At the risk of sounding cynical...
For as long as I can remember, the customer focus has always been on finding the best CMS – while vendors have been busy trying to win the analyst game.
Yes, products have clearly improved and innovation in the CMS space is happening. But the real story is that most customers are still playing catch-up, often running their digital presence on older versions of multiple products.
I’m not sure vendors will ever stop competing in this "horse race," hoping to land in the leadership position in some diagram. But I’m cautiously optimistic that customers have finally changed their focus to something more sustainable by finding a solution (call it a “digital experience platform” if you must) that’s simply good enough for them.
Let’s look at current trends through that lens and unpack what it means for buyers, vendors, and agencies alike. We’ll start with the buzz…
Navigating the buzzwords: composable, federated content, and more
Even if you missed a few weeks of practice (maybe you took some time to work on something other than CMS), you have probably heard of the headless CMS trend that’s been going on for a while.
Today, several vendors champion “composable” as the one big buzzword and “federated content” as the other. Similar to the past – again, call me cynical – each vendor often has its definition, leaving customers to figure it out on their own.
In brief, I would say:
- Composable is an architectural approach using different software solutions as building blocks to create a digital experience. For case studies covering this topic: Composable design throughout the stack at Salling Group and Composable CMS Gains Traction as Google Search Volume Triples in Recent Months.
- Federated content is all about unifying your content and data from different sources to enable better collaboration and a scalable content experience.
Then, there’s this thing called DXC: Digital eXperience Composition. Whether you like new three-letter acronyms or not, the problem that DXC is trying to solve is a real one: it’s what we called “composition” in the past, and it’s all about composing the digital experience based on content from different sources. There is indeed an experience challenge looking for better solutions – and niche vendors like Conscia.ai, Kajoo.ai, Stackbit, and Uniform are pushing the needle here.
Read more about DXC in this recent conversation with Darren Guarnaccia, President at Uniform: Is the Birth of DXC the Death of DXP?
No, it is not. I also shared a more detailed take in my post: What’s the real story about digital experience composition?
What else is everyone talking about? There’s at least one more big thing.
It's really an AI-supported world
In January, we hosted the CMS Kickoff 23 and AI wasn’t really a big thing.
Then, ChatGPT came out – and the game changed.
In each and every peer group meeting since, we’ve talked about the impact of artificial intelligence, be it from Google’s Bard, Bing’s integration with ChatGPT, or similar tools. The bottom line is that AI is now being taken to the next level – saving time and enhancing platform features for many of our members.
To put things in perspective: compared to other trends, we haven’t just talked about the superpower of AI and how amazing these new tools are. Instead, our group members and practitioners have already adopted AI tools in their work. They've become AI-supported – whether to create sample content, inform analysis, or something more exotic.
Contentstack may not have been the first platform to release an AI feature, but their ChatGPT connector lets you generate content via chat and prompt responses using the OpenAI platform. Other vendors are demoing similar capabilities, which will likely become a feature in most content management systems in the near term.
To quote Silicon Valley legend Andreas Ramos:
“We are just at the beginning of seeing the practical application of AI in digital marketing.”
Having said that, you might have seen that Italy just blocked ChatGPT over privacy concerns – and some experts urged a halt to AI training. Stay tuned!
One more buzzword…
How MACH must you be?
While I would probably struggle to find someone in the community unfamiliar with ChatGPT, many digital leaders haven’t heard about the MACH Alliance.
MACH stands for:
- Cloud-native SaaS
This unique community of vendors and agencies was formed in 2020 and now includes a set of infrastructure “Enablers” such as AWS, Google, and Netlify. To be clear: this is not just about CMS, and for a deeper introduction, see my 2021 post: What’s the MACH Alliance all about?
Today, the MACH Alliance is a vocal consortium with over 80 members, all promoting best-of-breed technologies and practices that power composable architectures. Vendors pay upwards of $25k to pledge allegiance to the certification and rules of what Forrester analyst Joe Cicman described in 2021 as “The Coolest Tech in Town Club.” Agencies are paying less for membership but still upwards of $10k.
Looking at the Alliance from the outside and having covered it in several group meetings, here are a few observations:
- As a community person, I like the idea of a shared ecosystem and collaborative and joint efforts to push the industry forward.
- The process of joining is not as transparent as it could be. A few MACH Alliance members have told us about long wait times and less-than-critical technical reviews to become certified.
- The annual fee is increasing and seems like a very expensive sticker for your products and collateral. Who is there to pay for this… besides the customer?
- Could the Alliance be a bit more open, inclusive and transparent? That ‘insider club’ feeling is hard to quantify but shared by many.
- Will the Alliance complicate things as a kind of “new monolith” selling to the enterprise? Hopefully not.
With far less marketing muscle, the open source community has long had its own “CMS Garden,” which launched in 2013 as a grassroots initiative. The membership fee? €100.
Let’s move on and talk about the vendor side – and we’ll start with the biggest player.
We live in a WordPress world
At the recent European CMS Experts meeting, we heard from Ryan McCue at enterprise WordPress powerhouse Human Made, who reminded us that WordPress powers 43% of the Web. Contrary to what you might think, that’s not just millions of small sites for mom-and-pop stores but also wide enterprise adoption from large, complex, and global organizations.
Coming in second is Adobe with less than 15%. And from there, no platform has more than 10% of the market share.
Unfortunately, many industry analysts don’t cover open source well – where Drupal, Joomla and TYPO3 also have notable adoption.
In this crowded and confusing marketplace, you might think consolidation is happening.
I’m not seeing it.
Yes, there are the usual mergers and acquisitions happening. Recently, GatsbyJS joined Netlify, but that didn’t leave buyers with less options.
Actually, after 20 years, I keep learning about new ones. In fact, Netlify CMS was new to me when I saw the news that they will become Decap CMS.
One thing that’s for sure is that money keeps flowing into CMS vendors – not just from customers, but also from investors. Recently, Contentstack raised $80m in November and they now have multiple product lines. And just last month, Hygraph secured $30m to “power the next generation of content management.” BTW, Hygraph is pushing big on federated content.
Long story short: as a customer, you have more options today compared to a year ago. This brings me back to where we started.
Find the CMS that’s “good enough”
Yes, it still makes sense to go through a proper vendor selection and take time, potentially several years, to understand needs and the marketplace before selecting the right CMS. But a trend that makes me happy is that focus on finding a CMS that’s good enough, rather than necessarily the very best.
Finding a CMS that’s good enough can save you both time and money. Yes, do talk to references, invest time in training and learning, consider what you already have in your landscape – and then get started.
Having said that, don’t worry so much about where the vendor is on some analyst diagram or which club stickers you see on the laptops of your implementation team. Instead, worry about your requirements, budget, deadlines, and success criteria.
Let me finish with a friendly reminder by Morten Elvang, European Business Agility Lead at Accenture:
“Most organizations suffer from project overload. They are simply trying to do too many things at once.”
Good luck with your initiatives.
In my past marketplaced updates for CMS Critic, I’ve looked at
I've also written What can we learn from the W3C CMS selection process, which had a healthy focus on accessibility, but was very much a selection process focused on finding the best.
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Boye & Company designs and delivers unique learning and networking experiences that bring similarly motivated and curious decision-makers and practitioners from different organizations together. Members receive direct access to a specialized international network of like-minded professionals through focused peer groups, meetings, and live events to share, learn, and discover new insights. Founded by Danish Internet entrepreneur Janus Boye – a CMS Critic contributor – Boye & Company provides a friendly community where strong professional relationships can take form as we discuss the challenges and opportunities across the digital experience space.