Friday, July 29, 2022

The Future of Sitecore: A Modern DXP

Mark Ursino, Sr. Director, Technology
Platforms

This is the first post in a series on the future of Sitecore, with a focus on Sitecore's historical architecture as a CMS and the ongoing pivot within the growing DXP space.

Sitecore's roots as a CMS are shifting into a modern and flexible DXP right before our eyes.

Sitecore began many years ago in the WCM (web content management) space with a focus on web content publishing. One of the interesting things it offered was the concept of modular page layouts, of which it holds a patent. This offered the ability to add specific pieces of content into zones on each page, allowing for adjustments in page layout composition and reuse across pages.

 

In 2020, leading technology research firm Gartner retired their magic quadrant for WCM, in favor of a move to focus on DXP vendors. This was a pivotal moment that indicated the market gravity moving in favor of broader DXPs over WCM/CMSs. Marketers demanded more than just content management in order to tailor the experience for customers. WCM vendors over time built or acquired additional technology to enhance pure content management, such as analytics to measure customer engagement, rules-based personalization engines to tailor content, and optimization features to test content effectiveness and increase desired outcomes.

 

Since the years of the crowded WCM space, Sitecore has grown into a DXP. Sitecore's first journey to a DXP was organic – as in, built by Sitecore – and largely rooted in what eventually became the Experience Database (xDB) – born out of its analytics function of the Digital Marketing Suite (DMS). This provided the foundation for all of the "DXP special sauce" that complemented the pure content management capability – analytics, measurement, experimentation, customer profiles (360-degree view of a customer), etc.

DXP? Another TLA? Tell me more…

So, what is a DXP? A Digital Experience Platform (DXP) focuses on several aspects of a marketer’s desire to tailor a customer experience.

  • Experience: Experience orchestration is the glue that combines content with other capabilities to provide a personalized customer experience in a specific context. Think of it as the connective tissue that joins all DXP capabilities together.
  • Content Management: Content is at the core, which helps explain the WCM-to-DXP shift; you need content to power some sort of experience whether the channel is web, native mobile, voice, chatbot, etc.
  • Personalization: This is the ability to define tailored content and individualized experiences using a rules engine to personalize the experience. This low code / no code tool allows marketers to tap into analytics data and use that to build their rules and personalization scenarios.
  • Optimization: This capability provides the ability to test content for effectiveness. Did a piece of content reach the desired outcome expected by marketers? Would other content provide higher value?
  • CDP & Analytics: The underpinning of all of this is an analytics engine and customer data management platform that captures data about customers – whether anonymous or known. This allows marketers to reach groups of customers with personalization and even personalize experiences 1:1 depending on what is known about a customer and the specific content.

Most modern DXP vendors have evolved into DXPs either through organic development, or inorganic acquisitions and integrations of related technology. Additionally, the architecture of these platforms has been shifting recently, often from legacy monolithic content-focused platforms with "bolt on" additional DXP features to more modular decoupled stand-alone products that when in aggregate, make a DXP. Let's focus on this pointer further.

DXP Architecture is evolving

Legacy WCM platforms were often (not always) built in very monolithic architectures, with all features built into a single application. The shift to broader DXP capabilities just meant more and more features added on to the same applications. Even with Sitecore XP deployed in a scaled architecture with decoupled roles for content management, content delivery, analytics processing, analytics reporting, etc., you're essentially installing the full product multiples times and configuring it focus on doing one thing. That's like going to the home improvement store and buying 5 multi-tools, and having one to be your Phillips head screwdriver, the other one to be your bottle opener, the next being pilers, etc.

 

The alternative to the monolithic architecture is composable architecture. In a composable architecture, each capability area is built and deployed as its own stand-alone application. In fact, they can (should) be sold/licensed independently because they can operate on their own as separate products. This is just like the concept of architecting a complex application under the hood as microservices.

Is this like headless CMS?

You might be thinking this is perhaps what a headless CMS is. You're on the right track. A headless CMS is simply the content component of a broader composable DXP. The headless CMS focuses on managing pure content, regardless of how you consume it or present it to users. It’s essentially a database holding content, with elegant marketer-friendly authoring interfaces, publishing workflows, etc. The headless CMS as the content component of a larger DXP offers APIs to build custom experience on. Most of the time these APIs deliver content in JSON format as a matter of developer preference. Some APIs support GraphQL as a growing trend for developer querying efficiency. Many vendors even offer robust framework-specific SDKs to offer a diverse and elegant developer experience. Sitecore offers headless APIs based on JavaScript (React, Vue, angular and even Next.js-specific) as well as .NET Core.

 

As you can see, the industry as a whole has been shifting over the last few years, from WCM to DXP, either through organic or inorganic capabilities. We're also seeing an architectural shift in a decoupling of capabilities to offer marketers more options with co-existing best-of-breed solutions.

 

In the next post in this series, we will see more specifically what Sitecore has been up to in their journey.