizations in their CX strategies want DXPs that can serve as a “connective tissue” throughout their CX technology stack. “Digital optimization is trying to get my digital house in order and doing my cleanup, figuring out where’s the overlap,” Guseva, a senior analyst, told CMSWire. “Where are the silos? What is my strategy? What do I want to accomplish? Those are the things organizations are really going to focus on… As they head on the road to digital transformation.” 

DXPs become an “entry point” on that path, and organizations need to lock in the right processes and people who are well trained for the technology and integration roadmap. “The foundation of that is content,” Guseva said. “It’s not just web content, but content for any modality, any device; a highly atomic, highly chunkable and granular type of content.” 

Related Article: Why Did Gartner Kill the Web Content Management Magic Quadrant?

Recognizing DXP as Concept Is Critical

But, wait. Is a DXP a tangible piece of technology? Some say no, it doesn’t exist; rather, it's "agglomeration of WCM, DAM, portal and personalization vendors and tools. Wait, what? No DXP? Is Gartner — and Forrester, for that matter — delusional for creating an industry report reviewing software that doesn’t exist? “Fake news” or not, it's really about how buyers should approach DXPs that matters. Karim Marucchi, CEO of digital agency Crowd Favorite, said practitioners would be better served if they could understand DXP as a concept more than one vendor solution. That way, according to Marucchi, they’ll be able to “use different ingredients from various vendors to create the right solution, while still keeping costs under control and limiting bespoke integrations.” 

Marucchi addressed Gartner’s buyer maturity split in the DXP market, saying it comes down to the “constant need to understand whether something should be built in a customized, bespoke way or whether something could be used that's a SaaS.” If DXP buyers can grow concepts of how to use fractional SaaS and legacy systems, they can create solutions where both they and vendors can move more fluidly as they grow and change their needs. “There is an opportunity for everyone,” Marucchi said, “to spend less money customizing or churning from one platform to another and spend more energy on technology and creative solutions.”

Legacy Tech Must Cooperate With Cutting-Edge Features

Many organizations are trying to find a way to advance and use the systems for digital customer experiences they have while still taking advantage of what's out there. “For these businesses, the concept around being able to connect legacy systems with new cutting-edge features is very important,” Marucchi said. “We really do see a giant market opportunity in finding the right balance between making these platforms and software-as-a-service feel comfortable that they don't have to own the entire buyer. Brands and clients can elect to use the right service that fits them at the right time, and either grow with that vendor and/or be able to implement other pieces of functionality from other vendors as they grow.”

Related Article: Has the DXP Dream Failed? The Case for Modular Digital Experience Platforms

Integration Challenges Persist

However, the DXP ecosystem has significant integration challenges, observers said. In its 2019 Magic Quadrant for Digital Experience Platforms, Gartner found that through 2021, 85% of effort and cost in a DXP program will be spent on integrations with internal and external systems, including the DXP’s own, built-in capabilities. Also, 90% of global organizations will rely on system integrators (SIs), agencies and channel partners to design, build and implement their digital experience strategies.

A year later? Gartner in its 2020 DXP Magic Quadrant still cited integration as a critical challenge, saying that the "criticality of interoperability and integrations with adjacent technologies to support various parts of a CX strategy is what drives this market’s evolution."

“One of the most challenging issues for the DXP market is not only fragmentation across features but also the lack of robustness when it comes to integration,” said Preston So, senior director of product strategy for Oracle Content and Experience (Oracle is a challenger in the Gartner DXP Magic Quadrant for 2020). “Despite the consolidation across the DXP market with a range of acquisitions across a variety of ecosystems, the integration story across these disparate products remains extraordinarily weak. Until vendors can showcase a compelling end-to-end experience with robust integrations in personalization, predictive content, commerce, analytics and other features in conjunction with their core CMS features, there is no hope for vendors to succeed in the emerging DXP market.”

APIs to the Rescue?

That makes APIs also critical. API design, management and mediation capabilities within or outside DXPs have become increasingly prevalent, Gartner researchers found in this year’s DXP Magic Quadrant report. Some DXPs come with capabilities for DevOps and continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline management to assist integration and deployment, according to the researchers. Ninety-eight percent of organizations report they implement or use, or plan to implement or use APIs, according to the Gartner 2019 report on hybrid headless Content-as-a-Service. “It is kind of a continuation of that theme that most of the heavy work is going to happen on the integration front,” Guseva said. “That API layer is critical and unavoidable and necessary. You cannot do anything without interacting with the API within the DXP or with the APIs on the outside of the DXP.”

What does this mean for DXP practitioners? A lot of effort. But it’s also incumbent upon the DXP vendors to provide a strong integration strategy via APIs, Guseva said. “We often see conversations happening individually on the integration front with the best-of-breed tools for API management like Mulesoft, where the DXP cannot really provide that capability,” Guseva said. “It’s the interconnected world. The DXP will be responsible for delivery, composition and optimization of experiences, but there are many other critical technologies they need to connect with.”

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

APIs and the Headless Road

The API conversation leads into the concept of hybrid headless Content as a Service (CaaS). Gartner finds the concept of headless content management fundamental to digital experiences but cited hybrid headless CaaS as more effective. Gartner describes hybrid headless CaaS as part of the API-based ecosystem at the digital experience management and delivery layer. 

Though the need for rich API-driven integrations with increasingly deeper layers of a content management system is readily apparent, this doesn’t come without a cost, according to Oracle's So. Developers, he said, will need to conform to certain architectural approaches on CMS implementations. How? In such a way that changes made by content editors and marketers not only in terms of flat content but also resequencing of content listings and changes in navigational hierarchies are reflected in consumers without any developer involvement whatsoever. “This need for editorial immediacy and administrative control over digital experiences beyond the static web is a prerequisite for better control over what the end user sees on mobile, JavaScript, and other applications,” So said. “A headless CMS will never truly become a DXP or a tool of choice for marketers and editors alike until it provides the same immediacy of feedback and preview across each and every one of their consumers through robust and mature integrations." 

These integrations, So said, need to target the "correct balance between marketers and developers by granting developers freedom without requiring that content editors and marketers tap on a developer’s shoulder whenever they need something to change in environments beyond the traditional CMS-driven website.”