8 CMS Trends to Watch in 2023: From MACH to Metaverse

In the 1985 sci-fi comedy Back to the Future, an accidental bout of time travel gives protagonist Marty McFly an opportunity to examine the past and change his destiny.

While trapped in 1955, Marty faces numerous obstacles, including a paradox that nearly erases him from existence. But in the classic hero’s journey, he learns a few valuable lessons that help him overcome impossible odds… like capturing 1.21 gigawatts from a lightning bolt with a set of jumper cables.

That concept – looking back to move forward – is a cornerstone of making solid predictions. We might not have a DeLorean equipped with a flux capacitor, but the CMS market told us a lot over the last year.

Like Marty McFly, the team at CMS Critic has been traveling through time, reviewing our coverage from the last 12 months to help inform our projections. Armed with that insight, our editors have hand-selected eight trends to watch for this year, many of which are already shaping the destiny of the CMS market.

If you're looking to go back yourself, check out our 2022: The CMS Critic Year in Review article, where we featured the biggest stories from last year. Think of it as a “Mr. Fusion” for powering your own predictions.

Spoiler alert: at the end of Back to the Future (just before they depart for the far-off year of 2015), Doc Brown tells Marty, “where we’re going, we don’t need roads…”

That might be true (eventually), but we do need maps – and these trends are the signposts for what might be in store for CMS in 2023. 

1. Composability and headless will continue to drive the market

There’s no doubt about it: composable has become the most hyped word in the DX lexicon, and you can expect to see the race to composability impact growth for headless CMSes in 2023. This aligns with the continued adoption of MACH (Microservices, APIs, Cloud native, Headless) architectures by enterprises that are looking to futureproof against the limitations of monolithic vendor lock-in and re-platforming.

Composable has certainly captured the zeitgeist of the CMS community. At the same time, it’s not for the faint of heart – it requires a mindset and investment in both people and resources. We see the drift to digital composable commerce driving much of the energy in 2023, with platforms like commercetools innovating the way forward.

While headless, MACH-ready CMSes like Contentful and Contentstack have experienced significant scale and investment over the last two years, competitors like Storyblok have also strengthened their relative positions and grown their users. 2022 saw more choices in the Jamstack and more competition across the headless space, and we can expect to see more this year.

The composable frenzy is perhaps best crystallized by the continued expansion of the MACH Alliance, which now boasts over 70 members and just added Google Cloud to its bench of enablers. We spoke to Casper Rasmussen last year about the outlook for composable and how the MACH Alliance is leading the way with educational and community-based resources. We see the Alliance’s growth as a signal that composability will be on the march as more agencies and enterprises embrace MACH architectures.

But the monoliths have taken notice, and 2023 is already looking more composable from the DXP perspective. Last year, Salesforce unveiled its composable storefront, offering a flexible commerce solution to its users. And in early January, Conscia.ai introduced headless content personalization for Sitecore’s XM Cloud using its composable components. 

There continues to be a notable distinction between “MACH” and “composable,” which the MACH Alliance has been endeavoring to clarify. As the Alliance is quick to point out, some platforms are “MACH washing” in an effort to position themselves as MACH-ready, which is creating confusion. We expect to see a continued shakeout as buyers evaluate the challenges involved with going composable and whether “composable monoliths” or pure-play MACH solutions provide the most flexible pathways to achieve composable success.

2. DXC (Digital Experience Composition) platforms will influence the role of CMS

To dovetail on the composable trend, DXCs will continue to mature as critical layers in the composable stack. As enterprises wrestle with the complexities of building composable strategies, vendors like Uniform, Conscia.ai, Occtoo, and others are shaping a cadre of omnichannel solutions that will continue to blossom in 2023 to meet scaling demand.

Last year, Gartner coined the term “Digital Experience Composition” in its Hype Cycle report to help define the emerging category saying “DXC is emerging to handle digital multi-experience orchestration in a 'headless,' decoupled, composable world. Extending from front end as a service (FEaaS) or 'visual page builders', these tools allow developers to set up digital experiences and hand them to business users for day-to-day management in no-code environments.”

The real key is the concept of “business users” being able to do more to manage multi-channel digital strategies outside an all-in-one monolithic solution. DXCs bring the promise of tightly integrated, loosely coupled solutions that give customers greater choice to build or pivot without ripping and replacing – and ultimately attain more flexible personalization and experimentation with the tools of their choice. It also endeavors to give back power to both practitioners and developers in a headless, omnichannel world.

While an official category or Gartner Magic Quadrant has yet to be adopted, that might change this year as vendors, customers, and market watchers drive greater adoption. Until then, users are still a bit confused, with some asking "Do I need experience orchestration? Do I even call it digital experience composition?"

Perhaps simple analogies are best: in a recent webinar on DXC, Lars Petersen of Uniform described it as a “shape puzzle,” where a user can quickly and easily place a CMS and other components together to build more quickly. While the metaphors continue to abound, we’re still waiting on the analysts to bless this sector.

Recently, Conscia’s CEO Sana Remekie wrote a great piece about the best strategies for businesses moving from legacy systems to composable, and how DXCs fit into the mix. If you want to hear more about the impact of MACH and composable in 2023, you can hear Sana’s exclusion session at the 2023 CMS Kickoff Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida on January 17-18.

3. More cloud adoption, driven by serverless

Sure, the cloud might seem like old news. But in 2022, we saw a groundswell of cloud innovation energizing the CMS and DXP landscape in a big way, particularly as an enabler of SaaS, MACH, and composable solutions. And it’s not just about meeting high availability demands for large enterprises – it’s powering more immersive personalization.

In the CMS world, we see more platforms embracing a multi-cloud posture as organizations deploy hybrid strategies. The large cloud providers are gearing up to meet composable demands, with AWS – still the leading public cloud platform – joining the MACH Alliance as an Enabler member last January. The presence of cloud and web development ecosystems like Netlify in the MACH community underscores the value and dependency on secure, scalable, and reliable infrastructure to power composable solutions.

At the forefront of cloud adoption are cost and security, and the rise of serverless solutions is transforming the marketplace. More CMS platforms are already edging towards serverless to offer greater freedom and flexibility, with platforms like Solodev now offering a fully serverless CMS to help users focus on content and leave server management behind. In addition to its unmatched scalability, serverless reduces some of the surface area for security threats while reducing costs by eliminating machines from the equation.

4. Cybersecurity and data privacy will continue to be "job zero" for every platform

It might sound like a broken record, but it can’t be stressed enough: all platforms in the digital stack need an increased emphasis on security, data privacy, and general governance – and CMS is no exception.

Websites were pounded this year by increased spam and bot attacks, challenging the security of both CMS and cloud infrastructures. In fact, bot traffic accounted for more than 40% of the total internet traffic last year, which reflects a rising trend over the last few years. There’s no reason to think it will decrease in 2023, particularly as threats become more sophisticated.

But just how endemic is the security conundrum? Between social engineering, third-party exposure, ransomware, and human error, it’s dangerous out there. Experts predict that the global costs of cybercrime will reach $10.5 trillion by 2025, up 15% from $3 trillion in 2015. Those are staggering numbers – and CMS platforms account for only one target in the digital stack.

As much as the cloud is driving innovation, it’s also a new source of security vulnerabilities that will likely increase next year. According to Gartner, cloud security is the fastest-growing cybersecurity market segment, approaching $1 billion in 2022. CMS vendors will need to invest in securing their cloud posture to ensure redundancy as threats will likely increase in 2023.

From a governance perspective, expect more controls to be adopted around users and groups within content management systems. Permissions have always been essential to CMS platforms for facilitating collaboration, but with more API connections and loosely coupled integrations, CMS vendors will need to lean on SSO, MFA, and other security measures to further protect users and data within systems.

5. The Google Analytics 4 transition will reshuffle the analytics market  

If your head is still spinning after the news that Google's Universal Analytics is being deprecated, join the club.

In 2022, the search giant announced that it would be sunsetting its popular analytics platform on July 1st, 2023. Because of its near ubiquitous footprint on websites and CMSes, that created a sort of... well, universal panic.

While the clock is ticking down, all hope is not lost. Google has introduced its next-generation digital analytics platform, Google Analytics 4. A bold and ambitious upgrade, the solution boasts AI-powered capabilities to collect both website and app data to better map the customer journey. It also features improved privacy controls such as cookieless measurement and behavioral and conversion modeling.

Despite sounding great on paper, GA4 did not receive a warm reception from many voices in the marketing, search, and content world. In its early release, Twitter was simmering with angry users expressing their dissatisfaction, saying it was difficult to use – and might bring some users to tears (that's an actual quote). GA continues to have innate limits to its data reporting and sampling and seems to require even more technical knowledge to set up properly than ever before. 

With only a few months left before UA goes the way of the digital dodo, many organizations are taking a fresh look at their digital analytics strategy and asking "is there something better?" That's given an edge to platforms like Semrush, which is evolving its marketing and SEO capabilities to provide more insight. One big advantage: it tracks competitor performance, too. While many CMS platforms already harness third-party analytics, expect more innovation along the analytics horizon. 

On the customer data analytics side of the ledger, platforms like Amplitude are providing content, marketing, and operations teams with more behavioral data from within digital products and apps. As CMS platforms become more headless and decoupled to power composable experiences, having more dynamic integration with these tools will prove invaluable. 

Finally, as DXPs further consolidate their bolted-on CDP solutions, we may see more robust analytics solutions for breaking down siloed data to power personalization. As composable heats up, we're likely to see more innovation from monoliths on how to leverage enhanced analytics within their platforms – and perhaps even more composable solutions for harnessing these technologies in a decoupled manner.

6. AI/ML will power greater automation and personalization

Artificial intelligence and machine learning have had a profound impact on the digital experience stack over the last five years. In 2023, algorithms and AI models will continue to automate, accelerate, and scale processes – enabling platforms to harness the cloud to deliver recommendation engines and other services that can augment personalization.

There are numerous areas where AI/ML will prove invaluable to CMS platforms, beginning with more robust, highly automated chat capabilities for websites and apps. From a content perspective, AI bots are being used to identify keywords, refine meta descriptions, and recognize images to provide automated alt tags that support digital accessibility.

No other AI technology has hijacked the social conversation quite like ChatGPT. Developed by OpenAI, ChatGPT has been credited with everything from answering code questions to drafting a script for a Ryan Reynolds Mint Mobile commercial – all with a staggeringly authentic human voice.

Don't believe us? Check out that cheeky Mint Mobile commercial below. 

We don't see this trend stopping anytime soon. We expect CMS and other DX platforms to tap the fabric of ChatGPT and other conversational AI platforms to influence content operations on multiple levels.

AI-powered personalization has long been the “Holy Grail” of DX. While monolithic DXPs have developed highly sophisticated personalization capabilities, the rise of composable solutions is also changing the topology. With MACH solutions, enterprises can quickly build, test, and experiment with a wider range of personalization tools, which will continue to grow throughout 2023.

7. Content management will expand to the metaverse

The metaverse? Not again…

OK, before you toss your Quest headset off some virtual bridge, remember that the metaverse is still evolving – and not just the domain of Meta, the parent of the now-infamous Facebook.

Despite its innate proximity to the gaming world, high-utility applications for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) present a huge opportunity for content creators. According to Grand View Research, the global metaverse market is forecast to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 39.4% from 2022 to 2030. From business to social, many brands and companies are investing in the promise of the metaverse, which is filled with users hungry for content.

Last year, big brands like Walmart, Ikea, Forever 21 and Lowes launched programs that utilized AR or VR to help consumers make buying decisions. And if you’re still scratching your head on the validity of the adoption of the metaverse, you should know you’re now in the minority according to a McKinsey & Company study released last summer.

In fact, e-commerce with AR and in the metaverse is expected to grow exponentially over the next decade, with 48% of respondents in that same McKinsey study citing “shopping” as their future interest for utilizing the metaverse. Those experiences need content – so expect to see CMSes evolve this year to start meeting that demand.

8. A cooling economy might cool enterprise deals

“Recession talk” is nearly ubiquitous these days. You can’t visit any news outlet without confronting elevated chatter about the looming economic forecast. If there’s a canary in the coal mine, it’s the tech sector, which shed a significant number of jobs in 2022. This includes leading brands like Twitter, Tesla, Shopify, Microsoft, and Netflix.

2023 isn’t looking much better. Since the beginning of the year (a whole 12 days so far), Amazon and Salesforce have planned over 25,000 job cuts, and Coinbase cut nearly 1,000 jobs after the crypto fallout from FTX. While these reductions in workforce may be attributed to the “Covid Effect” and ambitious over-hiring to address rapid digital transformation, the news isn’t good.

At the same time, the flood of talent to the open market could be an opportunity for CMS and DX vendors looking to step up their innovation. Some of the biggest changes in product development and delivery have come on the heels of an economic crisis, so look for CMS vendors to double down on value-based features and positioning as the market weathers the storm.

If history is any indicator, the pace of large-scale enterprise CMS and DXP deals will likely slow during 2023. This may further stimulate the drift to more composable solutions as organizations look for ways to decouple the technology and costs associated with large-scale monolithic platforms. As a result, we can also expect to see DXPs experimenting with value-based models and trending towards more MACH-oriented solutions to remain competitive – and join the chorus of composable offerings.

Still, the question remains: will a recession actually happen? Will it be a hard or a soft landing? The short answer is—we’ll see. Shifting priorities during an economic recession can always influence what’s been previously predicted.

If we only had a time machine…


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