Digital Experience Platforms (DXPs) are challenging to deploy and operate. Customers recognize the reality of the multivendor, multi-product stack on the path to create digital customer experiences, leaving vendors focused on modernizing their tech stacks and simplifying how their parts interoperate. Customers are mostly satisfied with services but less so the products themselves.

Forrester researchers shared these findings in their Forrester Wave: Digital Experience Platforms, Q3 2021 (subscription required) report released last month. The research firm analyzes who it feels are the most significant DXP vendors in its assessment, which last came in 2019.

“There are a bunch of software products that were legacy and built several years ago before the cloud was the cloud,” Joe Cicman, senior analyst for Forrester and DXP lead researcher, told CMSWire in an interview. “And their innovation velocity is palpably slower than some of the newer ones. It’s not like the technology got slower. It's that their competitors are outpacing them. And it's not because they lack developers. It's because the tech itself just can't be worked on. You just can't work it faster.”

MACH and Embracing Interoperability

These findings jibe with those from the CMSWire State of Digital Customer Experience 2021 report (free registration required), which found practitioners are underwhelmed by the effectiveness of DCX tools, with only 11% declaring them working well. The data found that incomplete and siloed toolsets — as well as low maturity in practices such as personalization and measurement — are all contributory factors.

How should buyers of DXPs respond to these trends? Look for DXP providers that offer the following:

  • Prebuilt integrations
  • Testing and optimization as a first-class capability
  • Microservices-based, API-first, cloud-native, headless (MACH) offering
  • The practitioners’ interest as a priority

The DXP vendors in Forrester’s analysis are heading in this direction, some further along than others, according to researchers. They have extensibility and interoperability core to the platform and provide APIs and integration frameworks and an integration strategy supported by a marketplace of third-party connectors, apps, and add-ons, according to researchers.

Vendors who embrace this approach got rewarded in Forrester’s rankings, Cicman said. “A lot of them have APIs, and a lot of them have integration frameworks, use messaging and they do that whole thing like connecting events through a CDP,” Cicman said. “All microservices put out APIs, but not all APIs come from microservices."

The reality? Some vendors live in a world where, for instance, others offer better search functions. Therefore, they put APIs around search and partner with that third-party provider. Is that a simple task? Not always, Cicman said. Are all of those partnerships strong ones? Not always. Some vendors have evolved in this arena much further than others, he added.

Related Article: DXP? Web CMS? Content Services Platform? Navigating the Chaos of Vendor Categories

Vendor Rankings Shook Up

Speaking of vendors, there were quite a few shake-ups in comparing Forrester’s 2021 Wave to the 2019 Wave:

  • Forrester sees Oracle and Salesforce as having the best strategy.
  • Optimizely (formerly Episerver) made a big leap from strong performer to leader. Forrester rewarded its testing and optimization capabilities.
  • All leaders — Oracle, Adobe, Optimizely, Salesforce — are close in their current offerings
  • SAP got demoted from leader to a strong performer.
  • Bloomreach and Acquia made advancements from “contenders” to “strong performers,” with Bloomreach on the cusp of the leaders.
  • Newcomers CoreMedia, HCL Software, Crownpeak and Magnolia were added to the report this year. It’s a good 2021 for Magnolia: first time in Gartner's DXP Magic Quadrant earlier this year, and now first time in Forrester's.

Vendors on Modernization

Forrester researchers said in their DXP 2021 Wave that, “Vendors are racing to simultaneously modernize their technology and simplify the way the parts interoperate.” Mark Grannan, senior principal product strategist for Oracle Advertising and CX, said Oracle fully recognizes and supports most customers' need to operate in a heterogeneous environment. “Many customers start with just one product,” said Grannan, who authored the last Forrester DXP Wave in 2019 before moving over to Oracle. “But then realize the benefits of converting and streamlining more of their legacy investments and workloads over to Oracle.”

Justin Anovick, chief product officer at Optimizely, sees a few different paths toward the DXP building blocks. Some vendors build their own capabilities. The use cases are thoughtful, he added, but the number of capabilities is limited because of the time it takes to build a new one.

Some join other vendors, like with the MACH Alliance, to bring capabilities together through APIs. “While the initial integration might seem easier, the in-depth use cases can still be problematic,” he said.

Learning Opportunities

The third scenario is that DXP providers buy capabilities. Optimizely, he noted, has acquired six businesses over the past four years to form its DXP. “There are essential ‘parts’ that precede what users see,” Anovick added. “We’re thinking about those pieces — like how to do single sign-on or make sure you have the infrastructure to support easy integrations — to ensure the common services, underlying architecture and data layers are consistent.”

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

DXP Parts Reality

Raj De Datta, CEO and co-founder of Bloomreach, said his teams certainly see brands buying digital experience platforms in parts, and that’s for good reason.

“It’s what allows you to realize value every step of the way,” De Datta said. “Often, when brands do seek to buy one platform under these larger vendors, it’s because they believe that in doing so they have a guarantee it will all integrate seamlessly and be interoperable by definition. In reality, that platform is a collection of acquisitions, and there’s often very little effort made to make sure it’s a rational, singular platform.”

DXP users shouldn’t have to undertake a systems integration project to do their jobs, De Datta added, nor should they have to sacrifice unified data in the name of faster integration.

Complexity in Multiple Parts

DXPs are simply not meant be “rip and replace” projects, according to Cicman. DXPs offer a broad set of capabilities.

According to the CMSWire DXP Market Guide (free registration required), the heart of a DXP is a web content management (WCM) system. Core functionality includes:

  • Customer experience (CX) personalization
  • APIs for administration, authoring, interoperability, decisioning and delivery
  • Content authoring, workflow and collaboration
  • Content and experience analytics
  • Content indexing, metadata and search
  • Content modeling and extensible content types
  • Content presentation and delivery
  • Content security and access control
  • Content versioning and change management
  • CRM and marketing automation integration
  • Digital Asset Management (DAM) and/or integration
  • Ecommerce or Ecommerce integration
  • Experience design (low code site or page design)
  • Experience personalization
  • Experience testing and optimization
  • Experience/site versioning and change management
  • Forms design, integration and delivery
  • Image management and editing
  • Multi-lingual support and/or localization integration
  • Multi-site, multi-channel, multi-device support
  • Platform account and access services
  • Platform/back office extensibility
  • Social media integration

“Maybe you can do (rip and replace) with a commerce platform if you're doing $2 million on it or something like that. You just cut it over the next day,” Cicman said. “But there's a whole bunch of plumbing and wiring that needs to happen and so it's a little bit like replacing the engine. And there are still incentives for service partners and outside agencies to get technical work here. There's still a good amount of work that SIs are happy to say, ‘It's just the cost of business.’”