ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Boye & Co, the networking and learning group founded in 2003 by Danish internet entrepreneur Janus Boye, held its annual CMS experts group kickoff event in Florida Jan. 17-18. It encompassed two days of small-group executive presentations, discussions and debates as hot as the midday Florida sun.

I was introduced to Boye & Co. in the summer and attended my first meeting in September in Boston. My initial observations were that it was unique, authentic and leaned more academic than our industry might be accustomed to. But I also believe that it is this mix that brings intense competitors to the same table to have frank and open discussions, without the sales pitches. The group has an eclectic mix of professionals, who seek the learnings, the connections, the group dinner, and especially the early-morning runs.

This year’s event was held in St. Pete Beach, Florida, at The Don Cesar, a 95-year-old historic resort with stories to tell. I found myself wondering what a guest in the early days of the hotel’s existence (it was also repurposed as a hospital during World War II) would think if they were transported to our conference room in 2023, listening to leaders from across the globe talk about monolithic vs. headless content management systems, decoupled architectures, MACH, content modeling, and on. That aside, imagine the story we could tell them about this thing called the internet and commercial air travel!  

Interesting side note: when researching “when did air travel begin?,” it says that the world’s first airline and first regularly scheduled take off happened right nearby in St. Petersburg, Florida, too (in 1914)! By a man with the (last) name “Jannus.”   

What would that late 1920s guest think? How would we explain, connect and create a common frame of reference? And let’s be honest: if a 2023 guest stumbled into our room, wouldn’t we face the same challenges? It can be making heads-or-tails of the current state of the industry to even our ICP, or Ideal Customer Profile. The choices are myriad in this composable DXP world and confusion can linger with those seeking to procure our platforms, services and expertise.

Here are five key takeaways from the event (btw, that's me in the dark blue shirt in the feature photo):

Web CMS Education Is Paramount

Even in a Web CMS experts’ group, a common understanding of the marketplace and its future is up for debate. And a debate it was! We may be able to expertly explain amongst each other the differences between monolithic vs. headless CMS and all-in-one vs composable, but do our messages and entreaties resonate with the marketplace and customer needs? That is not as clear.

Web CMS Commoditization: What Are the Differences?

In attendance were leaders from Web CMS vendors Kentico, Kontent.ai, Contentstack, Magnolia, Storyblok, Optimizely, Sanity.io, Solodev and Umbraco. There was even a “CMS Idol” competition where several of the platforms were judged on six-minute demos of their interfaces.

To the viewer, they all seemed to be of similar (impressive) quality and not too differentiated from one another. It feels akin to streaming music subscription applications, where the likes of Apple, Amazon, YouTube and Spotify each have essentially the same product, the same catalogue of music, across the same platforms, but with their own branding, slight UI (user interface) differences, promotions and bundling options.

This “race to the middle” seems to be where the Web CMS market finds itself “headless-ly” headed. With each vying for an exalted position on Gartner® Magic Quadrants and the like, this convergence could become yet more indiscernible. Casper Rasmussen, president of the MACH Alliance, said at the conference that perhaps it is time to demand from the platform vendors an answer to the question “What are you not?” instead of a total focus on what each one is.

Related Article: 5 Things Your CTO Will Ask You About MACH

Kontent.ai vs. Kentico

It was big news this past summer when Kontent.ai spun off as a standalone company from Kentico, which included raising $40 million in a financing round. A neat aspect of the Boye & Co. CMS Kickoff event was having the respective CEOs — Dominik Pinter (Kentico) and Bart Omlo (Kontent.ai) — and key members of each company on hand.

There was a bit of a friendly competition present and hearing the dueling state-of-the-company CEO presentations, an A/B test of sorts in the real world of business, was very enlightening. Omlo made the case for Kontent.ai as the pure headless Web CMS play, while Pinter positioned Kentico as a “hybrid headless” offering. Pinter even had a provocative slide which stated: “Headless is just a feature.” Omlo also intriguingly used the evolution of the automobile — from the change in how vehicles are fueled, and how cars have gone from too many needless features to more elegant design — to help explain the evolution of the Web CMS and DXP.

Learning Opportunities

Passion to Serve the Web CMS Customer’s Business Needs

The most poignant moments came when the discussion focused less on the technology and more on the human quotient, and how alignment needs to be with the customer and her business needs, and to work backwards from there. We should not be building solutions for problems that do not exist.

“Is headless a solution in search of a problem?” asked one attendee. These kinds of discussions are necessary. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for customers, whether we are discussing monolithic, headless, hybrid headless or anything in between. And the practitioners and leaders in the room exhibited serious passion on this, as chatter on the subject was ever-present in the sessions, at dinner, and even in the totality of the car ride back to the airport.

Related Article: Have You Recognized the Potential of the Composable Digital Experience Stack?

MACH Alliance Making Moves

Rasmussen, who took over as MACH Alliance president in July, presented on the non-profit organization’s initiatives. He was also one of the three judges for the “CMS Idol” competition. MACH, which stands for Microservices-based, API-first, Cloud-native and Headless, intends to place a premium on members who prioritize efforts toward diversity, inclusion and sustainability. The expectation is that signaling these as important factors for inclusion in the MACH Alliance will create a virtuous circle of meaningful improvement for the future of the industry.

Sana Remekie, MACH Alliance Ambassador and CMSWire contributor, is a shining example of what these kinds of efforts can rightfully spotlight, and she gave a much-anticipated talk on the journey from monolith to composable. Nicole France of Contentful, another MACH Alliance member, presented on “Unlocking Creativity, Delivering Value, and Getting Things Done” with composable content. Yet another member, Storyblok, took part in the CMS competition and was introduced by Julia Doria, who recently started as director of sales.  

The Quest for Web CMS Clarity and Vision

If you were wondering, Contentstack — you guessed it, another MACH Alliance member — was the winner of the “CMS Idol” competition, with Robert Curlette, partner solutions architect at Contentstack, delivering the winning demo.

The beautiful Florida sunrise here in mid-January augurs a year ahead of hope and expectations for Web CMS market clarity for consumers and platform vendors alike.  

Editor's note: Konabos, for whom CMSWire Contributor and author article Matthew McQueeny works, is a member of the Boye & Co. CMS Experts Group.