The interview series with CMS experts continues. The founder of Magnolia CMS, Boris Kraft, tells about the early years of the CMS industry and why Magnolia chose the open source way. Boris also explains why he believes eCommerce is currently one of the biggest trends in the CMS industry and why CMS products should be the primary tools to manage customer experiences in all channels.
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What kind of memories do you have from the early days of the CMS industry?
Personally I started working with content management systems somewhere around the year 2000. Early systems, like Vignette, cost millions of dollars back then. Those internet boom times were totally insane.
In the early days, every agency wrote their own content management system. That was strange even then. But it took time before open source systems became usable.
I think it was hard to charge money for a web content management system already in 2003 when we were still working as an integrator. And that is why we chose the open source way with Magnolia. It was a pragmatic decision, not idealistic.
We also believed that the usability of the tool would make a difference. We still believe that.
Any major milestones after those early years?
I think we are experiencing the biggest one right now. Customer expectations are getting higher all the time. Customers expect to get the same experience through the website as they get in the physical store. Everything that can be done through physical channels has to be available also in the online channel. And that creates a lot of demands for the CMS.
So it’s a hard time for the CMS market. Any other big challenges right now?
The other complex part is the gap between the wishful thinking and the reality. Right now everybody wants personalization, for example. But most people haven’t really thought what it means. You can’t sell a CMS product without it, but in a lot of cases personalization will not be implemented in the next five years, if ever.
But it’s always been like this. Previously it was workflows customers wanted, but never used.
This time it may be a bit different since personalization is truly complex to do, at many levels. It is complicated to do so that users will understand it. The editors have to be able to use it. It is also very expensive to implement. Currently you have to write content only once. In the future you have to write for every channel and target group, maybe 16 variations. Most customers haven’t realized they need more resources and they need a bigger web team to be able to do that.
What are the things that are getting better? Where do you see most progress?
Combining personalization and analytics is a very interesting field. Many of the possibilities of that sound really good.
But unfortunately mostly in theory. In reality they are really complex. I don’t know how fast we can advance in reality. Marketing teams need more technology experts.
Marketing in general needs to step it up in terms of technology know-how. Some of our customers are even building these eCommerce teams that are independent of the rest of the company. I think that is one interesting solution for the problem.
OK, customers are overwhelmed. Is there any way you can help them as a CMS vendor?
This is a really important focus area for us. We like to think that we help them to lower the barriers to trying out new things. We focus on the usability of the product, and also on the development side of things. We are very focused on enabling Java developer teams to be able to build more stuff faster with our product. Making integrations easier has also always been a priority for us.
But of course there are limits what you can do as a vendor.
Trying to solve the eCommerce challenge is also a big thing for us. Currently the market is divided into eCommerce systems and CMSs. From the customer’s point of view, the difference might not look that big, but in reality, there are major differences. CMSs are good at the front end, and eCommerce systems are great in payment processing and catalog management. Those are two very different kinds of problems to solve. Right now everybody is partnering with each other, but I don’t think that really solves the issue.
Personally I don’t want to start building an eCommerce system, but I understand that from the customer’s point of view there is not that much difference. Customers just see the challenge of a multichannel environment where many customers can have several iPads, a mobile phone and a laptop, and they expect all of them to be highly usable channels providing a great experience.
Which system should control that experience in your opinion? The CMS or the eCommerce system?
Absolutely the CMS. There is no other way. You have to control the experience, you have to personalize the content, you have to manage your content feeds. This is what the CMS does. I think eCommerce will become “embedded commerce” available everywhere the customers interact with the product. The time of the separate e-store is over. From this point of view, the new name for web content management could also be just eCommerce.