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Umbraco’s place in the composable DXP: takeaways from Codegarden 2022

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One of the themes at this year’s Codegarden, the annual conference from Umbraco, was the “composable” digital experience platform (DXP) – a concept that’s getting more and more attention in the customer experience space.

What is a composable DXP?

A DXP is a solution that delivers a range of capabilities and marketing features beyond just a core content management solution (CMS). A composable DXP is specifically a “best-of-breed” DXP made up of a number of various solutions from different third-party vendors rather than the monolithic approach of a more traditional solution like Sitecore, where every feature is delivered via one integrated platform.

The solutions work together through APIs to make up one, seamless DXP ecosystem. This also likely includes headless publishing, with a decoupling between the backend CMS and the frontend experience.

The advantage of a composable DXP is that it:

  • delivers far greater flexibility and agility than a monolithic approach
  • better supports operating across multiple channels
  • allows teams to build their own DXP with preferred or existing solutions
  • avoids vendor lock-in
  • means organisations don’t pay for features in monolithic platforms that they never end up using.

In our view these potential advantages have to be tempered with the reality of the composable DXP:

  • you’re very likely to need outside IT help to set it up and support it
  • the initial costs involved might feel substantial compared to the advantages you gain
  • you’re dealing with multiple suppliers and products
  • it can be a learning curve for marketing teams more used to one integrated solution
  • it’s not always as straightforward to orchestrate content across multiple products as it seems.

Umbraco’s role in composable architecture

To a certain extent, Umbraco has often been integrated with other core digital services like e-commerce to deliver an overall experience. On this blog we argued that as an open-source CMS with fewer native features than an integrated platform like Sitecore, Umbraco in practice is actually already often a component within a “composable” DXP . This view was reinforced by the sessions I attended at Codegarden. Here are four key takeaways from what was said.

1. The composable DXP market is growing

A clear message from the different Codegarden sessions is that the composable DXP market is growing, and that business are attracted to the potential greater flexibility, scalability and agility that composable architecture delivers.

There has been a shift in both business and technology thinking towards being more flexible and customer-focused. Analysts like Gartner suggest that businesses are adopting a “composable” mindset, looking to a more flexible and practical approach to the way organisations conduct operations and work together. In technology terms, there is also a shift away from monolithic platforms to microservices and having less dependencies across a single platform.

Accordingly, CMS and DXP vendors are increasingly positioning their offering as supporting composability. It was pointed out that even Sitecore, a platform that has always been positioned as an integrated platform that provides you with the entire marketing stack, is now stressing its composable credentials.

Umbraco has now adjusted it’s messaging to embrace the composable DXP. Traditionally, Umbraco has tended to position itself as the core CMS that can be then integrated with best-in-class solutions. However, over the past 18 months this message has shifted for Umbraco’s ability to be the CMS at the centre of a composable DXP, reflecting the growth in popularity of “composability” in both a business and a technology sense.

2. There are multiple components in a composable DXP

One of the dedicated Codegarden sessions on the composable DXP was led by Paul Marden, Director at Carbon Six Digital. Paul’s presentation mentioned what he saw as the core components of a DXP that work together within a best-of-breed ecosystem:

  • Content, centred around the Umbraco CMS
  • Personalisation
  • Customer Data Platform (CDP)
  • Commerce
  • Data and analytics
  • Search
  • Presentation layer
  • All supported by a cloud infrastructure.

Interestingly Paul also then shared the core technologies that his agency has used with clients to build a composable DXP, which includes Umbraco as the content component, and Umbraco Examine as the search. This DXP reference architecture has also been used with more than one client, showing that some composable “recipes” are repeatable.

In the session on composable architecture led by Thomas Edblom, CTO & Partner, Pentia, there was an even more granular view of the elements of a service platform, that also mentions some of the specific front-end experiences like the mobile app:

  • Corporate visual identity
  • Information and self-service
  • Analytics and insights
  • Push-mail automation
  • Content composition and management
  • Development and release (DevOps)
  • Mobile app
  • Customer dialogue
  • Support management
  • Service portal
  • Privacy, security & compliance
  • Infrastructure & operations (SysOps)
  • Products and campaigns
  • Customer information.

Thomas also gave some useful tips about having the right integration strategy for the composable architecture, for example ensuring some elements are SaaS-based, particularly around the CMS, compliance (cookies and privacy), search, analytics and marketing automation, and taking the right approach to standards, compliance and security and more.

3. You can integrate Umbraco with anything

A key factor in composable architecture is the ability to successfully integrate different systems together, and the ease with which Umbraco supports this makes it potentially a good component of a composable DXP. “You can integrate Umbraco with anything” was one observation. The wide, active Umbraco developer community who help to deliver integrations is one of the advantages of open source over some other platforms.

Integrations are also greatly supported by out-of-the-box connectors. In the session “The name’s DXP, composable DXP!” Adrian Cojocariu, Lead Integration Engineer at Umbraco, outlined a number of current integrations with other digital technology providers that are supported via marketplace connectors, helping to build a composable architecture covering content, marketing and commerce. Integrations mentioned by Adrian included oAuth Proxy, Hubspot, Semrush, Shopify, Zapier, Google Search Console and eMerchantPay (for Forms).

4. Umbraco is the best-of-breed CMS in your composable DXP

One of the undoubted strengths of Umbraco is that it is intuitive and easy-to-use; it’s a CMS that is built with usability in mind and is popular with marketing teams who find it easy to pick up and get things done. For this reason, the great editing experience and low barrier to entry, make it potentially a strong candidate as the best-of-breed, headless content management system at the centre of a composable DXP.

Thomas from Pentia highlighted the importance of the CMS in a composable DXP as the place that you can keep and maintain your structured content without presentation; but the CMS also plays a role in defining content composition to structure pages and flows.

Is the future composable?

Personally, I think we still have some time to go before composability becomes the standard approach to managing a DXP platform, and it will be interesting to see how things develop. There are still many customers not ready for this approach, but anything that provides choice for marketing teams is a good thing.

To some extent the composable DXP is also a new label for something that was already happening. Because Umbraco is already frequently used integrated with other systems when marketing teams are delivering an omni-channel or more complex experience, the “composable DXP” is arguably just business-as-usual for the platform. But we may see things evolve further.

Need advice on using Umbraco? Get in touch!

If you’d like to discuss using Umbraco as part of a composable DXP or just in delivering exceptional digital customer experiences, then get in touch!

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