An important investment a digital leader will make is the right digital content, commerce and experience platform to invest in to deliver on business growth ambitions.
In later years, that conversation has shifted from “Do I need a CMS or a DXP?” to “How can I deliver data-driven experiences across channels”, “Should I be looking to take a microservice approach to my digital ecosystem?” and “How can I deliver agile omnichannel experiences at scale?”.
The answer is - like many important decisions - not clear cut. Every business has to balance competing priorities ranging from the strategic goals of the business; pressure from investors and shareholders; the knowledge and configuration of your internal teams; the types of digital products and channels you currently (or your future business needs to) produce; and last - but certainly not least - the demands of your customers.
So while no article you read is going to answer these questions for you (and don’t trust any that tell you they do), in this two-parter, I’ll be outlining of the key challenges and use cases I hear from my experience in aligning digital product teams with cutting-edge technologies, and map these against when I believe it makes sense to invest in a DXP and when perhaps a headless offering may be a better solution.
5 reasons to consider headless
A headless CMS is a back-end system where the content repository (the ‘body’) is separated or decoupled from the presentation layer (the ‘head’). This differs from traditional (also referred to as monolithic or coupled) CMS platforms where the content repository and presentation layer are tightly integrated.
In order to display content stored in a headless CMS across different channels and devices, content is delivered from the headless CMS to a chosen presentation layer via an API. A key benefit of taking this approach is for the flexibility of delivering content in a chosen programming language and presentation layer, be that a website, voice-controlled app, point-of-sale display or smart device.
According to a recent report by our partner WP Engine, 64 percent of enterprises are using a headless approach. So what are some the key challenges headless can help enterprises overcome?
“We need to innovate faster but legacy technology and bespoke systems are holding us back.”
Many enterprises have a complex digital ecosystem formed of accumulated platforms in their digital experience stack. In a recent McKinsey survey, CIOs reported that 10 to 20 percent of the technology budget assigned to new products is diverted to resolving issues related to technical debt. Moreover, this contributes to 20 to 40 percent of the value of their entire technology estate before depreciation.
Traditional businesses can be especially burdened with legacy systems, paralysing them from bringing new products to market or to update multiple assets across key channels with the speed of their younger, more agile competitors.
Whilst a headless CMS isn’t going to solve their legacy woes overnight, it can be used as a content repository, providing us with a single source of the truth through which to update assets (e.g. logos, images, special offer banners etc.) and make small tactical changes to content in one place to be able to rapidly publish content across multiple channels without affecting other systems. This removes the reliance on developers and engineers to deploy channel specific content and empowers marketing teams to make their own content changes, bypassing legacy systems.
For instance, we leverage the advanced headless CMS, Contentful, for our client ITV to enable them to update their shows in one place (the headless CMS), and optimise the structure of the content for the end channel it will be displayed on.
“We want greater flexibility over our digital technology stack to select the best-in-class tools to build a powerful ecosystem”
Taking a microservice, or modular, approach means businesses can invest in the best tools they need at the right time for their business, ensuring they only pay for the functionality they need at any given time. This is especially advantageous to businesses who can’t justify a costly re-platform or who want to trial a new revenue stream, for example, a retailer looking to explore D2C sales.
Indeed, in the Gartner CIO survey, it was found that highly-composable organisations came out of the pandemic ahead of others when it came to overall business performance, reduced risk and operating costs, and increased revenue.
Another benefit to taking this approach is that we’re able to select the front-end experience layer and what code base a digital product is built using, meaning we can create seamless, beautiful front-end experiences paired with best-in-breed back-end technologies. Freeing teams up to use code bases such as Angular and React, can lead to both significantly improved user experience and is also simpler for development teams to manage deployments.
“We struggle to manage content across multiple disparate CMSes and other channels”
Leading on from the issue of legacy technology is the overhead of managing multiple CMS platforms and siloed data across channels. In this scenario, we find content isn't optimised for each channel and there are inevitably brand inconsistencies and failures in internal teams working as effectively as possible.
Consolidating multiple platforms isn’t always possible, so instead, a create once, publish many approach can mitigate this challenge, but only if platforms are seamlessly integrated and data can freely be shared between them - something a CDP can be a central component of.
To enable businesses to rapidly deliver connected experiences, many API-first software vendors now offer pre-built integrations between various platforms in a typical agile technology stack. One such integration is the BigCommerce app we built for Contentful customers. The app pulls product information from BigCommerce into Contentful, enabling agile, omnichannel selling at scale, within a matter of minutes.
“We're experiencing constant shifts in channel preference in our audience and don't want to invest too heavily in channel specific platforms”
It’s true that with the rapidly growing list of digitally enabled devices and channels from wearables to social selling - and estimated to be worth between $5.5 trillion and $12.6 in value globally by 2030 - it’s harder than ever for businesses to make future-ready technology decisions.
Furthermore, businesses need to test the effectiveness of new distribution channels as existing ones become saturated. It’s imperative to learn fast and pivot quickly to understand how the channel behaves, adapt your digital strategy accordingly and do this in the cheapest and fastest way possible to gain a competitive advantage.
Whether it’s NFTs or selling in the metaverse, brands need to take note of changing consumer habits and a microservice architecture can enable them to do this at speed and at minimal risk.
“We’re struggling to attract and retain top talent”
It’s very much a job seekers’ market with 72% of tech workers saying they’re looking to move jobs in the next year - many of whom are looking to take advantage of the world stabilising post-pandemic and the vast number of tech roles available in the revitalised digital world. To add to this, a recent Gartner survey reported that businesses believe a shortage of talent to be the biggest obstacle standing in the way of 64% of new tech they’d like to adopt.
Modern platforms are built with modern programming languages that are preferred by the majority of developers, meaning it’s easier to attract and retain quality talent and simpler to deploy.
Taking a headless approach is beneficial for companies looking to select the best digital tools available for each component of their digital ecosystem; for businesses who operate in unpredictable markets where customer channel preference frequently changes; and for companies struggling to attract and retain talent due to outdated and legacy technologies.