What is a Digital Experience Platform (DXP)?
So what is a digital experience platform? The textbook definition from Gartner refers to it as “a well-integrated and cohesive set of technologies designed to enable the composition, management, delivery and optimization of contextualised digital experiences across multiexperience customer journeys.” which is a good place to start, but to truly understand DXP we need to go a bit further.
To put it in a nutshell, a DXP platform is just a collection of various technologies that unify ecommerce, content management, personalization services, etc. This latest a company deliver omnichannel digital experiences to their consumers. While there certainly are solutions that try to deliver all of this in one massive, cohesive bit of software, this way of doing it is rapidly becoming outdated in favour of an integrated set of tools that plays well together.
Sounds simple in theory, but in practice it never is. Keep in mind that digital experiences need to be put in a global context. You’ve got to create them in such a way that ensures all of it is on brand, all of it is flexible enough to be fine tuned by each country in which you operate and all of it works seamlessly. And if that wasn’t enough, you need to make sure it works through every digital channel such as websites, emails, apps, customer portals, social media platforms and many more. All of this means that while DXP is an evolution of older systems, it too must keep evolving to keep pace with growing digital experience management needs.
The evolution of Digital Experience Platforms
To further understand the trends governing today’s more flexible DXP platforms, we need to understand how the field has gotten to where we are today.
CMS to WEM to DXP
While it may be a bit of an over-simplification, the digital asset management field has gone through three major phases: Content Management Systems (CMS), Web Experience Management (WEM) and now Digital Experience Platforms (DXP).
Content Management System (CMS)
Fairly basic systems to help an organisation bring order to the chaos of their copywriting, images, data, etc. as they work to manage their digital footprint. Great for the basic work needed to keep massive global sites organised and up to date, but limited beyond that.
Web Experience Management (WEM)
A major limitation to CMS was that it tended to become massively siloed, which led to the emergence of WEM. As projects became larger and digital became a major focus for most brands, new digital channels kept cropping up one after another - being siloed in this environment just isn’t agile enough. WEMs combine the ability to use collected data to deliver unique and personalised content to consumers while also allowing the company to share content and data across channels much more quickly and efficiently than you could with a CMS.
Digital Experience Platform (DXP)
With the incredibly fast-paced growth of digital, being only able to do content management just isn’t enough. Businesses now need the ability to share assets across any digital touchpoint, any e-commerce system, through any portal - essentially, anytime, anywhere and with anyone both internal and external. This means a digital transformation-led proliferation of back-end applications that are crucial to managing these processes - the birth of the agile DXP.
CMS and WEM have their place in the evolution of the DXP, but that’s not to say there aren’t some major differences in paths that evolution has taken.
DXP Architectures Explained
Finding your DXP platform strategy is not, as you might imagine, a simple process. Defining the digital experience platform that’s right for your organisation is an exercise in defining your activities and work style to find the right fit. Digital experience architecture currently comes in three main flavours.
The first to be implemented and by far the most common DXP solution on the market is the monolithic DXP. These are essentially massive single unified systems that offer customers everything they need all in one, but because of this they tend to be a bit inflexible and do not scale well. They’re not complicated - a tiered architecture that includes a database, web interface and a business logic layer - and tend to include very large codebases changing which means recompiling and testing the whole system. A web app for web presentation of content rounds out an architecture archetype that’s a bit clunky, but tends to do the job well enough to earn its popularity.
Headless CMS and Composable DXP
A headless CMS is the developer-heavy response to the inflexibility of the monolithic DXPs. How does a DXP impact developers, you might ask? Well, headless architecture came about from the need that businesses have to allow their consumers to access their content on their channels of choice - developers needed to connect various back-end systems via APIs to make this happen. “Headless” refers to the fact that this architecture system removes the presentation layer (so think website templates, pages - all of the front-end stuff) and focuses almost entirely on the back-end API tech stack. Not all headless CMS can deserve to be called a DXP, however, which is where composable DXP solutions come in.
Composable DXPs typically will have a headless CMS at their heart, using the extremely flexible approach that focuses on API, cloud and IT capabilities. Composable DXP architecture takes the main idea from headless architecture and takes it a step further. Whereas headless CMS typically focuses on the backend, composable DXP allows businesses to more easily connect best-of-breed tools to provide greater capabilities than just content management.
If composable DXP technology sounds like a lot of work, a hybrid DXP might be the way to go. It does essentially everything that composable dxp does, but goes a bit further by providing pre-built integrations. You’ll still be dealing with a headless CMS at the core of your hybrid DXP, but you’ll also have a more user-friendly interface emblematic of traditional CMS - essentially combining the best of both worlds with this flexible DXP architecture format. Less flexible than putting the tech stack together yourself, but much easier with a catalogue of pre-approved integrations that can still give you a great deal of options.