lego man dressed up like the Grim Reaper
PHOTO: Bill Ward

Ding. Dong. The Gartner Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management is dead. The research and advisory firm announced in a note to clients this month it is retiring the WCM Magic Quadrant — and accompanying “Critical Capabilities” report — because the market “has reached its maturity with products becoming more homogenized.” Gartner researchers added, “Client demand has been shifting from WCM to the broader scope of DXP (Digital Experience Platforms).”

Does that mean WCM itself has a pending demise? Will WCM platforms offered by Adobe, Sitecore, Acquia and Episerver disappear from the market in the coming months? 

Quadrant Death, Yes; Technology Death, No 

Of course not. No one is throwing out those wild forecasts from what we can tell, not even Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner. And it certainly doesn’t mean practitioners managing content should consider jumping ship from their WCM providers because one research firm has killed a report on the technology. WCM, in fact, is far from dead, and even Gartner will tell you that. But this is a closely-watched report in the industry. Why euthanize it after 20 years?

“It's not the death of WCM,” said Irina Guseva, lead analyst and lead author of the former WCM Magic Quadrant and senior research director focusing on WCM and DXP. “It’s the birth of WCM to a new definition of a content management system. Because now it's not only the web, obviously, that we need to tackle when you have Alexa, chatbots and different devices, modalities and channels. Content is not dying. It’s just turning into an original idea of a content management system that's intended for different content types and now for different channels.”

This isn't the first time Gartner has tweaked its approach in its coverage of content-management technology. It changed "Enterprise Content Management" to "Content Services Platforms" in 2017, defining the technology as "a set of services and microservices, embodied either as an integrated product suite or as separate applications that share common APIs and repositories, to exploit diverse content types and to serve multiple constituencies and numerous use cases across an organization."

Related Article: Top Trends from Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management

Content-Delivery Trend Already Emerged

It’s not as if Gartner just discovered in January of 2020 that brands need to provide content experiences outside a website. They and most of the marketing world know people consume content outside a website today. That means changes in the content-delivery approach. In what is now its last WCM Magic Quadrant last July, Gartner researchers found native content management capabilities are expanding into the area of DXPs, and practitioners want WCM tech built on mesh app and service architecture (MASA), microservices and serverless and containerized architectures. 

Meanwhile, Gartner research competitor Forrester, which produces its own (still going) industry report on WCM, has also indicated a WCM demise or sorts. It reported last fall the “classic” era of Web CMS is closing, and organizations that build digital strategies around “bringing people to their website” or via a page-based web-building foundation are behind.

Impact on WCM Vendors, Buyers

So what's the impact on the WCM vendor market? That’s a road of “very little differentiation between products,” according to Guseva said, who added capabilities like workflow, video-embedding, drag-and-drop, localization and translation are now table stakes. 

And the impact on WCM buyers? “The interest in buying 'WCM only' is declining, and when they do come to that decision, it's very hard for them to differentiate between all these vendors and products. There are thousands and thousands of them. And that leads to the homogenization of WCM features and functions. Our analytics show us the general interest in inquiries and readership for WCM is declining and the interest in DXPs is increasing.” 

Related Article: Does Web Content Management Have an Agile Future?

How DXPs Have Emerged

Gartner’s DXP Magic Quadrant is due out next week. The DXP industry research reports have emerged on the Forrester and Gartner radar within the past six years. And people are buying. According to one report, the DXP market is projected to reach $15.8 billion by 2025. According to the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Experience Platforms published last year, DXPs are 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.”

WCM fits into the DXP vision, but Guseva, unlike others in the past, does not see it as the backbone of digital experiences. She sees “content management systems,” those that go beyond the web, as the backbone. “Some organizations already have a good DXP vision and strategy,” Guseva said. “And they know exactly what kind of DXP they want and how they want it. Others are not thinking about this term necessarily, but when they’re coming to Gartner for advice they want an interoperable integrated solution with personalization and all those critical capabilities that align with DXP.”

Tony White, founder at WCM consulting firm Ars Logica, told CMSWire that even 10 years ago, most of the leading web content management platforms included quite a bit of what people would consider now digital experience platforms. “So in that respect,” he said, speaking of Gartner's WCM movement, “it's not such a big deal. It's just sort of morphing the name, and digital experience platform is probably a bit more accurate now.” 

The majority of products that people would consider in the WCM category have added enough to web content management to probably be better described as digital experience management, White added. “So I think that that's pretty reasonable to basically continue the WCM coverage under the DX moniker.” 

'People Still Need Websites'

Jim Lundy, founder, CEO and lead analyst at Aragon Research, was one of the original authors of the WCM MQ while at Gartner. He, too, sees the WCM market as evolving from fixed web to headless or what his firm has tentatively called “content experience.” “There has always been overlap between portal providers, WCM and ecommerce, and now many offer that as a bundle,” Lundy added. “However, that does not mean that everyone is going to buy a DXP, which I've referred to as a Marketing Cloud. People still need websites.”

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

New Category Coming Soon?

Gartner in its note to clients this month said it is replacing the Gartner Magic Quadrant with a Gartner Market Guide “to provide coverage on this mature market, but not to the extent of a Gartner Magic Quadrant.” It’s due out potentially in July. 

That falls in line with what Deane Barker, senior director of content management strategy at Episerver, a WCM vendor, said when he learned of Gartner’s WCM Magic Quadrant termination. “I refuse to believe Gartner is going to walk away from content management,” he told CMSWire. “They may do that with web content management, but they need some way to account for the pure management of content, and I think that we'll see this soon.”

Barker predicts a new category that removes the emphasis on the web channel. “So there will be two sides — content management and experience management,” Barker said. “Many of systems — like Episerver — will cover both. Other systems, like headless vendors, will only be on the content side.”

WCM Demise No Big Deal

Make no mistake: requirements for WCM will be needed for a long time, according to White of Ars Logica. “Retiring the quadrant definitely does not mean that the features and functions and solutions that those products that were covered in the WCM Magic Quadrant provide are not going to be required.” Don’t ignore those WCM vendors, White added, saying, “Even when thinking about the wider range of functionality included in Digital Experience Platforms, some of those WCM products as they’re self-described may actually perform better than some of the products that are described as DXP products."

Customer solutions are always pretty specific to the customer, White added. “There's of course a core set of features and functions that most customers will look for,” he said. “But the customer requirements will really describe the exact shape of what they need to obtain.”