Aug 12, 2019 - Justin Emond

How to Choose a Digital Experience Platform in 2019

compass

We’re entering the third age of the CMS—and quite possibly the last age of the CMS. The first age was large, monolithic, expensive CMSs from HP and IBM. The second age was ushered in by Blogger (yes, really), WordPress and Drupal. The third age is the rise of microservices that deliver powerful and fast decoupled experiences. 

We can see it all around us:

Just like in the natural world, ecosystem changes lead to certain qualities being better suited to adapt and thrive. A CMS will no longer be competitive. The third age of the CMS is really the first age of the Digital Experience Platform (DXP). 

DXPs are evolving to keep up with dramatic changes, but there are some DXPs that are better positioned to win in the long run. Here’s the essential information you need to understand DXP and how to make the best investment in your future DXP.

What is a Digital Experience Platform?

Gartner defines a Digital Experience Platform as, “an integrated set of core technologies that support the composition, management, delivery, and optimization of contextualized digital experiences.” 

That definition reminds me of the ten-dollar words enterprise salespeople use to sell you stuff that you don’t need (or house listings on Zillow—effusive natural light, anyone?). But in truth, DXP is a helpful name to describe a simple collection of services. The most common ones being: 

  • Website CMS: The foundation of every digital experience manager is still (and will be for a long time) the content management system. You cannot escape the fact that, as social animals, telling stories is fundamental to the human experience.

  • Analytics: Collecting loads of the wrong kind of data is like having children: They are both great ways to lose tons of money and time, but everyone swears the experience is worth it. Still, how an organization uses analytics is likely the differentiator between good and great marketing teams. Remember, no matter how hard you ignore this fact, you cannot improve what you do not measure.

  • Commerce: From browse-and-buy to narrow use cases, adding commerce experiences is an increasingly common need. This should be no surprise, given the breakneck growth in digital commerce over the last several years, which is only projected to to grow

  • Campaign management: Running large, multichannel marketing efforts. 

  • Customer portals: Think any kind of logged-in user experiences, from account management to more complex engagements.

  • Personalization (maybe): While incredibly powerful and effective when managed well, many organizations do not prioritize staff time. 

  • Digital asset management (maybe): A majority of the organizations we work with don’t currently use a DAM, as marketing teams tend to be siloed and may not prioritize process standardization.

There are plenty of other areas you can include when building a digital experience, but those are the major ones.

But what is a digital experience platform in practice?

A successful DXP in the wild has common attributes:

  • The web team feels empowered, not encumbered

  • Marketing can create new landing pages and content without talking to engineering

  • High developer velocity for when you need engineering

  • The right analytics data is captured the right way

  • Content and commerce backends are decoupled from the experience layer

  • Security—at the edge, in the platform, in the process—is best in class

The DXP Players and Ecosystem

As an organization, the first place you might look when identifying potential DXPs might be the Gartner magic quadrant. Here it is for 2019:

 

DXP magic quadrant

The Gartner rankings are far from unbiased—it can be a challenge for any ranking organization to correctly balance the myriad conflicting perspectives they gather from product companies, system integrators, and end-users—but it remains a useful tool to find the leaders. Like all charts, you want to be in the top right.

But consider this: what are your marketing efforts without content? At Third and Grove, we believe that content is the cornerstone of any digital experience platform, so we think you have to also look at the leading content management systems (CMS) as well. Here is the Gartner magic quadrant for web CMS:

cms magic quadrant

Imagine we turn these two magic quadrants into a Venn diagram and refine that list given our relative experience with these platforms, and you get four leaders in the digital experience platform space:

  1. Adobe Experience Manager (AEM): A strong collection of coupled services put together through a series of acquisitions. Closed source, expensive license feeds, and slowest time-to-market of any of the leaders.

  2. Bloomreach: Same tight coupling as AEM, but with fewer digital experience tools built into the platform. 

  3. Sitecore: Same tight coupling as AEM, but with fewer digital experience tools in the built into the platform.

  4. Acquia (Drupal): Fewer digital experience tools built in the CMS, but fully embraces open architecture as its core product, Drupal. Acquia is the only truly open-source platform in this group.

How do you decide? Here’s how the major players stack up against the four most critical considerations:

Time to Market

  • AEM: AEM generally has the slowest time-to-market of any of the leaders
  • Bloomreach: The core platform is open-source, but the ecosystem is much smaller than Acquia Drupal, so the benefits from reusing community contributed extensions are limited
  • Sitecore: Time to market is generally consistent with Acquia Drupal
  • Acquia: As the most open-source of the leading platforms, adopters of Acquia Drupal benefit from a massive collection of free extensions that can be used in lieu of custom code development

Ease of Platform Extension

  • AEM: Companion tools for needs like marketing automation, digital asset management, and analytics are tightly coupled to the platform
  • Bloomreach: DXP toolset is tightly coupled but less feature-rich than AEM
  • Sitecore: DXP toolset is tightly coupled but less feature-rich than AEM
  • Acquia: Acquia Drupal, by necessity and culture, is engineered from the bottom up to be an open platform

Cost

  • AEM: AEM is generally the most expensive implementation effort of the leading DXPs
  • Bloomreach: Implementation costs are generally consistent with Acquia Drupal, the value leader, but platform users will pay non-trivial license fees
  • Sitecore: Implementation costs are generally consistent with Acquia Drupal, the value leader, but platform users will pay non-trivial license fees
  • Acquia: No licensing fees, a large module ecosystem to use and adapt rather than build and ideate, and generally lower technical debt, which reduces implementation budgets

Commerce Capabilities

  • AEM: Rich commerce functionality provided by a tightly coupled solution provided by core AEM platform (Magento); support for other platforms is less clear
  • Bloomreach: No core solution offered, but it is compatible with most leading platforms
  • Sitecore: Rich commerce functionality provided by a tightly-coupled solution provided by Sitecore
  • Acquia: Uncoupled from the core product but with a built-in integration framework for leading platforms like Magento, Shopify, Elastic Path (headless), and BigCommerce

There's more to learn on DXP

If you're serious about choosing the right DXP for your organization (you should be), check out our other resources:

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