Web Content Management (WCM) or Content Management Systems (CMS) have been around many years. As “digital” gains more and more exposure, the experience that customers have in interacting with your channels will become integral to how deliver value to customers and how consumers perceive your brand and the interaction with it. An often overlooked aspect of digital transformation is your Content Management Systems. CMS will be at the forefront of rich Customer Experiences. Lets start with some initial questions:
- How fit-for-purpose are current content management systems?
- How suitable do you feel that content management systems are for delivering content-rich user experiences?
In my opinion, of the platforms I have had experience with, I believe content management systems are excellent at providing their core capabilities, managing content. In some respects, the market for CMS’s is saturated. The core competencies that differentiate one vendor from another is the unique features they provide, the integrability between that system and subsequent systems such as CRM’s and PIM’s and ultimately the price. We’ve seen in recent years a number of CMS vendors pair up with complementary systems to provide the full enterprise ecosystem of a fully connected eCommerce solution involving PIM (product information management), CMS (Content Management System), CRM (Customer Relationship Management), ERP (Entity Resource Planning) and MAP (Marketing Automation Provider). Some more questions, and think of these from an architectural perspective:
- What do you feel are the issues that we encounter with current content management systems?
- How quick do you feel current vendors are at adapting to emerging technologies, approaches and architectures?
- How do current content management platforms stack up architecturally? What are the main pain points? What are there area’s that could improve?
- How do they satisfy your NFR’s (None Functional Requirements)? Particularly in respect to scalability, interoperability and security?
- How do they provide enterprise agility?
From an Architectural perspective, in my opinion, CMS often highlight architectural issues within your Enterprise more than others. This might be because CMS are the customer facing aspect of your organisation. They’re often the front-office “down-stream” system, the final destination of “up-stream” back-office systems. They’re ultimately the “tip of the spear” in getting your organisations value proposition across to consumers. As mentioned previously, the WCM market seems saturated, competition is fierce and the only way vendors differentiate themselves from others is via integrations and mergers. More often than not, the roadmaps of these vnedors are failing to address the real concerns that Architects and Organisations are encountering Architecturally. Some of the main area’s I believe require attention architecturally are:
- Vendor and Platform specific – Most of the content management systems I’ve had exposure to are all platform specific (.Net, PHP, Java) and usually difficult to deploy on multiple operating systems. Databases are also platform specific (SQL Server, MySQL). Have limited NoSQL support (ultimately a better persistence mechanism for content in my opinion). The usual case is that clients choose a platform and then are required to select an operating system which is compatible with that platform. What if I wanted to deploy my content management system to a Linux OS, but its only compatible with Microsoft? What if the in-house expertise is not the operating system your content management platform supports? This, in my opinion, seems to harbour misinformed and misaligned decisions, the choice of operating system platform should be dependent on your in-house expertise, what is the most suitable for your environment and ultimately the platform that will perform the best.
- Monoliths – Content management platforms are run-time monoliths by their nature. This can cause full scale deployments for even the smallest changes.
- Scalability – Platforms are usually scaled out, physically rather than conceptually. This scalability strategy causes issues in that, it is highly likely that only a particular aspect of your solution may need scaling. How do we identify which particular aspect of the content management system is most under tension? Could we scale out one application function? Ultimately, it is difficult to scale one application function independently of others. Should we even care about how granular our performance issues are and what options we have to scale out?
- Integrability – Creating a seamless environment where all your components (PIM, ERP, CMS, MAP etc.) are talking to each other and well is a costly endeavour and usually requires a significant transformation within your organisation. Some vendors have already identified this and have bridged the gap by partnering with other vendors within complementary functionality. But this is often “product driven architecture”, consuming the capabilities that these vendors provide, often with point to point architectures.
- Master Data Management – This is often an area where issues occur due to “up-stream” architectural issues. Often content is duplicated from other master systems due to poor integration options. Integration will often require bespoke solutions between the CMS and MDM solutions or back-office systems. Is it possible that WCM vendors could provide endpoints for the synchronisation of master data? With these endpoints being standardised in some kind of way?
- Content centric not domain centric – Most of the vendors utilise a content centric approach, data is often unstructured content (I.e. pages and content) and not tied to the domain itself. This results in vendor specific data formats/structures which require additional effort to integrate with other systems. Being able to define domain entities within your CMS, which align to your canonical data models would make our lives so much easier.
- Business agility – Operational changes usually require significant development effort to adapt to these changes. This often results in frustrations within your business.
- Slow adoption of emerging approaches – Most of the platforms are slow to adopt to new architectural approaches such as Cloud. Interoperability between different cloud providers has not been achieved (to my knowledge) by any CMS vendor.
- SOA Adoption – No vendors have paired up API Management vendors which provide the “Enterprise as an API” concept. I.e. apigee or Mashery. Could CMS vendors ease the burden required to integrate with API Management solutions?
With these points raised, ultimately I feel CMS vendors could differentiate themselves more by addressing some of these architectural issues. Rather than trying to differentiate by pairing with other organisations, take some of the these ideas on board and reduce the amount of integration effort required by organisations. I have some very definite ideas of where the WCM sector needs to move towards and hope that in the coming months/years that these concerns will be addressed.