Aug 16, 2019 - Justin Emond

DXP Discovery Checklist

You’re about to spend hundreds of thousands (or millions) of dollars, months (or years) of your time to launch in production, and stick around for many years of support, enhancement, and extension. It will be much easier to make the choice right now than explain why you need to switch in two years when your DXP isn’t cutting it any longer.

The only way to dramatically reduce risk with such a major undertaking is to perform a robust discovery process, and discovery is only effective by asking a ton of questions and following your curiosity until you truly understand something.

This checklist has our ENTIRE list of questions that we’d recommend answering before moving into your research phase.

The Basics

Are you B2B, or B2C, or B2B2C?

Some DXPs are better suited, some it doesn’t matter. For commerce, it matters more.

What does a successful project look like to you? Specifically, what are the three to five KPIs in a year that will indicate success?

Great, now that you know what success looks like, work backward and find a DXP that will meet your goals. It's dangerous when you don't lead with this.

If your new DXP can do only ten usage scenarios (something a person needs the CMS to do) and no more, what do you need those ten usage scenarios to be for the project to be a success?

Don’t get lost too deep in requirements, just focus on the critical ones for the time being. There will be time later in the process to more deeply vet.

Do you need a customer portal?

It’s far easier to make a DXP power a portal than portal software power a digital experience.

Do you need an Open DXP or Closed DXP?

Don’t underestimate this one: this is such an important question that you need to be 100% committed to your decision. Read this guide on Open DXP vs. Closed DXP to understand the pros/cons of each of them (we are biased to Open DXP but if we can’t convince you of the value of Open, then you might be safe with Closed DXP.)

Martech & Integrations

What is your personalization strategy?

If you don’t have a strategy or need one, make sure you ignore the personalization solutions when considering the DXPs. You can also add this capability later if you choose an Open DXP.

What is your personalization platform?

There are many—Optimizely, Acquia Lift, and Unless are just a few—so make sure they are compatible with your DXP.

How will analytics data flow into your data warehouse?

Many organizations have a broader data warehouse & reporting strategy, so make sure you understand if that is the case for your organization and discuss with those stakeholders around their expectations.  

What data warehouse is in use?

Segment appears to be the leader right now, but there are many others. Do stakeholders from your DW team need to be involved in the DXP decision? 

What tool do you use for digital marketing? 

Mautic, Marketo, Pardot, something else? How well will they work with your DXP platform? Is integration supported with an extension, supported out-of-the-box, or will require custom work? Is the DXP designed work with marketing automation tools that aren’t a part of it’s core offering?

What other martech tools are in use today that add value to your site tomorrow?

There are too many tools to review, but you should consider informally polling your audience (via a simple email or LinkedIn post) something like “If you could only keep one martech tool on your site that wasn’t analytics-related, what would it be?” Eliminate any answers from folks that work at organizations that have broadly different needs out of their sites than your organization.

Do you need a digital asset manager? If so, which one?

Here’s the golden rule: Do not buy a DAM unless your organization is truly willing to change their editorial workflow. If not, it will be a waste of money.

Does your digital asset manager need to integrate with any downstream systems?

Your DXP could just be a spoke in the broader wheel of how images/assets flow through your organization. You should already have this mapped out from the beginning.

Does the platform need to integrate with a CRM, ERP, or other backend system?

There are endless possibilities here so there isn’t really specific guidance we can provide beyond 1) find out what the integrations are 2) come up with a plan to address them 3) or you can just work with us and we’ll do it for you.

Editorial Experience

How many editors are there?

The number of editors typically indicates the complexity of editorial workflow you need to support. Five editors or less tends to indicate you are fine without a formal workflow imposed by the CMS, but if you have more than five, ten, fifteen—that often indicates otherwise.

Does legal need to review content changes before they are published?

“Don’t ask legal for permission to do something because all they say is no”.

Despite how true that old piece of wisdom may be (it most definitely is true), organizations in regulated industries (like healthcare) or that are under onerous SEC regulations (like publicly traded companies or private equity) often need legal to sign off on content changes. If you need this you will need a DXP with strong editorial workflow capabilities.

Does product management need to review content changes before they are published?

The same for legal—often product marketing may need approval on certain page changes.

Do you need to track more than just English? 

If you have multiple languages, you need to think about workflows around translations, which act as a complexity magnifier to your editorial requirements.

How will you handle translations, with an external vendor, contract translators, or manually? under invests in their connector technologies while LingoTek over invests. Look to some of the newer, startup translations platforms for a more modern platform.

Do you need locales as well as languages? 

Think French in Haiti versus French in France. Make sure you drill into the specifics of how the DXP handles languages and locales, and ask to see a live demo showing this functionality. It will be illuminating.

How quickly will editorial want content to go live?

Making expectations around caching and how quickly content changes are shown to all users crystal clear at the start of a project will save downstream heartache and make it much easier to align engineering’s caching strategy with real needs. Make sure your DXP platform has advanced cache manipulation features that allow it to communicate to cache layers that are downstream of the DXP.

Digital Commerce

Do you need digital commerce?

Every DXP has a different, or non-existent, commerce strategy. Once you throw commerce in the mix, your selection process is an order of magnitude more complex because you have to evaluate not only how well the DXP’s commerce strategy meets your needs but how well a different commerce technology that may better suit your use cases interacts with the DXP.

Are you commerce requirements browse and buy, or something else? 

This is the most important fundamental question to answer around commerce because it will immediately tell if you can use Shopify Plus or BigCommerce and save a ton of money or whether you need something custom like Magento. 

And remember Hybris is for clients with big budgets and low expectations.

Will side by side work, or is headless needed?

This is the second most important fundamental question to answer because it greatly impacts which commerce platforms support your needs. It is also crucial to be thoughtful about the implications of each approach, as they both have major drawbacks.

See our article on side by side vs. headless integration for BigCommerce (this applies to any commerce system).

Will Shopify Plus or BigCommerce work for your needs?

If it will, you’re going to save a bunch of money and have an arguably better commerce experience. Here’s how to pick a commerce platform in 2019.

How many SKUs do you have?

A large SKU count typically implies you have greater needs around promotions, performance, and the product detail page UX. Does the DXP platform offer a robust digital commerce solution that can really scale?

How is your team organized for marketing content versus merchant content? Are they different teams? Same?

To model your data, first look at how you operate internally and how your team or teams are made up. This is often a good path to a data model.

If you are prevented from using commerce platform plugins that impact the product details page (PDP), does that matter to you?

Remember: If you go headless commerce, you lose all the extensions of that commerce platform that expect the commerce platform to power the PDP.

Headless, Decoupled, Microservices

Do you have a headless strategy for the content experience?

If you envision investing in a headless approach now or in the next few years, then you’re going to need an Open DXP. 

Here’s our break down of headless and how you can factor it into your digital strategy.

Is a microservices strategy in your digital stack important to your IT leadership?

If a microservices strategy is a mandate from IT, then a decoupled or headless capability in your DXP is going to be required.

Do you have decoupled needs today? Will you have them in a year?

You may not be ready for a decoupled need today, but are there projects that involve microcontent or sending content to other channels (like an app or a new customer portal) planned in the next 18 months? Drill into the position of the DXP provider around headless. Do they think it’s a viable approach? Do they talk about it as providing value, or do they shy away from it?

Are you having challenges with developer velocity? Why?

One of the easiest ways to address developer velocity is to abandon the legacy theming layers of most modern DXPs and go headless, so you can embrace modern, best practices. Guess which DXPs are best suited for this—yep, Open DXPs. AEM is the worst at this.

Does your organization use (or would benefit from) microcontent?

See the question: “Do you have decoupled needs today? Will you have them in a year?”

Security & Network

What is your edge caching strategy?

Getting caching right is a crucial but often forgotten part of making any DXP successful. You need a clear plan to ensure your DXP supports the subtleties of your caching needs, as not all do.

Ask your shortlist of DXP providers how they integrate with Varnish and a CDN and how that layer interacts with the internal caching layers of the DXP. Try to have a technical person on the call (that understands caching) ask questions until they are satisfied.

What is your edge security strategy?

Like it or not, most mid-market and enterprise brands must act as though they are a target, but eventually, you will be. All PR is good PR unless you are talking about security. Does your DXP platform offer an edge protection service? That tells you everything about their commitment to your reputation. 

What is your DDoS threat enticement level? 

How attractive are you a target to malicious users? Does your business operate in a controversial field? Does a parent or subsidiary meet these criteria? Make sure you pick a DXP that is committed to security.

Do you need single sign-on, and if so, what SSO platform will you be using?

SSO comes in many flavors and you should check to see if your platform or solution has out-of-the-box connectors or extensions for the DXPs you are focused on. If not, expect more development hours.


Do you need to be ADA compliant? 

You really need to do this if you are in the US, Canada, and Europe. Website accessibility is the new ambulance chasing in the US. Ask your DXP provider about support for ADA and ask for a case study example site that is compliant. Check that site out in an automated ADA tool (there are many, decent free useful for a quick informal check) and ask to speak to a client reference.  

Do you need to comply with GDPR?

Any new DXP platform evaluation today must have a section devoted to how you are going to comply with today’s and tomorrow’s regulatory requirements. If you need GDPR support lean toward DXP platform providers that have GDPR case studies on their site.

Are you planning to collect and store personally identifiable information (PII) from site visitors? 

If the potential exists to collect PII from residents of the EU, you will need to be GDPR ready. Realistically, you need to do this regardless of where your target audience resides.

Do you plan to implement third party integrations that will collect and store PII?

If yes, then you need to spend some time carefully planning for regulatory compliance and understanding how the data is handled in the DXP. Cloud? On premise? Offsite processing?

Do you need to be compliant with HIPPA regulations?

Regulations around healthcare data can be onerous. So onerous in fact that your best bet is to ask your DXP provider for a client reference that had to be HIPPA compliant so you can hear directly from the source what it’s like.

Do you need to be compliant with FERPA regulations?

Same as HIPPA. Ask for a client reference.


Who are the decision-makers for the DXP platform selection?

If you launched a new website tomorrow, with all new content, which business unit leaders or other folks would be calling you urgently? Which parts of the business don't have control over their digital presence today but wish they did? All of those folks are your stakeholders, to some degree.

Who are the stakeholders for the DXP platform selection?

As true for stakeholders as decision-makers (see previous guidance). Stakeholders, at a minimum, must include a representative of the people that will actually use the DXP on a daily basis, as well as a representative whose employment performance is measured, in part, by the success metrics of this digital project.

What are the 3-5 individual goals of each DXP platform selection stakeholder? 

If you do this exercise, you will find out quickly if there is misalignment about project success that needs addressing. You can’t have a successful selection process if you are misaligned on what success looks like.

What haven’t you considered about the needs of your DXP?

This is an important, brief exercise. Ask someone who has been through this before. Ask a mentor. Ask LinkedIn. Just ask someone. 

What should worry you most is not what you know, or what you don’t know, but what you don’t know you don’t know.

What are the 2-3 major goals over the next 24 months for each business unit user of this platform?

This helps achieve broader institutional alignment on what success looks like. Don’t make too many assumptions unless you want to develop a drinking problem right around launch.

Will you build the platform with your internal team, or an outside partner? If your internal team, has your internal team ever successfully launched a capital project on time and on budget?

The easiest person to fool is yourself.

If your team is well-equipped based on the tech you want to implement and the timeline you have prepared, go for it. But a DXP is inherently about bringing together many different products that need to work seamlessly together. Would you rather pay more in the initial build fee or repairing/suffering from what you built? The latter will cost you much more.

What technologies do your engineers want to know and use tomorrow?

This is more about retention than anything else, but losing a key technical architect in the middle of a project is expensive. Great engineers have one universal trait in common: They love to learn. If the technology stack of your forthcoming DXP does not have at least one interesting technology, you might lose a star engineer.

What are your budget constraints?

DXP replatforms don’t run on hope, they run on dollars. Be honest and limit your DXP platforms to the ones that match your spend.

How important is a robust agency ecosystem to support the technologies you select for the DXP to your organization?

A smaller, less popular DXP will support fewer agencies. This issue magnifies when you are looking for an agency that knows your DXP and is an expert at something else, like B2B lead generation. 

Is your budget less than $250k, $250-500k, or $500k+?

Different solutions work better at different budget ranges. Think of it this way: If you buy a Ferrari for you daily commuting car you certainly are going to look pretty damn cool pulling into the parking lot every day. Heads will turn. But when you have to get your first oil change and shell out $1,000 for a high-performance engine, you are going to regret buying that car.

Are there platforms your current agency partners favor or disfavor?

Remember: Whose bread I eat his song I sing.

Find someone in your network at another organization that replatformed a year ago (ask on LinkedIn, it won’t take long) and ask them if they had a good or bad experience, a year later, with their platform. 

Consider asking “If you couldn’t use your current platform, which one would you use, and why? Which one would you definitely not use, and why?”