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What Is a Hybrid CMS?

Find out why Gartner recommends a hybrid CMS for your content management needs

In today’s world, organizations produce digital experiences for a growing number of channels and devices, forcing organizations to rethink how they create, repurpose, and reuse content. Businesses need to eliminate content, data, and organizational silos and to find new ways of repackaging and serving content everywhere their customers live.

Enter the hybrid CMS, an agile, composable approach to content management. 

Our new model is a hybrid content management system (CMS) that unites both marketing-powered experiences and developer-driven innovation. But before we dive into what capabilities a true hybrid CMS requires, let’s look at both the benefits and shortcomings of other common CMS frameworks.

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Color graphic of different CMS architectures

Traditional CMS: Scalability but limited room for innovation 

Traditional or legacy CMS models function as a monolithic architecture that join the back end (data layers) as well as the front end (presentation layer) of different content types created. This approach best suits a world where content is primarily web-based and made for standalone digital applications.

A traditional CMS allows content creators to create, manage, and publish content from the back end while providing a content delivery presentation layer, typically as pre-structured web page templates.

However, the growth of digital channels and interfaces propelled by the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) has made this rigid content architecture difficult to adapt to future circumstances. Digital experiences aren’t just happening on websites; they’re occurring on mobile applications and digital signage to conversational interfaces and games. Each of these touchpoints requires relevant content suited to its unique context. 

Traditional solutions do offer strong scalability and security, but they can be difficult to integrate with new channels or tools in your tech stack, leading to frustrating vendor lock-in that doesn’t allow businesses to evolve with the  market.

The need to deliver on-demand content has led to the rapid rise of the headless CMS model.

Headless CMS: Freedom with technical complexity

A headless CMS offers back-end CMS functionality via a decoupled architecture independent from any front-end solution. It promises total freedom over how and where content is delivered through API endpoints, opening up endless possibilities for the front end. A headless CMS delivers content via an API-first architecture to display content across any device or interface, but while that approach may appear to unlock all the freedoms that a traditional model lacks, organizations also face unique challenges when implementing a headless-only approach.

Headless solutions require significantly more technical expertise to manage multiple API calls, and businesses often struggle to employ the amount of front-end developer resources needed to maintain the presentation layer. With a decoupled approach, marketers lack the flexibility to manage and customize content on the front end once it’s been built. Marketers can’t make changes to the layout or add a new button or content block without a front-end developer to manage the code.

On the developer side, this means spending more time maintaining and managing content rather than investing in valuable projects that propel an organization’s digital experience forward. This developer-centric model also makes it challenging for marketers to reuse the same content across both decoupled and traditional channels, such as sharing content to a decoupled mobile app and traditional e-commerce web page. The result? More digital silos.

The best approach: A hybrid CMS

Experts at Gartner believe a hybrid headless approach to content management offers more advantages than either coupled or headless-only CMS solutions. According to Gartner’s 2019 Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management, While [headless] may seem on the onset that there’s a lot more flexibility in content delivery and front-end management, the due diligence must be performed especially around non-technical user usability and flexibility to manage the actual custom front end once it’s built […] As a result, a hybrid approach is recommended.  

Hybrid CMS: Best of both worlds for flexibility at scale

If a solution is difficult to use, marketers and other business units will go rogue, finding workaround solutions that introduce site sprawl and issues with security and governance. Marketing teams may even turn to running a traditional CMS alongside their decoupled architecture, leading to increased complexity due to managing multiple applications. 

Fortunately, there’s a third CMS type that provides the best of both worlds: A hybrid CMS, also referred to as a progressively decoupled or agile CMS, allows business users to build and update digital experiences while simultaneously providing the flexibility of decoupled architectures for omnichannel delivery. It also offers all users flexibility, ease of use, connectivity, and security and governance at scale. 

As an open source content management framework for content and data, Drupal is the leading CMS choice for organizations that require both agility and resilience in designing digital experiences. Drupal supports a hybrid approach by retaining its front-end editorial capabilities while its back end serves as an API-based repository. 

To ensure users can quickly design and launch sites at scale, we launched Acquia CMS, a composable, Drupal-powered, open source, hybrid CMS for managing content and experiences that’s optimized for Acquia’s Digital Experience Platform (DXP). As a hybrid and agile CMS, Acquia CMS empowers all users within an organization to take control through low-code capabilities, headless optimizations, and a component-based approach to content. Acquia CMS supports both structured and unstructured content, meaning it can be used to support both pre-built pages as well as decoupled components that users can customize to suit their needs. Acquia CMS accommodates developers however they choose, specifically with its API-first (not API-only) design, giving marketers control and autonomy over front-end display and layout. Moreover, Acquia offers businesses unmatched freedom to extend and adapt how they deliver content through an open architecture that can seamlessly integrate with other tools and systems in their total digital experience ecosystem.

For more on what to consider when evaluating CMS options, download our free e-book, Five Essential Elements of an Agile CMS: The Backbone of Digital Experience.

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