Future, present and history of CMSs as told by CMS expert Deane Barker

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Nov 11, 2013

Deane Barker’s childhood aspiration was to be an architect and today he is one – building content management solutions for his customers. He sees the emergence of decoupled content management and true multichannel publishing as current hot topics.

North Patrol is a consulting firm specialized in the design of digital services and information systems. We shape ideas into a vision and service concept, find the best architectural and technological solutions, design a functional user experience, and compete to find the ideal partner for implementation work. We do not sell implementation projects, nor do we sell licenses; we are genuinely on the side of the customer.

11 November 2013

Perttu Tolvanen

Having worked on the web since mid-90s and experienced the days of static websites, he saw when first CMSs were given birth. Since then he counts to have built 20-30 CMSs himself. Getting gradually sick of solving similar problems over and over again, Deane started looking into pre-built CMSs. Nowadays his company works mainly with EPiServer and eZ Publish.

Today Deane Barker plans and consults on both content management implementations and strategy at content management integrators Blend Interactive in the US. We met with Deane at CS Forum Helsinki 2013.

Deane’s key points:

  • Somewhere around 2009 everything changed. Users didn’t care anymore about basic content management – most customers started wanting personalisation, analytics and content marketing features.
  • Right now web marketing capabilities are in a mess – there are no truly integrated web marketing solutions on the market. There is a big race going on that CMS vendors might not win. Instead, companies such as HubSpot may emerge victorious.
  • The biggest problem is that clients are not ready for the digital marketing tools – and it probably takes them at least three years to catch up.
  • Decoupled content management is coming back, but right now the leading players are not doing it. However, those doing it struggle to survive in the current digital marketing race.

How do you see the history of CMSs?

The story of CMS evolution is one of trying to catch up with the users. Just trying to get to the point where you could accurately model the content and manage it well took a long time.

Somewhere around 2009 we caught up with them on the management side (everything prior to pressing the “publish” button). The users wanted personalisation, analytics and content marketing and A/B-testing, all that happened after publishing. Now the big race is on that side of the publishing button. That is the biggest evolutionary step in web content management.

Ten years ago it was amazing that we could build web pages by using web pages. You logged in right on your web browser, you did not need any software on your computer. If that is the high point of your demo today, you are in trouble. Now we start by saying here is A/B testing, here is personalisation… that is what everyone wants to do.

What pain points do we have right now with CMSs?

There is so much potential for integration with other software. The lack of integration on the other side of publishing button has become a problem. People may want to integrate their digital marketing with their customer relationship management, to list all their customers and prospects and know what they do on the website, take it and tie this to other data. Now the biggest pain point is that you have a ton of products that do one aspect really well.

You can have a fantastic analytics solution, a fantastic CRM solution, marketing and A/B testing solution. But they don’t work together. The far side of the publish button is a huge fragmented mess. You are going to see a vendor that does everything on that side so well that they become dominant.

The question is, is that going to be a CMS vendor? If CMS vendors have a crappy digital marketing CRM solution, you actually want a system by some vendor whose name we do not know yet. Or could that be HubSpot, someone who is out there with solely digital marketing practise right now?

We talked yesterday with Jeff [Eaton] that some customers do not care which CMS you use. They will optimise your content with any CMS. When they move to CRM and analytics, are they going to own that side of the publish button and lock CMS vendors out?

The big selling point of CMSs is going to be how well they integrate with that solution.

How is EPiserver facing up to the challenge?

EPiServer is doing well. They are moving aggressively into digital marketing solutions. I remember having conversations about personalisation with them long before it was on anyone else’s radar. Vendors tend to move in packs. First someone comes with something, then others come up with the same thing.

EPiServer were working on personalisation very early. They acquired a vendor to do their A/B testing and campaign optimisation. Now they are working on a new release which is very heavy on marketing automation. EPiServer has also reached out to create partnerships with a lot of marketing automation vendors.

The open source community is much slower to respond to this. They are very much in love with just content management. They don’t really understand that they have to do marketing.

Are the clients ready for this?

A lot of this is for demo purposes only. The industry on the marketing automation side is so far ahead of the average customer. There are some really sophisticated customers but I would say 90% of the customers could not staff even half of the automation options, say, Marketo offers. They look at these demos wide-eyed, get the product and say: “I don’t know what I am going to do with this.”

The average customers have to work with digital marketing firms to be able to put these tools into use. These technologies are so comprehensive that they are giving birth to an entirely new job role, the marketing technologist (aka digital technologist, content technologist). These people understand how to use the tools to the maximum of their ability. Right now they all work for marketing firms but you can see customers starting to cultivate these people from within.

When is the average customer going to catch up?

I don’t think they will ever catch up because the industry got such a head start on them. Maybe within three years they make use of the mainstream digital marketing functionalities.

Are you seeing other interesting CMS vendors?

Concrete5 is a very interesting system. I look at it like EPiServer five years ago, and this is a compliment. Five years ago EPiServer, with all the tools you needed, cost around 40 thousand dollars. Concrete5 is free. So a state of the art system in 2008 is now free. This shows how the lower end of the content management market is getting commoditised. As a result, content management agencies such as Blend have to go further upscale.

Companies at the lower end of content management implementation are going to run into some trouble: firstly, the market is getting saturated by free tools. And secondly: there are tools that do not even require any development.

I am thinking of Squarespace. It is amazing and you cannot develop with it. There are a lot of companies that can do everything they need with it. As long as you can get access to templates and inject some JavaScript into them you can use some other digital marketing tool.

Do you think everyone needs this integrated approach, or do you see this kind of modular approach going anywhere?

I am a big fan of the distributed or minimalist approach of taking pieces as long as they work together well. A lot of the marketing automation tools can be completely integrated on the client side, meaning it is extremely simple. The CMS does not even have to be aware of their existence. I think this is going to be very popular.

Another very interesting trend is that some digital marketing platforms are starting to go backwards into lightweight content management. I am thinking of HubSpot. Just some three months ago it had quite awful content management capabilities. Then they said they would introduce lightweight, WordPress level content management.

That is going to be very interesting, a classic example of commoditisation. We are seeing clients who manage entire websites on HubSpot. You ask them what CMS they are using but they don’t know what a CMS is.

Looking into the future of CMSs –are we seeing another paradigm shift after the one four years back?

If I had to peg on the next transition, it would be true multichannel publishing where web is just one of the channels; one system to publish into ten different channels.

A lot of systems have invested very heavily on coupled architecture and digital marketing that only works on a web browser. They are going to be in trouble.

Decoupled vendors are going to do really well on the content management side. They can say I am just publishing to your pipe whatever it is. So the SDL Tridions of this world are going to be in great shape. A lot of vendors need to backpedal in a hurry to figure out how to do true multichannel publishing.

The problem for decoupled vendors is holding out until then. Right now they are probably getting slaughtered on the marketing side. They are not doing any digital marketing and are sort of destroying themselves in that respect. So can they hang on until they become relevant again? I don’t know.

SDL was very smart in the way they designed Tridion. It has digital marketing as a completely separate thing you can opt in if you want. The purely decoupled model works completely independently from their digital marketing system. You can use it to push content into the digital marketing system, or you can just use it by itself. I’m following closely their progress right now.

Perttu Tolvanen

Perttu Tolvanen is a web concept design and content management system expert.

Perttu consults with clients on project planning and defining requirements, and supports customers in selecting content management systems and implementation partners. His areas of specialisation include facilitating concept design workshops and selecting content management systems.

Perttu has ten years of experience with web and intranet projects, including serving as a project manager and consultant. Earlier in his career Perttu has worked in procurement and as a project manager at a large media company, a content management system consultant at a large IT company and an independent, neutral consultant at his own firm. He is also a well-known seminar speaker and blogger. Perttu is also the editor of Vierityspalkki.fi, a Finnish blog about the Finnish internet and its creators.

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