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Enterprise DXP or Open Source?

  • By 3chillies

Enterprise DXP or open source is not the right question to ask.

Selecting the right digital experience platform (DXP) or content management system (CMS) for your website, digital project and digital marketing stack is a strategic decision. You want to make sure you can successfully deliver the customer experience that will drive outcomes to move your business forward.

We recently explored the many functional and non-functional requirements that must be considered when choosing the right platform for your organisation and your team. A related question we are often asked by customers thinking about re-platforming is whether they should go with an enterprise DXP or an open-source platform. We work with both: Sitecore and Optimizely are both market-leading DXPs, while Umbraco is a great open-source solution that we’ve used to deliver some great websites. There are other choices too, and of course, WordPress is the open-source platform that powers more websites than any other.

Open-source vs Enterprise DXP

“Open-source or Enterprise DXP?” is a question that’s been around for a long time. Back in April 2016, we explored it by comparing the merits of Sitecore and Umbraco. Our original article took quite a deep dive into the specifics of the platforms’ features. Looking into the granularity of the offerings, one of our main conclusions was that Sitecore offers a wider set of capabilities and suits a team who are looking for a fuller digital marketing stack, particularly useful for larger organisations. If you want a simple website, then Umbraco does this very well – a view that holds true today and is reflected in some of our more recent projects. Open source also has reduced licensing costs (it’s free) and may come with more flexibility and dependencies so you can deploy quickly.

Although there are other dynamics at play, when you try to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of open source and enterprise DXP, with the former you’re choosing a simpler solution which centres around the CMS, while with the latter you’re getting a more fully featured experience platform that comes with elements like personalisation and digital marketing, and even options like a pre-integrated digital asset management system. If you’re using open source, you’ll likely be using a number of different products in combination to build up the wider set of digital marketing capabilities required to deliver great customer experience. Choosing between an integrated enterprise solution like Sitecore and an ecosystem of compatible tools like Umbraco is therefore a fundamental decision.

All about the Composable DXP

An interesting new dynamic is arising in the DXP space, with a number of providers focusing on integrating as part of a wider, best-of-breed ecosystem - welcome to the world of the “composable DXP”, where you can effectively assemble your own DXP from multiple different providers. This capability is being driven by the availability of lightweight SaaS applications, with DXP providers now breaking down their fully integrated platforms into a series of more granular microservices that can be bolted back together to work smoothly through APIs. That is the theory, anyway, and while in practical terms, building a composable DXP is definitely not as straightforward as it sounds, it’s an interesting direction of travel; anything that offers more choice for customers is a positive step.

The shift to the composable DXP represents a shift in strategic thinking for DXPs. Sitecore has previously always focused on its integrated approach as a key advantage of the platform, but it is now making a big play for the composable DXP while continuing to offer the integrated, monolithic offering. Essentially, it’s about choice.

The advantages of a composable DXP include:

  • The ability to use preferred, existing and best-of-breed tools
  • Less vendor lock-in
  • Greater flexibility, agility and scalability
  • Increased speed to market
  • Evolution of the desired DXP over time
  • Reduced costs in the long-term.

An open-source DXP is a composable DXP

Because of the evolution of the composable DXP, the question you’re now considering when you choose an open-source system is whether you want integrated or composable. Do you want an integrated set of solutions or a best-of breed ecosystem? This is particularly relevant as the scalability and security questions that previously deterred larger organisations from investing in open-source approaches are no longer significant issues. Expense is also becoming less of a factor, as the licensing costs you save from going open source may need to be reinvested in other elements of your MarTech stack.

The question of what open source is and what it is not also starts to get hazy. Umbraco, for example, is owned by a commercial concern, and some components of the platform like Umbraco Forms are not free.

Going in with open eyes

If you are going down the composable DXP route, it’s important to go in with your eyes open. Marketing material might make it sound like assembling a composable DXP is as simple as building a Lego model and everything will fit together smoothly, but currently, that’s not quite true.

There are benefits. Potential cost savings and flexibility are there, and you can avoid some of the negative associations of the larger integrated solutions where you may be paying for features that you never use. But, at the same time, there are some disadvantages:

  • Managing multiple licenses
  • Organising multiple types of training
  • Maintaining multiple relationships with vendors
  • Having to manage upgrades that can impact other parts of the DXP
  • Addressing compatibility and technical issues that can impact the composable DXP operation
  • Utilising technical expertise to assemble the DXP
  • Budgeting for additional ongoing costs with your digital agency partner
  • Increasing due diligence and ongoing issues related to information security, GDPR and data governance, with customer data spread across more than one tool.

Degrees of composability

In practice, it is possible that the “composable DXP” is essentially a hybrid model containing a more integrated DXP solution with the CMS at its core, but with more choice to integrate different solutions around the periphery – combining a solution like Sitecore Content Hub with another core CMS, for example. This might overcome some of the practical challenges associated with building and managing a composable DXP while providing the advantages of using best-of-breed solutions. In essence, there are degrees of composability. Integrating two or three products is easier than six or seven.

Open source vs enterprise DXP: that is not the question

There’s a long way to go on the composable DXP journey, and it’s fascinating to see how it will evolve. One thing we know it has brought is more choice, and the question of going integrated or composable is starting to replace the question of whether you go open source or enterprise DXP.

If you want help exploring which digital experience platform to choose, then get in touch.

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