The rise of the phrase "digital transformation" over the last five years is undeniable. Google Trends data from the last five years worldwide confirm its popularity. While it might sound like one, digital transformation is not just another buzzword. But what does it mean to your organization? Where are organizations in regards to digital transformation maturity — and, in turn, how is it helping to provide better digital customer experiences? “Everyone calls everything digital transformation now, and that's one of the biggest problems I see out there,” said Piyush Patel, managing director of digital experience platforms for LiquidHub. “You have vendors calling themselves a digital transformation platform when it's really project management and hours reporting. Come on.”

According to a CMSWire survey, entitled CMSWire’s 2017 Digital Customer Experience, many businesses are not far along in the digital transformation process, either. Only 10.7 percent of industry practitioners said digital transformation is a priority but they have yet to start. Most — 56.6 percent — are at an early phase, and only 22.3 percent report that they are in a mature stage. 

Maybe the trends are more like hype? 

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

Digital Experience Platforms Role in Digital Transformation

Whether you buy the hype or not, marketers and customer experience professionals that aspire to digitally transform and deliver digital customer experiences (DX) can’t do so without an understanding of the software that orchestrates these experiences. 

Digital Experience Platforms (DXPs) enable organizations to create these experiences, according to many analysts, practitioners and of course, the vendors who sell the software. Here are some of the realities behind this crucial software and how practitioners can best approach assembling the right DX technology to drive business outcomes.

What (And Who) is a DXP Anyway?

But first, a semantics debate. The term digital experience platform, you see, has some associated hype and untruths, according to Tony Byrne, CEO and founder of Real Story Group, who blogged about the matter in January. “It doesn’t exist,” Byrne told CMSWire of DXPs in an interview this month. “It’s a made-up term foisted on gullible analyst firms by enterprise portal vendors seeking continuing relevancy and WCM vendors looking to escape the increasingly narrow functional confines of that marketplace." Byrne went on to say that digital leaders don't license a "digital experience platform." "People who actually work on these systems on a daily basis know that there is a difference between digital experience as a mindset and collection of evolving methodologies," Byrne added, "versus the various sets of tools required to satisfy diverse customer needs in the digital world.”

It's all about knowing who has key technology sets to deliver what your business needs, according to Patel. Be cautious of vendors that call themselves “Digital Experience Platforms” but clearly lack key drivers. “I would disagree with vendors calling themselves DXPs when they don't have a CMS (content management system) and a DAM (digital asset management),” Patel said. “The problem is not with the term itself, it’s with the vendors who decide to put themselves in that category.”

Get Over It: DXPs are Real

On the other side of that argument, digital experience platforms are very real, according to Digital Clarity Group (DCG), which produced the 2018 report, “Digital Experience Platforms: Buyer Trends, Preferences and Strategies.” (login required). 

In the report, DCG analysts called a DXP a “collection of technologies for creating, orchestrating, and managing the digital experience delivered to customers, prospects, employees and other stakeholders.” DXPs include technical capabilities (e.g., products, applications, suites) and feature among other tech content management systems, analytics, personalization and customer data management. A DXP can be purchased from a single vendor or assembled from multiple vendor components, according to DCG.

Forrester and Gartner have their own vendor analysis reports on DXPs: the Digital Experience Platforms Wave and the Magic Quadrant for Digital Experience Platforms. Definitions and semantics aside, it’s time to cut through the hype. Let's explore some realities of DXPs compiled through recent interviews with experts who have been involved in implementations and selections of such software. 

Related Article: Forrester Boots Adobe, Names Oracle Lone Digital Experience Platform Leader

Let's Talk Implementation Timelines

If you're going to arrive at having a true DXP, how much time typically can you expect to invest regarding selection, implementation, rollout, etc.? “It really depends on the solution and how extensive it is,” said Caleb F. Bryant, director of strategic alliances and solution consulting for Gorilla Group. “At a minimum, implementing a solution like Dynamic Yield which impacts merchandising and onsite personalization experiences can be as low as two to four weeks.” However, Bryant added, more extensive implementations that impact the entire customer lifecycle are typically done in conjunction with large build projects. That, he said, can last eight to 12 months and even longer for multi-phase implementations.

Manel Martorana, partner and head of technology solutions at Everis, also said it depends. He works for a 19,000-employee organization and sees timelines typically with DXPs fall this way:

  • DXP design + product selection: two to three months
  • Minimum Viable Product (MVP) with initial touch points and basic DXP features and few business logic/integrations: five to six months
  • Full DXP implementation with advanced features (personalization, chatbots, business processes, etc.): five to six months.

"Selecting technology needs to be a core competency going forward." -Tony Byrne

Or, there is this timeline: never-ending. Byrne said the process of managing a stack of DX technologies will never end. “That’s actually good news,” he said. “We will all innovate regularly, sometimes by enhancing our existing toolsets, increasingly by selecting new or replacement tools. Selecting technology needs to be a core competency going forward.”

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

Digital Experience Platform Costs?

DXP vendors are cashing in — and will continue to do so in the coming years, according to Gartner. In its first Magic Quadrant for Digital Experience Platforms (fee required) published Jan. 17, Gartner researchers said spending onDXPs will reach $18.4 billion in2021.

Your biggest costs for digital experience software will be data and content analysis and integration, systems implementation and ongoing developer talent close at hand for continuous adaptability, Byrne said. “Keep your data close, but your developers closer,” he warned. Martorana said he's found "typical DXP MVP implementation costs can vary from $200K to $1M depending on the complexity, the internal resources and the technology used."

Forrester analysts in their original Digital Experience Platforms Wave published in 2014 (fee required) said DX practitioners frequently used the term “technical debt” because of the "increasing costs of overlapping or redundant technologies over time." “Some point solutions like Nosto offer a billing model that is just a percentage taken based on orders that they influence so the ROI is easily proven,” Gorilla Group's Bryant said. “I think more solutions will take this approach, if they can. Unfortunately, however, many enterprise solutions don't take this approach so costs can be wide ranging.”

"Organizations spend three to five times more on professional services to implement the DXP than they do to buy the products themselves," -Digital Clarity Group report

Brace for Licensing, Deployment, Maintenance 

According to a post on DXPs by Ameex Technologies officials, DXPs will include, purchase costs (software licensing, first time build, etc.); deployment costs (localization, training, technical resources, project management costs, etc.); and maintenance costs (server upgrades, 24/7 maintenance, etc.). “For a company operating the integrated functions of DXP in silos, the new DXP platform will bring down the cost,” Ameex officials wrote. “It is advisable to lay down a long-term budget plan with respect to the DXP implementation strategy.” 

Ars Logica in its Compass Guide to WCM Q4 2017 (login required), reported costs associated with some web content management (WCM) vendors. Forrester calls WCM the "backbone of digital experience delivery." They include:

  • Adobe Experience Manager Sites, version 6.3: $350,000 (average sales price, license only). [Editor's note: An Adobe official emailed CMSWire after publication and noted: AEM 6.3 includes more than just WCM. The correct price for Adobe Experience Manager Sites, the official added, would be $250,000 (average sales price, managed cloud).
  • dotCMS Enterprise, version 4.3.2: $54,000/per year (average sales/subscription price)
  • Ingeniux CMS, version 10.0: $60,000/year (SaaS); $90,000 (on-premises); average sales price, license only
  • SDL Tridion Sites, version 8.5: $250,000 (average sales price, license only)
  • Sitecore Experience Platform: $200,000 (averages sales price, license only)

"Organizations spendthree to five times more on professional servicesto implement the DXP than they do to buy theproducts themselves," Digital Clarity Group officials wrote in their 2018 DXP report. "If the implementationinvolves significant organizational change,business process redesign, and end-to-endimplementation, the price tag could even reachsix to eight times the cost of the technology."

Related Article: 7 Signs You Need a New Content Management System (CMS)

Learning Opportunities

Integration Reality: Not Much Comes Easy

Practitioners are well aware they'll need to get systems talking to each other. Martorana said integrations between digital experience software components is one of the keys for success: integrations between DXP components and integrations between DXP and backend systems, he noted. “There is a lot of work to do here, and I think sometimes impossible expectations are generated to clients regarding this topic,” Martorana said. “Basic integrations like analytics are easy and they can be included in the MVP phase." Others, he finds, like the integration between the CRM and a targeting tool, can be extremely difficult and take two to three months. "Sometimes those integrations are so expensive that they are never done and the resulting DXP lacks this feature,” Martorana said, adding that one of the most difficult integrations you will see is with a native mobile solution. 

Integration with this kind of technology starts with architecture, according to Byrne. If you want to simplify your integration efforts going forward, implement an enterprise-wide approach to two key things: identity management and customer data. “If you can de-silo those two things, and implement enterprise-wide platforms,” Byrne added, “you will make it much easier to plug in new tools and better experiences going forward.” In the past, practitioners spent a lot of engineering effort trying to customize behemoth platforms. However, in the future “we will focus our development energies on making more specialized tools talk to each other. So integration is a really important question,” Byrne said. 

Forrester analysts Mark Grannan and Ted Schadler in their September 2017 Digital Experience Platform Trends report (fee required) encouraged practitioners to demand microservices, an API-first architecture, from their DX software providers, which they said will lower the cost per integration over time.

Ameex Technology officials noted a scalable platform needs a robust, sustainable and innovation friendly architecture that helps organizations enhance capabilities without changing the code. They cited the key building blocks for site architecture as:

  • Site information architecture
  • Multisite architecture
  • Taxonomy architecture (helps classify website content)
  • Code and module structure
  • Panel-based architecture (create reusable pages and build landing pages in less than few minutes)
  • Localization architecture to support platform localization 

Related Article: Digital Experience in 2018: 5 Trends

Avoid Vendor Demo Daze

If you're reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve had a vendor demo for digital experience software. Scott Brinker in his Chief Marketing Technologist Blog reports there are nearly 7,000 marketing technology solutions. Too many practitioners have perspectives driven by the last vendor that came to their shop or the last demo they saw, according to LiquidHub's Patel. “They don't really understand that just because you have a task management system ... it’s off to the races in digital transformation,” Patel said, adding organizations fail to realize "the rest of the tools that you use, the work that you do, the content you produce — all of that has to be in concert together.”

People are not well versed on what their organization really should be doing to be digitally savvy and are being inundated by every vendor on the planet who says they’re doing digital transformation. “It’s confusing the matter more," Patel said. "Customers are buying into it, thinking if I get this thing I'm going to be doing digital transformation. They don’t really dig deeper, broader.”

Get Deep in Introspection

You’ve probably heard the advice before: know your business objectives before you get into software purchases and strategy. But it’s ever so true in regards to digital experience technology, Patel said. “First let's understand where in your business how things happen and can be digitally transformed,” he said. "And that may be as simple as, assigning work to people is chaotic, and in spreadsheets and emails.” 

Identify the bottlenecks in your business that can change. That may be difficult for some, Patel recognizes, because they don't have the right to look across the organization and identify these issues because they've got a narrow focus. "Ironically, everyone keeps talking about the power has shifted from CIO to the CMO and the CMO is spending the money,” Patel. “I almost believe the power needs to go back to the CIO because they know every system in place and where the bottlenecks are.”

Related Article: Chief Digital Officers Can Help End the Marketing-Web Team Tug of War

One-Vendor vs. Best-of-Breed

What should organizations know/do before they even consider pursuing digital experience software? Should they invest with one vendor or is best-of-breed reality? Bryant said most of the market is consolidating point solutions into single platforms. Adobe recently acquired Magento to fill the commerce gap. Salesforce acquired both Demandware and CloudCraze to enable Commerce Cloud for B2C and B2B. SAP did this with the acquisition of Hybris to fill the commerce gap, and its most recent acquisition of Callidus to shore up its inefficiencies in quote to cash management and recurring billing, Bryant added. “There are advantages to purchasing solutions from one overall software vendor like SAP, Adobe and Salesforce, but in reality the integrations to all of these ‘point’ solutions are still pretty limited,” Bryant said. “Depending on the organization’s goals extensive integration will still be required.”

  • Bryant suggests looking toward point solutions that can best solve challenges whether or not it is provided by one software vendor. “Other impacts like bundled software pricing certainly can impact decision making but all things being equal selecting platforms that best suit your needs is the best approach,” he said.
  • Patel said no matter what vendors claim, “no one has everything today.” He recognizes, however, vendors are trying to piece all the parts under one roof. “Whether it's built by the vendor or bought and merged, this stuff will start pumping together even more as we go forward,” Patel added.
  • Native solutions win easily in DXPs, according to Forrester analysts Grannan and Schadler. "Products joined by mergers andacquisitions frustrate customers because they have to force-fit the product integrations," the analysts wrote in their 2017 DX trends report. "Nativesolutions are the logical answer."

UX Matters — But Not More Than Transactions

Before you decided to make things look and feel pretty for customers, recognize that making sure things work first is smarter, according to Patel. Think how do we get the customer value and the business value ahead of how do we make things look? “The look and feel of something is important and great in exploring the experience economy, but first and foremost is how am I going to get that transaction closed?” Patel asked. “What do I need to do to make that sale? Understanding what that is should come before, ‘let me pretty up my website.’ If I can’t find a product, I don’t care what your UI is, I’m not going to buy anything from you because I didn't find what I'm looking for.”

Related Article: What is User Experience (UX) Design?

Prepare for Vast Staff Resources

Purchasing software and not dedicating the right manpower and training is a recipe for quickly turning a great software purchase into shelf-ware, according to Bryant. “Mistakes typically occur when setting up the right campaigns to run and measure because ultimately how you set up the solution will determine how effective it is,” he said. “Because many solutions can manage nuanced and multi-channel campaigns, setting them up can be quite complex.”

Separate design and implementation processes, Martorana suggested. “There will be a lot of rework to do,” he said, “and the result is never the expected one. Keep designers and developers working together in an agile way.”

Related Article: Gartner Names Digital Experience Platform Leaders

Caveat Emptor

Some DXP vendors have great marketing. The biggest mistake Byrne finds with practitioners is they go with “big-name vendors hoping that the sheer breadth of that vendor's portfolio will help digital marketers solve the diverse challenges in front of them and generally ease the pain of integration.” He finds the opposite: enterprise customers following a “suite” strategy are generally less satisfied with their technology, Byrne added, than peers who put together more flexible sets of solutions that allow them to swap in better-fitting alternatives.

Another point that Byrne shared is to be wary of following fads and trends. “The other big mistake, though, is constantly rolling out faddish new tools in the absence of a broader stack strategy and architecture," he said. Organizations need to flex and adapt, but within a solid blueprint, he added. "And again: you will want to separate identity, data, and experience layers in that architecture,” Byrne said.

Forrester analysts Grannan and Schadler noted, however, that big vendors are winning deals. In their DXP trends report, they found existing systems of record, such as CRM solutions for B2B businesses and ERP for manufacturers, had an "outsized influence" on digital experience software investments in 2017. Oracle, SAP and Salesforce are the lone vendors to have CRM and/or ERP solutions and a DX portfolio, according to Grannan and Schadler.