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The web content management (WCM) industry is under an “omniexperience” mandate, according to Gartner. This means native capabilities are expanding into the area of digital experience platforms (DXPs), and practitioners want WCM tech built on mesh app and service architecture (MASA), microservices and serverless and containerized architectures. 

Gartner analysts Irina Guseva and Mick MacComascaigh reported these findings in this year's Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management (subscription required).

Practitioners: Find Content Single Source of Truth

What does this mean for practitioners when it comes to evaluating WCM technology and getting the most out of software that powers content delivery? Guseva told CMSWire one of the key recommendations is to evaluate WCM systems from the perspective of the overall digital business and your existing digital experience management ecosystem. “One of the core capabilities of WCM technology is content delivery,” Guseva said. “The market has evolved from web publishing into multichannel delivery of content and experiences. Market disruption by headless CMS vendors also contributed to that.”

Content practitioners need to ensure CMS technology can indeed serve as a single, golden source of truth for all content, Guseva said. This is regardless of whether you plan to publish it to a smart device, chatbot, voice assistant or your web presence.

Related Article: 6 Takeaways from Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management

DXP’s Are a ‘Superset of WCM’

The connection between WCM and DXP are important for practitioners to understand. How does Gartner see this digital technology intersection? Guseva called DXPs a “superset of WCM.” The core capabilities of a DXP supersede those in the WCM, but “content is at the heart of great digital experiences. From a market perspective, DXP and WCM have very different dynamics.”

According to the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Experience Platforms published last year, a “DXP is an integrated set of core technologies that support the composition, management, delivery and optimization of contextualized digital experiences. DXPs entail a high degree of emphasis on interoperability and cross-channel continuity across the entire customer journey.” 

Why DXPs Are a Natural ‘Defensive Move’

The DXP trend is a natural defensive move by vendors since WCM functionalities have seen little product development or any significant changes in the last 10 years or so, according to Perttu Tolvanen, co-founder of digital consultancy North Patrol Oy. “The current DXP trend has been mostly about vendors building collections of loosely related digital marketing tools and then trying to convince customers that the best way to integration is to buy everything from the same vendor, which is a pretty old story,” Tolvanen said.

Practitioners need to be aware that the biggest challenge in selling the DXP vision is still the maturity of customers’ digital operations. Further, integration between different digital marketing tools is not an investment priority for many customers. “Vendors haven't been successful in proving that better technology would help in raising the maturity of the organization's digital marketing efforts,” Tolvanen said. “There are much more examples of cases where the organization has spent a huge amount of money for a DXP platform and is using the system for very basic content editing and sending out monthly newsletters to a handful of mailing lists.”

Related Article: What You Need to Know About Digital Experience Platforms

Experience Should Trump Cloud With WCM

Gartner’s research on WCM found the cloud extends beyond infrastructure and that the driving force is now innovation, rather than customization. What does this mean in terms of what customers need out of WCM hosting capabilities? “Cloud has become tablestakes in the WCM industry,” Guseva said. Some organizations are using on-premises software or are in the midst of transitioning from on-premises to cloud and find themselves in the interim “hybrid cloud” situation. “The additional challenge here is that not all WCM products are created equal from their cloud capabilities perspective." 

Practitioners have their share of choices hosting WCM: such as Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), cloud-native Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and VMware. But, Guseva said, confusion can be the norm here, and hosting has become too much of a hassle when organizations are looking for up-building vs. building. This, she said, is where the innovation lies. “Organizations should be focused on building the next great experience, and not in spending time and resources on maintaining cloud infrastructure.”

Challenging Pace of IaaS Innovation

Innovation in IaaS cloud provider offerings continues to accelerate creating both new opportunities and significant challenges for established WCM players, according to Mark Marsiglio, president of Contextual Code, a WCM implementer. “Mature WCM platforms will have difficulty taking advantage of the new opportunities, particularly those that move beyond the "server" such as AWS Lambda, as they require new architectures and significant application rewrites,” Marsiglio said. “The pace of infrastructure innovation is growing so fast it requires real focus to keep up, and most integrators and WCM vendors can't. Multiply this pace of innovation by the four major IaaS players each creating their own version of the same serverless technologies.”

Marsiglio said WCM practitioners want the same thing they always have: reliable, cost-effective, high-performance hosting. They are less inclined to do this in-house now than years ago. “Similarly,” he added, “even though we have managed CMS-hosting infrastructure for our clients for 15 years, we now choose to partner with full-time infrastructure specialists, and our devs only work in the application layer.”

Related Article: Gartner: Microservices Are Pulling WCM Into the Future

‘Hybrid is the New Headless’

Users seem to want head-on and head-optional capabilities from the same platform, Gartner finds. Why is this important to understand about delivery functions? Guseva admits headless CMS vendors shook up the WCM market, and traditional vendors started catching up and developing their own headless capabilities. 

However, practitioners should not box themselves up in a headless-only approach, Guseva said. “While it may seem on the onset that there’s a lot more flexibility in content delivery and front-end management, the due diligence must be performed especially around non-technical user usability and flexibility to manage the actual custom front end once it’s built,” Guseva said. “As a result, a hybrid approach is recommended. That means both pure headless as well as traditional capabilities around template management, content delivery, content composition, content automation and reuse, personalization and contextualization — all across all channels, devices and modalities — is available and sound.” 

Power of Headless Remains Strong

Some vendors and others still extol the virtues of headless. While the idea of “getting the best of both worlds” sounds attractive, combining the web-first and content-first approaches is like mixing oil and water, Petr Palas, founder and CEO of Kentico Software wrote in CMSWire a year ago. “Once you allow your content authors to create content initially in the context of a website, it will be hard to reuse it in your mobile apps, chatbots and other channels,” he said. “A pure headless CMS can be provided in a true SaaS model. The strict separation of content management and presentation means the vendor can take full responsibility for running the CMS while you can focus on creating websites and applications that display the content.”

Related Article: Forrester Analyst: PaaS a 'Revolution' for Web Content Management

Why Headless Limits Options

However, Marsiglio said he’s long been a skeptic of any real advantages of headless CMS vs. a mature hybrid competitor. If the use case excludes a web front-end (i.e. only API-driven distribution) then the lighter weight of the system and relatively strong APIs in headless systems might be an advantage. 

“However, we have been recommending a CMS with a good editor user experience, a built-in web front-end and a strong API for other delivery channels,” Marsiglio said. “There are so many content management systems that cover these bases well that choosing headless is just going to limit your options. Headless systems transfer engineering effort (and risk) to the integrator, making it easier for the vendor to build and maintain their software.”