For decades we've had two content management worlds: one that grew out of document management, which addressed Microsoft Word, PDF files and other internally-focused content. The other grew out of managing external websites when they were simple HTML pages. For a brief period of time two decades ago, the two were brought together under the umbrella of "Enterprise Content Management."
It didn't work.
The rapidly evolving world of external content publication meant that web content management (WCM) platforms needed to evolve much faster than the multi-year release cycle for enterprise content management (ECM) platforms allowed for. ECM was holding WCM back. Eventually the two types of content management systems (CMS) diverged. But now, due to the convergent evolution of core technology, there is an opportunity to once again merge these markets — if only partially — opening up opportunities for those able to seize it.
The Enterprise Content Divide
The current use-cases for enterprise content can be broken into three buckets:
- Collaborative content which is created and shared in ad-hoc manner, e.g. MS Teams and email.
- Archival content, which requires protection until the need for the content expires.
- Transactional content, the lifeblood of business processes.
Content services platforms are well-suited to manage transactional content. This technical approach to managing enterprise content via object-centered APIs is the evolutionary result of ECM. Serving content in different applications is an approach that scales. With proper content modeling of the information, transactional content can serve multiple processes, be systematically managed, and placed into the appropriate archival content repository once it reaches the end of its lifecycle.
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The Content Modeling Overlap
WCM started by managing and publishing HTML and image files. Things changed with Web 2.0: websites became more interactive, which required a more intelligent web server. Over time, the need to publish the same content across multiple social media channels grew.
This led to the headless CMS approach, where content is created and managed independent of the design and implementation. Once created, content is published to the desired channels, which apply the appropriate designs. Structured content modeling facilitated this shared approach, by modeling the business aspect of content instead of where it fits on a web page.
The structured approach closely resembles the modeling approach long used in the ECM. Coupled with the implementation of APIs to access the content, headless CMSs are very similar to content services offerings by the ECM players.
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Seizing the Content Services Opportunity
Many headless CMS vendors are looking to grow and expand their revenue base. Some are considering moving up the stack and tackling the design and display of the content they manage. While valuable, that risks them turning into a more traditional WCM vendor, with the competitive market that comes with it.
Another option is for headless CMS vendors to address enterprise transactional content. Most of the functional features are already built. Most vendors simply need to embed more security and compliance features to compete in the content services market.
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Risk vs. Reward
The ECM market is in flux. The focus is currently on collaborative content due to the deficiencies that became clear during the pandemic. The focus will soon swing back.
Cloud-native headless CMS vendors could quickly stake a claim as a SaaS content services provider without sacrificing their core client-base. The new features they'd need to build are security focused, which existing customers are unlikely to protest if it doesn’t come at the expense of the user experience.
Using content services to manage transactional content has some definite advantages. The largest hurdle for businesses is finding the right platform that makes business-centric content services easy. Headless CMS vendors are close to having the answer if they can take a step back and look at the opportunities on the other side of the content universe.
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