Stick or Twist?
When a new CTO joins a business, this often coincides with a fairly radical change in that business’ approach to digital.
This may be a result of bringing in new technical leadership to address a perceived weakness, or execute a change of strategy in the business. It could also be as the incoming CTO has greater licence to write off any technical decisions and investments made by their predecessor.
Whatever the reason for the change, looking at whether the company’s CMS is fit for purpose will feature fairly highly on that list.
It’s the choice between a headless CMS or an integrated platform with decoupled architecture (where the presentation layer, or front-end, can be customised independently) – that can deliver some of the flexibility of a headless CMS but in a familiar environment.
This is a dilemma facing businesses like Tottenham Hotspur, Dolby Laboratories and Kodak who currently sit on Ektron. Acquired by EPiServer in 2015, the Ektron CMS is now set to be fully integrated into the EPiServer stack: forcing clients to decide whether to migrate or find a new nest.
Historically, integrated platforms have worked better for big companies who are more comfortable with a ‘move slow and maintain things’ approach -rather than the startup world’s ‘move fast and break things’ mantra.
The introduction of decoupled architectures and lightweight headless content platforms is enabling the digital industry as a whole to move towards this culture of innovation – an important step in a world where market and customer needs are changing rapidly. Arguably, the lightweight approach offered by headless content platforms (typically as part of a wider ecosystem) is more suited to a culture of swift experimentation, but there are several factors to consider before making the final decision.
Does your existing CMS’ roadmap meet the needs for your business? A number of established platforms, such as Kentico, Drupal and Sitecore are decoupling architecture, essentially separating the presentation layer from the back end, allowing a more flexible approach.
Other ‘born headless’ platforms such as Contentful, Built.io, Zesty, GraphCMS and Kentico Cloud operate within ‘ecosystems’ where users can swap software (e.g. headless CMS, CRMs, etc.) in and out as they see fit.
It’s important to have visibility of and faith in your CMS’ roadmap – and ensure it’s aligned with your own commercial plans – given your own pace of innovations is tied to their platform.
A big part of the cultural aspect is the change process that the technology begins. At a simple operational level, content management in headless is very different to content management in the legacy platforms.
Both approaches encourage a mentality of experimentation and disposable tech – which can be a sticking point for finance teams in particular.
The focus is increasingly on delivering value to the customers and doing what it takes to make that happen – even if that means trying out a Proof of Concept and then ditching it if it doesn’t work.
The difference is in the level of control – with decoupled architectures offering experimentation with some restraint while headless can be viewed in some quarters as a leap into the unknown. The rewards are there for the taking -but finding that cultural balance is a must.
The first technical consideration to focus on is data. Your data will be within a specific structure – and this is typically dictated by the functionality and constraints of the legacy systems.
When moving to these new systems, it is highly likely that this structure will not work and will need to be transformed to fit within the new systems.
It seems like a scary task, but it offers an opportunity for spring cleaning – removing unnecessary data and introducing efficiency into the data architecture. When we then layer on the considerations of the GDPR, this exercise can be very useful in gaining a greater understanding of the data architecture.
The second big consideration is timing. The business will rely on these systems so we need a plan that allows us to migrate the platform without compromising business as usual activities. A cohesive team is essential, allowing business analysts to work alongside architects to understand the dependencies and nuances of the system.
Finally, it’s about the team themselves. Does the agency or internal development team have the requisite skill in the platform? Do they need time to train or do you need to bring in a partner with experience in the platform?
So in summary: digital disruption is impacting every business in one degree or another, and faster innovation cycles are critical to keep pace with startup challengers and the faster movers in the market. Your CMS provides the foundations for your businesses’ digital activity, so the platform choice is critical.
With regard to Ektron/ EpiServer, my recommendation would be to twist: with Ektron effectively on life support with very few product developments in the pipeline, the jury is out whether its transition into the EPiServer stack will revive it.
Moves towards headless CMS will certainly empower your teams to move faster, but whether you opt for a full headless platform or a hybrid with decoupled architecture will depend on your own commercial, cultural and technical considerations.