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Rachel Weiner
Documentation Project Manager

What is a Digital Experience Platform?

Jul 15, 2021
By: Rachel Weiner

Digital transformation is happening at nearly every level and in almost every market segment. New industries are created virtually overnight, and old ones are disrupted just as fast. Business processes are changing and becoming more agile and intelligent. According to data from Statista, by 2023, digitally transformed enterprises will account for more than half of the US overall nominal GDP. This forecast signals that digital supremacy in the global economy is near. 

Among all this change, many businesses are looking for a safe harbor, potentially in the form of a “one-size-fits-all” platform that can manage every dimension of their business and cushion them against the rolling waves and rising tides of technological innovation. 

Some marketers believe that they have found that harbor in a “Digital Experience Platform” idea. But can a monolithic DXP solution — even the most comprehensive one—give you the flexibility you need to thrive in the changing digital landscape? 

This article will take a deep dive into what is DXP, its benefits, and why best-of-breed, composable DXPs are superior to monolithic solutions.

What is a Digital Experience Platform?

The global research and advisory firm Gartner which coined the term, defines a digital experience platform (DXP) as “an integrated set of technologies, based on a common platform, that provides a broad range of audiences with consistent, secure and personalized access to information and applications across many digital touchpoints.” 

This integrated set of technologies can include eCommerce applications, marketing automation functionality, content management, digital asset management, CRM systems, project management tools, and more.

DXP technology would, by definition, also cater to a broad range of audiences and relationships, including B2B, B2C, and B2E. With a DXP, many integrated technologies can control a diverse set of touchpoints, and a central platform serves as a centralized hub and neural center for digital experience management.

We could also say that DXPs have four different layers:

  • Data: Composed of both customer data, content data, and transaction data, this layer is responsible for unifying all your sources of information to make them understandable and accessible. 
  • Workflow: Streamlines and simplifies content management, marketing, and commerce processes to simplify and scale digital experience workflows across different touchpoints.
  • Orchestration: This layer gives you the ability to create contextualized experiences based on user criteria, real-time triggers, and predictive suggestions.
  • Delivery: Powered by APIs and the cloud, the delivery layer enables you to deliver the best digital experience across any touchpoint.

In short, the DXP promises to be all things, to all audiences, on all platforms, all while maintaining both easy and secure access to sensitive data. Let’s explore now how the DXP concept came to life and what preceded it. 

CMS, WCM, DXP: Why So Many Names?

In the past, a content management system (CMS) enabled you to build a website, publish content, and store assets. That was —and still is— enough for many businesses out there. A traditional CMS offers business users greater control over data and delivery for web-based digital experiences but offers little to no omnichannel content delivery capabilities, limiting the potential for scalability of the companies that leverage one.  

As a response to that lack of scalability, a web content management system (WCM) retained the core capabilities of a CMS but enhanced it with better personalization offerings and increased data centralization for multichannel content delivery. However, while WCMs are great for marketing, they often don’t play well with the rest of your marketing stack. 

A DXP platform combines both the capabilities of CMSs and WCM with the added benefit of giving people an extensible and integrable, open DXP. This leverages APIs and microservices-based architectures to give both IT and non-technical users a tool they can customize to fit their needs. In addition, a DXP helps build contextualized digital experiences in an omnichannel world.

We can see how the need for connected, consistent experiences for both customers and employees gave rise to the concept of the agile DXP. However, it’s important to note that CMSs, WCM, and DXPs are all after the same goal: giving customers relevant experiences and enabling faster content creation and delivery. 

CMS vs DXP vs Headless CMS

As the user requirements change and visitors expect omnichannel experiences, the traditional CMS approach will no longer cut it, which calls for a new CMS capable of delivering modern experiences. To understand more about the differences between CMS, headless CMS, and DXP, let’s take a peek under the hood.

Traditional CMS Under The Hood

  • Database for storing content
  • Admin panel for content management
  • Presentation layer and website builder

The problem with monolithic CMSs is that they don’t give developers much freedom and flexibility in presenting their content. Users are often forced to work with the templates and native capabilities of the CMS they’ve chosen. Monolithic CMSs usually don’t allow for integration with third parties using APIs.

Headless CMS Under The Hood

  • Database for storing content
  • Admin panel for content management
  • APIs for connecting to third-party services and frontend frameworks

Headless CMSs are API-driven platforms that provide a backend that servers as an admin panel and hub for connected, API-based services. Headless CMSs require integration with a frontend framework or a website builder to present the content to the user. By separating content and assets from the presentation layer —how the site looks— a headless CMS gives frontend developers more flexibility when designing the website’s interface.

Hybrid headless CMSs, like dotCMS, are specialized CMSs that have all the functionality of a headless CMS but provide templates and starters for users to build their own websites out-of-the-box.

DXP Under The Hood

  • Built around a CMS
  • Integrates different third-party modules
  • Built to manage the entire business lifecycle

In the DXP model, the CMS is just a component of the broader DXP concept. DXPs are scalable modular systems that leverage different, independent microservices to adapt to specific customer needs. As such, they are capable of scaling almost infinitely when the right CMS is its foundation.

Read More: Why The Gartner Magic Quadrant and dotCMS Believe in Digital Experience Platforms?

Digital Experience Platforms: Just a Label?

Content and marketing are only two aspects of a digital experience. By unifying content, commerce, and marketing, the best digital experiences simply cut through data silos. Digital experience platforms orchestrate and personalize content at each digital touchpoint. They drive better workflows and processes, supporting content through every digital channel. Finally DXPs integrate data analytics and payment gateways.

DXP platform offerings may appear to be simply rebranded versions of CMS, portal, and commerce offerings. However, DXP vendors have an entirely different approach to meeting new customer expectations and leveraging new technologies.

In fact, the DXP concept embraces digital transformation and makes it a substantial part of it. Businesses that select a digital platform are often interested in disrupting their operations rather than adding another tool to their toolbox. A DXP platform spans both the operations and the experience layers. That doesn’t mean it won’t enable you to build powerful websites and applications; it means that —as a concept— DXPs go beyond that and focus on enhancing customer satisfaction across different touchpoints. 

A DXP thrives by delivering greater modularity, responsiveness to customers’ needs, personalization of the experience, workflows, and granular governance. This allows a DXP to represent more than just a tool or a set of integrated technologies; it represents a path to digital maturity. 

Read More: What is a Composable DXP??

The Four Pillars of The DXP

Speed and agility are today’s leading business drivers, and as organizations focus on building their own unique digital experience platforms, they must also find ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors while keeping up with the changing customer needs.

According to Gartner, a best-of-breed DXP follows the principle of composability that seeks faster business outcomes through the assembly and combination of pre-packaged business capabilities. This approach enables business users to select the best tools to build the foundations of their business in a way that makes sense for them.

Let’s take a look at the benefits of adopting the best-of-breed approach to tech stack building. 

Innovation

The process of incorporating so many different elements requires a great deal of innovation. The methods used to deliver the solution are all about providing tools for technology teams that free them up to develop new techniques, even in standardized environments. Since technology changes so often, as previously noted, the methods need to change with the technology to deliver the most effective solution.

Integration

Once the ingredients are assembled and the techniques for the creation of those ingredients are in order, the integration process can begin. The integration process involves ensuring that the solution works smoothly, delivers the expected results, and maintains data security. 

It is highly advised that you utilize a RESTful API that enables you to plug your tools directly into your stack for the simplest and best results. For instance, you can utilize the RESTful API infrastructure in dotCMS to integrate with tools like Salesforce, AWS, and Marketo.

Personalization

Delivering a personalized experience involves offering business teams tools that help them build, manage, and optimize the high-quality content that drives the customer’s experience. While the team strives to deliver personalized content to enhance the user’s experience, the key lies in knowing when the experience can be too personal and intrusive, making the user uncomfortable.

Orchestration

Orchestration involves placing the marketing team in the driver’s seat and allowing them to define, plan, and execute the various customer workflows for each of their specific targeted audiences. These plans can help the site drive conversions, boost customer loyalty, and aid in customer retention. 

Read More: DXP Tech Trends to Watch For In 2021?

Choosing a CMS: All-In-One vs. Best Of Breed

When it comes to choosing a CMS —either traditional or headless— clients must decide on whether they want a solution that claims to be the best at everything, or a solution that only claims to be the best at one thing —and then plays nice with leaders in other spaces, allowing you to use the best tools for each dimension of your company.

While it’s true that a DXP vendor may claim to have a complete, “all-in-one” solution for their customers --think of Adobe Experience Cloud and Liferay DXP-- the hard truth is that monolithic, all-in-one DXPs lack the ability to work in tandem with third-party tools to provide a better customer experience. 

dotCMS, for instance, focuses on being an industry-leading content hub. Our headless CMS empowers enterprises to build and orchestrate digital experiences by leveraging over twenty best-of-breed technologies and counting, from Amazon AWS to Magento to Docker. 

In other words, we never lock customers into an “all-in-one” ecosystem that we claim wins at every level. Instead, dotCMS prides itself on integrating seamlessly with the leading solutions  in each space so our customers never feel hindered or shackled. 

The end result? Your marketers and developers get to use their favorite tools to build and deliver the best customer experiences that are connected, trusted, and continuous across every touchpoint.

Pros and Cons of All-in-One DXP Platforms

Pros

  • Unified interface across the board
  • Easier training and adoption 
  • 360° view of the customer
  • The same approach to every digital property
  • Relation with a single vendor 

Cons

  • Lack of flexibility with other interfaces, UI elements, and third party integrations
  • Functionalities that you don’t need
  • Steep learning curve in the beginning

Pros and Cons of Best of Breed DXP Platforms

Pros

  • You get to choose the best technology for your particular use case
  • Extendable and open integrations based on REST APIs and GraphQL
  • Uses can integrate tools they’re already familiar with

Cons

  • Potential technology conflicts due to different interfaces
  • Fragmented view of the customer
  • Relations with multiple vendors

While a simple CMS can help you launch your website and even a mobile app, it won't take you any further than that. On the contrary, your business will most likely be set back by the lack of features required to compete in the field today..

An enterprise-ready DXP platform takes your content and operations further to help you capture, manage, store, and deliver content across many different touchpoints to enhance the user experience. To help you choose the right platform for your business, we share eight capabilities and features that your next digital platform needs to have. 

  • API-first: An enterprise DXP exposes its content and makes it accessible via APIs. Most platforms support REST APIs, while more advanced systems also support GraphQL.
  • Scalability: By leveraging cloud computing, an enterprise DXP allows its customers to scale up and down whenever necessary.
  • Omnichannel Customer Experience Management: A strong enterprise DXP will enable its customers to build and manage omnichannel experiences.
  • Global Content Marketing: Leveraging the headless architecture, an enterprise-grade DXP should facilitate content marketing across channels, devices, and regions.
  • LowCode & NoCode Tooling: To empower marketers, an enterprise DXP should offer low code —or NoCode— environments and interfaces, reducing their dependence on IT. The best solutions offer this along with the ability to use code so both marketers and developers are satisfied,
  • Interoperability: An enterprise-grade DXP vendor should offer frontend interoperability, data interoperability, and content interoperability with third-party solutions.
  • Multilingual:  Multilingual functionality is a must to enable brands to expand into new markets and deliver personalized and localized content.
  • Multitenancy: Multisite management is one thing, but multitenancy allows companies and brands to support more sites and teams without adding new databases into the equation. 

Read More: The Glue Code That Holds Your DXP Together

Build Your DXP With dotCMS

By getting started with an API-first, cloud-based stack, digitally-first companies can enhance business efficiency by leveraging modular DXP components and agile software stacks.

dotCMS' DXP capabilities open up integration opportunities and enable its customers to build their own DXP with the tools they feel comfortable using. Tools such as market automation, CRM, analytics, and even software building frameworks can be applied when building a platform that works similarly  in a similar manner to a DXP while also leveraging best of breed, composable technology in the client's target areas. 

As these components come together to create a potential solution, keep in mind that the platform must still deliver a smooth user experience for its intended audience. These are some of the dotCMS capabilities that make it the best foundation for your DXP.

  • Content Personalization: dotCMS goes beyond personalization at the page level and offers granular personalization at the content container level. This allows creating unlimited variants of a landing page, where parts of the page in a personalized container can vary for each persona. 
  • Edit Mode Anywhere: Edit Mode Anywhere makes it possible for developers to use their desired framework to develop the frontend before integrating with dotCMS to take advantage of its intuitive, marketer-friendly authoring experience.
  • Omnichannel Content Delivery: dotCMS gives both companies and brands a centralized hub they need to manage, distribute, and enhance their customer journey across every digital channel, along with all the content that comes along with it. 
  • SOC2 Compliance: Security and compliance are practices that need to be continuous. A CMS that's also compliant with SOC 2 ensures that companies are pursuing the highest security standards and are committed to protecting their clients' data privacy. 
  • CDN: A CDN-enabled headless CMS gives users a tool that enables faster content delivery through a reliable network made up of cached servers across the world. CDN helps users scale their operations, all within dotCMS’ infrastructure, which scales automatically and reduces the need for maintenance.

Our vision is to deliver a CMS that enables headless, omnichannel content distribution and personalization at scale —and more by utilizing partnerships with the world’s best technology vendors, rather than in opposition to them. 

To make that happen for our enterprise customers, we provide a decoupled and open source Java CMS that can be molded into a bespoke digital experience platform time and time again. If you want to learn more about how dotCMS gives you the foundation for your DXP, read more here: Headless dotCMS | Product Brief

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