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The days of creating, managing and delivering digital experiences in a single channel are dying. This paves the way for a new era of web content management (Web CMS) technologies and strategies built on agile, open foundations that support digital experiences beyond the website. 

Mark Grannan, senior analyst for Forrester, shared those thoughts in a recent interview with CMSWire. Grannan blogged last month 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. “If a (Web CMS) buyer is only asking themselves, ‘Can our Web CMS support this current web redesign?’ And that's the only thing they're asking, they’re doing it wrong,” Grannan told CMSWire. “They need to ask more questions around how this process can evolve. How the technology can support new angles around content reuse. And how can they operate faster. The old model of three, four, five or six months before you implement a new CMS, and it was tightly tied to a new front end, those days are dead.”

One Channel No Longer Cuts It

So what’s the new era of Agile Web CMS look like to Grannan and Forrester? Grannan reported last year in a Forrester blog that practitioners need CMS to go toward “Agile content curation and orchestration,” or what Forrester has deemed as “Agile CMS.” 

The gist of this category breaks down into two segments:

  • A content hub unifies access to other content repositories. Practitioners get a “unified content access point” by migrating content across cloud and on-premise repositories.
  • Content-as-a-service’s (CaaS) content syndication adds practitioner tools onto delivery APIs. Grannan blogged CaaS is content authoring plus management plus API delivery.

The Agile CMS movement is based on the belief organizations can no longer create, manage, deliver and optimize experiences within a single channel, Grannan told CMSWire. “It needs the content and the other assets that we're building and managing and needs to work across channels and across customer journeys," he said. "And so in order to affect that we need some pretty big changes in architecture.” He cited the use of APIs in a Web CMS architecture, something that isn’t exactly new: APIs have been set in motion for the better part of five or six years, maybe longer, Grannan said.

Related Article: How to Categorize the Web CMS Marketplace

Content-First Mentality

Grannan also said practitioners need to move to a content-first mentality, replacing a page-based mentality or site-based mentality. He called this a “pretty big paradigm shift,” one that “varies by maturity and by industry. Some folks have already made that pivot. Other folks definitely have not.” In a content-first world, assets are reused across channels. And agile project management supports this, though Grannan pointed out many Web CMS vendors have a gap in project management. 

“And so other folks are trying to fill it with a third party tool, sometimes very effectively, and other times, not very effectively at all,” Grannan said. “And then we're even starting to see the beginnings of some of the vendors trying to do it directly with more of a project-and-task type paradigm, versus a page-and-publish paradigm. And they're even starting to build in things like calendars directly into the primary operational interface for the platform. I think it's evolving very quickly, and we’re excited to see how it's going to go.”

Classic Tech Finally Sunset?

What do all these movements in content production mean on a technological level? Grannan sees the classic Web CMS technology architecture as “finally being sunset.” He cited the age of portal servers and portal models, built more classically on a website, as long gone. “I think static content that is refreshed very infrequently and only works on desktop has clearly been dead for a long time,” Grannan said. “End user organizations are finally starting to clear out that the dead undergrowth.” 

The “1990s and 2000s” type architectures or experiences are finally being cleaned out — or at least they're being pared back — so that brands can put something else on top of them. “And to that end,” Grannan said, “making sure that the experience has a good UI and a good UI across device types … some of that stuff that's been a long time coming. It's very much coming home to roost with a legacy mentality.”

Related Article: Web Content Management Systems Vs. Content Marketing Platforms

Personalization Goals Stimulate Open Architectures

Ambitions around personalization and dynamic experiences are pressuring Web CMS vendors. No longer are practitioners willing to accept Vendor XYZ templating language means they have to certify a bunch of Biz Devs folks on a proprietary web stack that they can't use outside of that solution. 

Users are moving toward front end frameworks like Angular, Vue and React and bolting it on top of their CMS, hence the openness coming into the picture. The open source and open APIs movement in Web CMS has been attractive to investors in the past year, as Grannan noted in his blog. He did note he also sees ecommerce and news media vertical plays as still growing and viable in the Web CMS space. “The openness is attractive to the end buyer because they can see code samples, they can see the roadmap, they can work with the APIs in a sandbox environment before they write a check,” Grannan said. “So I think a lot of that openness is being rewarded.”

Open CMS Enables Business Agility

Some Web CMS industry observers aren’t sure if the space is going to make a full pivot to Agile. “Considering eras, maybe the mainstream content management industry is in the ‘experience’ era, as the industry has another stab at offering a suite after the failure of ECM (Enterprise Content Management), but is this ending to usher in a new Agile era? I’m not sure,” said Ian Truscott, executive strategy director at appropingo and founder of Rockstar CMO. “For sure organizations are starting to care more about content management, beyond the web page, but are they about to move from the established vendors?”

Truscott added that in general, using “agile with a capital A" and applying it to everything is “making my toes curl, especially when it’s applied to something that is agile by nature, like marketing, or really not, like enterprise software.” He is a believer in many of Forrester’s points on agile CMS, but, he added, “an open and flexible CMS is not agile itself. It enables business agility.” 

Related Article: Agile Web Experience Management: Content as a Service

Content Production Still Complicated Problem

The maturity of the Web CMS industry depends on how you measure it, Truscott said. It’s been long established that every business needs a CMS of some sort, but on planet CMS the tectonic plates have not fused and cooled as perhaps they have in software categories like ERP, he added. “If you are managing things in your enterprise there is an established best practice and dominant vendors,” Truscott said. “If you are managing content in your enterprise there is still not an agreed approach, a mature category (WCM, DAM, MRM, PIM, CaaS, etc.) or clear vendor dominance. Yet, they all do broadly the same thing: allow a business user to create some content, workflow it, manage it, tag it and publish it. To do this, soup to nuts, from product development to consumer touchpoint, is still a hellishly complicated problem to solve.”

Will Web CMS Have Same Fate as ECM?

Truscott is not convinced the “cool kids” of Web CMS that are disrupting mainstream, traditional vendors will continue to do so over the long haul. He said the recent investments in these vendors and all the "coming to an end" signals for traditional vendors are “really attractive.” 

However, he cited the ECM’s space similar evolution, when “back in the heyday of Vignette, Documentum and Interwoven almost 20 years ago investors placed their bets on the belief that a gorilla would emerge, leap the chasm and dominate the category.” The ECM dream died, though, because the market did not see the value in tackling the hard problem but simply wanted to publish content to the web. As these vendors lost relevance to this market, Web CMS tech vendors like Drupal, Episerver and Sitecore emerged, Truscott said, and the market category became defined by digital marketing, not content operations or strategy. 

“I’m not suggesting we should judge a software category by what happened in its past and we won’t see our hero, or gorilla emerge, but this buying behavior persists,” Truscott said.

Open Source, APIs Table Stakes

As for the open source and API-first movement, Truscott called that “table stakes.” “In this crazy, fragmented, mixed up world of content management and the extended marketing automation and customer experience ecosystem, openness, APIs and flexibility is not a game-changing indicator of a market shift, but table stakes to play,” he said. “I was recently invited to facilitate some DAM events, and integration is the top question.”

Market Consolidation Coming?

So if the Web CMS future is Agile, does that mean consolidation? Cyril Lemaire, managing partner of Traktek Partners, said he doesn’t foresee much market consolidation happening anytime soon. The major players all have their niche focus in the fragmented market because many of them use different technology stacks that are very difficult and costly to swap out or integrate with, Lemaire said. Security will be the next premium Web CMS feature, he added. “While these CMS providers provide the tools to manage content,” he added, “there is another category of providers that focus on hosting, security and managed services. The future for all of these hosting providers will continue to be bright as they command a premium with the growing cybersecurity threats.”