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PHOTO: Ruth Hartnup

Gartner reported earlier this year that through 2021, about 85 percent of effort and cost in a Digital Experience Platform (DXP) program will be spent on integrations with internal and external systems.

Six months later, not much has changed. Another major industry report on the DXP market — the Forrester Wave: Digital Experience Platforms, Q3, 2019 (subscription required) — rewarded DXP vendors that include "integration-ready APIs and middleware" and an integration strategy that "provides event listening hooks with a modern event-driven architecture." 

What do others see as some of the challenges, outcomes and important things to know about the DXP software market at a time when delivering digital experiences is critical?

Buyers Lacking Knowledge, Resources

First things first: DXP buyers may not have the chops to be successful. Piyush Patel, CEO of Accelerating Digital Ventures, said DXPs need a better integration story and could be easier to use as “people who can work with these platforms are scarce." Software vendors could be doing more to be "low-code," he added. “Confusion in the market is due to the messaging every vendor does to confuse the ‘digital’ story,” Patel said. “There is a lack of people on the buyer and implementer side who get it.”

Organizations also suffer from a lack of capacity in resources, according to Patel. “Companies,” he said, “should be looking to do more in a shared manner and not always starting from scratch assuming they will have budget and resources to actually achieve the vision that gets set.”

Gartner’s findings earlier this year on DXPs jive with Patel's findings. About 90 percent of global organizations will rely on system integrators (SIs), agencies and channel partners to design, build and implement their digital experience strategies, Gartner researchers found in their Magic Quadrant for Digital Experience Platforms (subscription required).

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

Real DXP Need is Integration

The real need that DXPs serve when functioning properly for brands is integration, according to Tony White, founder of Ars Logica. “A DXP is really an integrated collection or set of technologies that make it possible to manage and optimize a customer experience across a wide and increasing number of channels," White said. “It’s a platform with a standard way of doing things with APIs and pre-integrations, user interfaces, and some core set of technologies that actually are well-defined.”

Internal Digital Process Challenge

However, as much as brands rely on strong integration processes and smooth-as-possible implementations with DXPs, another real challenge in DXP tools and technologies is an organization’s ability to have a clear idea about what its "digital evolution" should include, according to White. “What are you actually doing with this thing? And that varies widely by the buyer of the platform,” White said. “And so the DXPs sometimes don't resemble each other very much if you look at what they actually do.”

Once brands determine their digital evolution, they can then determine what they need for tech requirements, how long it will take and how much it’s going to cost. Because, as we’ve reported, DXPs aren’t necessarily cheap. “The big challenge is figuring out what it is you want to do digitally,” White said. “How should you manage your customers experience? How can you optimize it over time? What does the experience need to be like on each channel? How do you integrate the experiences? It’s really not a technology challenge. It's a process challenge.”

Related Article: 9 Tips to Consider When Selecting a Digital Experience Platform 

DXPs: Vaporware All Around?

Technology, however, is the reality for many brands trying to execute digital customer experiences. Some, like Real Story Group's Tony Byrne, have said DXPs don’t even exist. Byrne said typically they are just “some sort of hybrid Portal/CMS/DAM/Ecommerce/Personalization platform or collection of tools. Not every self-styled DXP offers all those services, let alone within the same product, but you get the idea. And it's a crazy idea.” 

He's not alone:

“Basically a DXP is a few other services cobbled together to achieve a specific goal,” said Joshua Strebel, co-founder/CEO at Pagely, which provides managed WordPress hosting. “No one has a unified solution yet. It’s just duct-taped-together services.” Strebel added he doesn’t think there is really a market for whatever the “ideal” solution is. “It just seems like vaporware all around,” Strebel said. “Providers came up with it to sell services. I doubt customers ever asked for it.”

Software engineer Gabor Javorszky called DXPs “essentially a rebranding of something that exists: a framework.” Software vendors need to have a way to communicating with C-level buyers. Those who market their products/services as DXPs need to reach decision level people. "And if it takes calling it a DXP, because it resonates with them, then so be it,” Javorszky said.

Plenty of Validation for DXPs in Market

Of course, the DXP vendors will disagree on the validity of the platform. Forrester and Gartner do, too, or they wouldn’t have a Wave or Magic Quadrant on DXPs, respectively. Some examples of DXPs include Acquia, Adobe, BloomReach, Episerver, Liferay and Sitecore.

Gartner defines DXPs as “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." Peer software review sites like G2 Crowd, TrustRadius and Capterra also acknowledge the existence of DXPs. 

Related Article: Why Web CMS and Digital Experience Platforms Are Different

DXP Vendor: WCM Origins

A DXP is a relatively recent construct, born in part from the Web Content Management (WCM) tools of previous years, according to Mary Ellen Dugan, chief marketing officer of WP Engine, which offers a WordPress Digital Experience Platform. “As CMSs have continued to grow and mature, one of the key areas practitioners look to these systems for is integration with other technology platforms throughout their business,” Dugan said. “Today’s DXP is a set of integrated technologies, based on a common platform, that provide audiences with consistent, secure and personalized digital experiences by streamlining the touchpoints that occur across the customer journey.”

Leveraging a DXP, she added, means linking the ways you reach customers through multiple channels in authentic, relevant ways. “A DXP goes beyond the website and into the day-to-day life of a customer, from interchangeable data sources and personalization to things like IoT-connected devices,” she said. “At its core, a DXP should be able to help businesses identify their customers' needs and optimize digital experiences for them, regardless of channel or device, while incorporating content marketing, SEO, API data, and other martech tools as needed.”

A true dxp, according to Patel, is a display layer with the ability to orchestrate the flow of a user across different capability components that are necessary to complete a journey small or large. 

The One-Vendor Challenge

Forrester researchers said in their DXP Wave that vendors are selling “large chunks of digital experience platforms.” That generally means at least one of the components is an after-thought, tacked on to complete the end-to-end “experience,” according to Sé Reed, CEO of Kerredyn Collaborative, a strategy and development agency. “I feel like there is a lot of settling for mediocre tools because it’s just easier to source from one vendor,” she said. “All of these tools have strengths and weaknesses and finding the right mix can make all the difference. I don’t believe any one business or organization has the same needs and different tools provide different value.”

Many organizations like to buy something that's as packaged as possible, according to White. One DXP provider, he said, could get a lot of new customers based on the perceived completeness of the platform. “So the challenges in that kind of scenario would be that you get locked into certain decisions that you might not know you are getting locked into,” White said.  

On the other hand, building a DXP through a best-of-breed approach could have its disadvantages, too. “If you buy something that's a best-of-breed, then it feels very loosey-goosey,” White said. “You can integrate anything but it's a toolkit. And if you don't really know what you need to build, then you may not be able to close that gap.”

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

The Road Ahead for DXPs: AI, CDP

Vendors like IBM and other AI leaders will become the leaders in the DXP space, according to White. “The number of channels and types of channels that need to be integrated into the DXP will change,” White said. “IoT is a big one. Virtual reality and augmented reality products and applications will be others.” 

Customer data platforms will be another important part of the DXP mix. Organizations will want to know what customer data sets are available for the DXP platform before they make a purchase, he said. “They probably have their own customer data, but they're going to want to know how to get AI to perform all sorts of sophisticated algorithms on a market segment. … Customer data, platforms and tools and technologies are not currently well integrated in most DX platforms.”