The dynamics of the web content management (WCM) software market changed in 2016. Experts say that customers are increasingly seeking best-of-breed solutions that play well with the rest of their infrastructure. Additionally, many feel as if they overbought WCM packages that can do a lot, but are complicated to learn and use.
Even while simplicity seems as if it may be making a comeback, the demands on WCM systems are growing more complex. As content moves from desktops to mobile devices to wearable devices to who-knows-what devices of the future, technology is adapting—and content creators are moving toward headless CMSs in the hopes of being prepared for the future.
The Year in Review
Historically, the WCM industry has been known for incremental change. However, the pattern may be transforming, as the market experienced relatively rapid changes in 2016, according to Tony Byrne, founder of Real Story Group.
One of those changes, Byrne says, is that the industry saw considerably more attention paid to cloud solutions, especially platform-as-a-service (PaaS). “There’s a bit of a struggle going on here between some vendors and their channel partners about who is best suited to manage these environments,” Byrne says. “We believe enterprise customers need to be careful about putting too many eggs in one basket.”
Additionally, Byrne points to an increasing focus on research and development due to “growing infusions of investment capital and wide-ranging vendor growth.” Although most of the investment capital goes to sales and marketing—which is not very useful for customers—Byrne notes, some has gone into work improving “personalization and integration with outbound marketing systems.”
Customers also started to look for more nimble and flexible best-of-breed WCM solutions in 2016, according to Tjeerd Brenninkmeijer, CMO and co-founder of Hippo, a WCM solution provider. Organizations are increasingly looking for a content solution “that can easily interoperate with their tailored tech landscape and are looking to vendors with open source and open-integration platforms to do this,” says Brenninkmeijer.
He adds that companies are eyeing the future when they make decisions about WCM platforms, looking for “the flexibility to incorporate machine learning and
artificial intelligence.” This will allow every aspect of
the business, including digital marketing teams, to tailor the ideal customer journey, he says.
Another change that Brenninkmeijer notes is in the area of ecommerce, in which the solutions are solid in terms of managing transactions, but poor in creating a rewarding customer experience. “Brands are looking to a seamless combination of ecommerce and WCM—as seen by the rise in API-first ecommerce solutions—to create the differentiating commerce experience that customers are after,” he says.
A Look Ahead
According to the experts, WCM’s near future is filled with new players, the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), and a price war. Byrne says that, every year, a few relatively unknown WCM players suddenly jump into prominence, and 2017 promises to be no exception. They make the leap by being “based on a modern codebase and [an] approach unencumbered by a legacy install base that slows down their established competitors,” he states. He believes that GX Software, Brightspot, and Contentful are firms that will shine brightly in 2017. Byrne adds that many established WCM vendors are not “keeping up,” as “they have all let their WCM products go pretty much fallow, or they are just add-ons (really, roof racks) to some other portal or ECM [enterprise content management] system that they sell.”
Pantheon is another vendor to keep an eye on in 2017, according to Larry Cannell, a research director at Gartner, Inc. Pantheon hosts Drupal and WordPress sites and adds features, including Varnish for caching and Apache Solr, according to Cannell. He admires the company’s technology and thinks it’s doing “some interesting and innovative stuff there.”
Brenninkmeijer says that smart WCM vendors are not standing still. While current vendors are still working with rule-based automation, many new “WCM players are redefining the industry to support some of the biggest trends impacting the future of WCM,” he says. “AI will take the content management industry by storm; feedback loops and predictive analytics will provide actionable insights and even make decisions for the marketer to create the perfect customer journey. Speed is not the new currency—it’s the only currency.”
What exactly does AI in the WCM space look like? Brenninkmeijer says Hippo customers can already use “trends and analytics functionality to predict what kind of content marketing strategies will resonate best in different regions.”
Additionally, the emergence of more headless WCM environments will be much in the news in 2017, according to Byrne, as vendors pay “much more attention” to it. Also known as decoupled CMSs, a headless environment uses WCM software for traditional WCM operations, but not for what appears on a user’s device. In other words, content creation is decoupled from presentation, making it easier to transform that content for different screens and delivery methods. There are pluses and minuses to using this technology. The advantages include more control over the user experience and speedier and more interactive websites, according to a blog post on Pantheon’s website. According to WPTavern, a site that covers WordPress issues, the disadvantages include added complexity in site design and a lack of standards. But if you’re concerned about future-proofing your content, there may be no getting around the decoupled CMS.
There’s one thing about WCM software that won’t change for 2017: “Enterprises face greater risks overbuying WCM technology than underbuying, and we believe that’s still true,” Byrne says. He counsels companies to buy software that “your team can start using right away.”
Byrne says companies should choose a WCM vendor that fits their current situation and future needs. He also advises them to “remain wary about defaulting to mythical suites or big-name vendors who may not really know or care much about WCM.” It’s been said that a person’s choices determine their struggles. It appears that companies can avoid potential struggles in 2017—and beyond—by carefully choosing the correct WCM platform.