headless mannequins in a shop window
PHOTO: Pier Francesco Grizi

In the past couple of years, headless has become a major trend in the web content management systems (CMS) market. Numerous startups entered the market with pure headless products, and most traditional CMS vendors have added API layers, providing a hybrid solution. What’s coming next in 2019?

Headless Adoption Is Driven Primarily by Technologists

Today, developers adopt headless as they seek a more flexible alternative to traditional CMS products that limit their creativity and do not allow them to use modern development frameworks.

IT leaders these days want to make their digital teams more agile. They have moved toward the cloud, microservices and DevOps because they want to avoid limits and lock-ins that are a part of traditional monolithic architectures.

Based on the results of a recent headless CMS survey conducted by my company, Kentico, we can say that the pure headless CMS reached the early-adopters phase in 2018, and we expect it to cross the chasm to early majority in 2019.

But is it ready to make the leap? We need to keep in mind that CMS doesn’t only have to serve developers — it also has to support the needs of business users.

Related Article: Is a Headless CMS Right for You?

To Cross the Chasm, Business Users Must Adopt Headless

Until now, some people rejected the idea of headless CMS because the products lacked some of the essential concepts that CMS users expected, such as preview, workflow management, asset management, navigation, taxonomy or link management. However, as headless CMS products continue to mature, those capabilities are now becoming standards.

Users of headless CMS tools had complained that they couldn’t create new pages without the help of developers, so some headless CMS vendors introduced the concept of “content components” or “content slices” that enabled marketers to compose pages from predefined elements.

Users also weren’t sure how to do personalization, marketing automation or ecommerce, but it is now possible to handle those things by combining headless CMS tools with other API-enabled products.

The technology is now ready. You can use a headless CMS to publish content to any channel and device. But is it enough to convince business users to make the switch? What are the benefits for them besides the omnichannel support and higher agility?

Related Article: A Headless CMS Won't Solve All Your Woes

Business Users Look to Consolidate Their Content and Workflow

In the early days, CMS products were created to enable nontechnical users to manage website content. They were basically content repositories and content entry tools that only a few people in any organization used.

Since then, content has become a strategic asset, and its management has become much more complex. People across entire organizations are now involved in the process, and new disciplines and roles have emerged.

Still, it seems that CMS products got stuck in those early days, and that they continue to be used primarily as systems of record. They have become static repositories of published content, while the actual collaborative processes involving content strategy, planning and authoring are frequently done using other tools.

Content is often created in Word, and then there are several rounds of email ping-pong between the author, the content strategist, the copywriter, the legal team and others. Once the content is ready, some power user copies and pastes the final version into the CMS and clicks “publish.” All of that is orchestrated by a content strategist who has a hard time keeping everything in sync using a huge Excel spreadsheet.

At the same time, various departments manage content in their own silos. Content is often spread across multiple CMS, digital asset management (DAM), product information management (PIM) and ERP systems, as well as multiple Dropbox folders and various bespoke applications, leading to duplication and inconsistencies.

As a result, organizations now face a growing content friction. Content no longer flows freely from authors to readers. There are many bottlenecks caused by disconnected systems, duplicated content and inefficient workflows. Organizations invest more in content, but their ROI gets lower because of the friction, and their content engines get stuck.

While headless addresses the technological challenges, there’s more work to be done to address the complexity of the content life cycle. CMS products need to become systems of engagement that enable smooth collaboration. At the same time, content management systems need to provide a holistic view of your content with analytics spanning content creation and content performance.

There’s no established name for such a system yet; we may call it content as a service or agile CMS (see the research (paywall) by Forrester Research analyst Mark Grannan). Or the industry may come up with a completely new term.

Related Article: With Content Delivery, What Comes Around Goes Around

Content as a Service Will Become a Reality in 2019

The industry has been talking about content as a service for quite some time, but I believe we’re at its beginning right now, and 2019 will be the year when that vision will finally come true.

Content as a service will build on the headless architecture. It will be cloud-native, API-first and content-first. At the same time, it will address the needs of business users. It will enable collaboration across the whole content life cycle — from content strategy, planning and authoring to analytics and optimization.

It will replace or integrate the existing content silos and disconnected tools with a smooth flow of content. It will also provide a single source of truth for content and enable consistent experiences across channels.

There’s a strong business case for such a model, and we can expect multiple vendors to take that path in 2019 to differentiate themselves in this crowded market. No matter who comes first, the winners will be organizations that are more agile and deliver better experiences to their customers.