Platform Trumps Product Approach as WCM Ascends in Digital Role
by David Aponovich
Web content management (WCM) has been an important player on the digital technology roster for years, an enabling technology to drive websites and online content. WCM now plays a more powerful role than ever in a digital stack, thanks to the new reality that multichannel digital experiences and overall digital business execution is a C-level mandate.
Buyers entering the WCM market for the first time in a few years – since the LAST time they re-platformed their website – are discovering this new reality.
Here’s the reality in 2015: WCM is the key, central technology on which you build, create, manage, and continually improve an array of rich, digital experiences for your customers across all channels and touch points. It sounds big, broad, and difficult, and it can be, for valid reasons. Forrester Research recently called WCM the “backbone of digital experiences” -- a crystal-clear validation of WCM’s crucial front-line supportive (not ‘supporting’) role in a digital-first organization.
Shifting to being a front-line enabler of rich digital experiences has been no so small feat for WCM vendors, who’ve pretty much all shifted from providing tools to “create, edit, and publish content” to offering a complex tech backbone for multi-channel, personalized content, commerce, and social experiences, digital marketing, and the digitization of business processes.
The challenge for many buyers is to identify and select a new WCM in a crowded market. If you’re leading a digital transformation initiative or simply re-platforming your old CMS, you have to pick a path. The question to consider: Does your organization want and need WCM software product or a platform?
There is a difference here, and it’s not just semantics.
Consider this context. Digital transformation projects aren’t side projects. They’re central to enterprise growth, competition, customer experience, and engagement. WCM plays a primary role in deciding whether your business wins or loses at digital. Financial services? Healthcare? CPG? Even NGO/nonprofits and universities are “competing” using digital channels -- for resources, for donors, for members, for students. Digital experiences, not just digital presence, separate winners from losers.
It’s not only budgets and projects that are on the line. Careers are on the line and competitive survival is at stake. With that context, enter the product vs. platform choice.
WCM product, a.k.a. an all-in-one solution for digital experience delivery
The WCM market has been one of the most vibrant tech sectors over the past five years. We’ve seen the rise of software product vendors like Adobe and Oracle, among others, who’ve bought and built their way to offering large, complex portfolios of WCM and related tools for digital sites and experiences. Their way is one way to approach the issue. Our view, based on research and talking with customers and digital leaders, is that product-centric thinking leads buyers toward an all-in mindset that revolves around a vendor. Product vendors sell a great vision of all-in-one solutions. They want you to go all-in. A product-minded buyer may like what they see -- and if it’s time to replace your outdated WCM with a new WCM, a vendor with lots of related software, intended to function together, can certainly be appealing.
The reality is often different. For instance:
- The cost and complexity of a portfolio vendor’s marketing suite or cloud bundle is often higher than expected. It may be costs, with an “s”. Buyers who take this approach tell us they often find they’re buying a collection of products and capabilities under different sales reps, different pricing models (some on-premise software, some SaaS, some services, etc.).
- Integrations across a portfolio of products from one vendor are often incomplete. You might get a lot of capabilities from one vendor, but it will most times require significant integration to make it all work the way you want it to work, to achieve common interfaces, common data layer, etc. Buyers often tell us of the surprisingly high “integration tax” - the cost to shift to a product vendor’s suite of “integrated” software.
- Inflexibility or challenges if you want to bring other best of breed marketing technology to the table. “Suite” products don’t completely exclude using other products, but their suite approach leans heavily toward unifying on their product suite for as much capability as they can provide: WCM and more, such as online testing, analytics, and marketing automation.
If you lean this way, the decision has implications for long-term cost, sustainability, flexibility for future initiatives, and vendor lock-in. We’ve been speaking to several large enterprises describing what I’d call “buyers’ regret” after investing in Adobe and Sitecore products, getting to the end of their first major digital project, and second-guessing their decision -- they have more sites to re-platform at a cost and timeline they can’t afford.
Research, and our interaction with clients and prospects, shows that vendors’ promises of vast, vibrant “suites” and “marketing clouds” are at odds with the way organizations are acquiring technology. Additionally, a recent Forrester Research report on digital experience platforms advised buyers to examine closely all-in-one vendor offerings, recommending they “be wary of buying into vendors' promises of an end-to-end solution and instead give preference to vendors that invite customers' legacy tool vendors to the party and offer them a pathway to integration.” (Source: Forrester Research, “Market Overview: Digital Customer Delivery Platforms,” December 9, 2014.)
WCM platform, a.k.a. a flexible foundation for a best-of-breed digital tech ecosystem
On the flip side, a WCM platform approach modeled like the Acquia Platform, takes a different approach. It offers a different value proposition. A platform approach prioritizes a foundation of WCM to deliver substantial capabilities for core web content management and digital experience. But it offers this twist. A platform like Acquia Platform (architected as a scalable, cloud-first platform from the start) looks around and says: what do you already use for marketing technology? What do you want to use from your existing set of tools and tech? What do you want to connect to your foundation, your platform? What does your ecosystem look like?
Integration is a hallmark of this approach. A platform centric offering like Acquia’s is open and inviting, so you can bring other tools and technology to the table. It eases the way to an integrated ecosystem for digital experience technology that values best-of-breed tech already embedded in your organization and processes (and your investment); it wants to capitalize on the value (people, process, technology) you’ve already invested in, and build on that value by connecting those systems to Acquia’s WCM foundation. The value add is also in the open-source basis of Acquia Platform: built on Drupal, the Drupal ecosystem includes thousands of pre-built modules that let you add features, capabilities and integrations with external systems as you want, when you want. And, Drupal offers access to a massive pool of skilled devs, admins, users, and agencies/integrators, globally.
The values of flexibility and ecosystem openness, anti-vendor lock in, and extensibility to meet current and future requirements all stack up to provide a distinctive and different option to the suite and “marketing cloud” vendors.