Person holding a globe of a tiny dancer
Marketers have to inject content and experiences into transactional environments such as email, transactional applications, mobile web apps and kiosks. PHOTO: Prairie Kittin

Marketers should focus less on creating pages and more on delivering shareable micro experiences — rendered components that can be distributed across a wide range of environments, including email, transactional applications, mobile web apps and kiosks.

That’s one of the findings released this week in Real Story Group’s 2017 Web Content & Experience Management Marketplace Analysis, a yearly report for RSG subscribers that analyzes 36 WCM vendors. The report emphasized intelligent web content management (WCM) architectures that include components built in WCM environments but delivered through separate applications.

Why EaaS Matters

Co-authors Tony Byrne, founder and CEO of Olney, Md.-based Real Story Group (RSG), and RSG Research Director Apoorv Durga said the WCM Experience-as-a-Service (EaaS) environment is a better approach than “straight-up content streams or Content-as-a-Service (CaaS).” 

Through EaaS, marketers focus on shareable micro experiences. EaaS goes beyond the headless CMS model, which decouples content from presentation but could lead to marketers “getting more removed from front-end environments served by a separate backend WCM platform."

“In an ideal world for marketers and the people trying to derive value, the engagement leaders, most of the time they’re going to want head-optional,” Byrne said in an interview with CMSWire this week. “They’re going to want an intimate relationship between their CMS and the delivery environment that allows them as marketers to have a lot of control over that delivery environment and experience layer — as opposed to a developer having control.”

Head-Optional Approach

Tony Byrne

Marketers realize they’re going to have to inject content and experiences into transactional environments such as email, transactional applications, mobile web apps and kiosks. 

They need their WCM systems to be able to live in “a very decoupled world,” Byrne said, “but also support the kind of contracts that are required when you’re integrating systems.”

Traditional vendors are not always good at the “head-optional” approach.

“That doesn’t mean,” Byrne told CMSWire, “you go to the other extreme and go straight headless with Contentful, which boasts of being an "API-centric microservice" that manages content in a "developer-friendly way." 

"It works with some organizations," Byrne added, "you just need to understand the implications, particularly for your marketers.”

Customers should have a range of architectural choices they can deploy within the same WCM platform, but, Byrne said, "I don’t think as a marketplace we’re quite there yet."

PaaS Vendors Seek Control

So where does an environment like the Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) cloud delivery model for WCM fit in? Forrester Research analyst Mark Grannan told us this is “revolutionary” for WCM shortly after Forrester released its Wave report on WCM in January.

Real Story Group researchers found PaaS is the predominant approach today but comes with it share of complexities and challenges. PaaS deployments provide application development and deployment tools abstracted from the underlying cloud infrastructure on which they run your apps.

RSG researchers reported PaaS vendors seek to “own the customer relationship and obtain greater recurring revenue streams.” RSG researchers also found the PaaS option: 

  • Leaves enterprise WCM customers with the tough choice: whether to abandon their existing relationships with Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) providers. 
  • Lends itself less to multitenant Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and more toward single-tenant cloud solutions.
  • Comes with an extra cook in the kitchen processing code and configuration updates.

Could be Right Approach

“The PaaS approach is generally the right approach particularly if you’re getting something that’s platform-like,” Byrne said. “You have to customize it and extend it."

Within a PaaS environment, “someone else is on the hook,” Byrne added, “for supporting the whole environment as opposed to you putting it up on Amazon or Azure yourself.”

PaaS vendors essentially become resellers of an IaaS supplier and manage the environment on your behalf. “It’s kind of a new twist on managed hosting, and I think it’s a potentially very successful model,” Byrne said.

Abandon Azure, Amazon?

However, be aware that a vendor-hosted PaaS environment comes with an extra cook in the decision-making process. It’s “another person in the line of approval” when you want to push code and configuration changes, Byrne said.

“You can do all the development and testing yourself,” Byrne said, “but typically (the vendors are) going to be the ones that push it into production. And they’re going to run their own tests against it. It’s not necessarily a bad thing for you. It’s another level of assurance, but it also could be three to five more days and extra lag time. And you have to go through the ‘Captain, may I?’ routine filing support tickets. Some of our subscribers were a little surprised that that was one of the prices they were paying.”

Still, Byrne cautioned organizations that have invested in an Azure or Amazon should know the “tradeoffs” of abandoning those relationships for a PaaS vendor.

Market Breakdown

Real Story Group categorizes its vendors into product development and evolution and grades them on pace (rapid vs. slow). It groups offerings into products and platforms.

Byrne explained vendor placement in RSG’s assessment:

  • Lower left: Potentially stable environments where little training is involved but some “technical debt” exists.
  • Upper left: Product going through overhaul. Migrations may be coming.
  • Upper right: Unexpected changes may occur, some great and some not so great. Practitioners need to have a Plan B because of risks.
  • Lower right: Business models are changing but the technology has remained relatively quiet. A vendor could be modernizing themselves. Unexpected changes can occur on the institutional side. They could be experiencing a merger or acquisition.

“There is no awful place to be necessarily,” Byrne said. “It’s just a different set of risks and rewards. As a buyer, you want to be aware of the institutional context.”

Real Story Group Web Content and Experience Management Platforms

Real Story Group Web Content and Experience Management Products

'No Roll-Up Story'

RSGs' Byrne and Durga found the WCM space still does not lend itself to consolidation. Outside of Episerver’s merger with Ektron and Bloomreach’s acquisition of Hippo, the WCM space has seen little consolidation.

Vendors remain intact, and that’s a good thing for buyers. "There's no roll-up story," he added.

“What’s really interesting about WCM, and it’s been this way for the last 10 years, is you don’t have to accept any vendors. You can go out and find the right fit,” Byrne said. “It’s giving buyers some negotiating leverage. There are certainly a lot of choices and that’s a way to really find the right technology partner and fit as opposed to, ‘I’ve got two choices for ERP, and both of them are pretty bad. And I have to accept what I'm given.’"