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What is a Digital Experience Platform (DXP) and do I need one for my website?

  • By 3chillies

On the 3Chillies blog we frequently explore the Digital Experience Platforms (DXPs) and Content Management Systems (CMSs) that are used to deliver websites, often referencing specific solutions such as Umbraco, Sitecore and Optimizely. While most people in the space know what a CMS is, not everybody is familiar with the DXP concept.

The world of digital customer experience (DCX) is full of products and platforms that keep on evolving and are vying for your attention. At times it can be a confusing landscape. It’s also awash with three letter acronyms that describe different types of solution, including the Customer Data Platform (CDP), Digital Asset Management (DAM), Product information Management (PIM) and the CMS and DXP. The truth is that there is some overlap between the features of these solutions and while it’s great that offerings do keep on moving, it can be quite difficult to keep up.

In this post we’re going to try and establish what a DXP is, the difference between a DXP and a CMS, and the type of solution that might be best for your website. We’re also going to touch upon some of the trends on the DXP product landscape.

What is a Digital Experience Platform?

A DXP is essentially a solution that delivers a wide range of capabilities and features that help you to create, manage and improve digital experiences, including websites. A DXP won’t just provide an interface to manage and edit your content, but also have tools that help to deliver personalization, e-commerce, measurement, search, digital marketing and more.

CMSWire, an authoritative site in the space, defines a DXP as "an integrated set of core technologies whose goal is to support the creation, management, delivery and optimization of customized digital customer experiences (DCXs)".

What is the difference between a DXP and a CMS?

A Content Management System (CMS) is a platform that helps you to create, manage and publish the content that will appear in your website or other digital channels such as a mobile app. The content will not just be the text that appears on a website page but also assets such as images, videos and files. A CMS will include elements such as an editor, page templates and more.

A CMS is different from a DXP because it has a more limited set of features; it won’t have the full set of digital marketing capabilities that a DXP has. However, this is where thing starts to get confusing. A DXP will always include a CMS within it – you must have some sort of CMS to deliver a website. For example, Sitecore is a DXP but it also has a CMS at its centre. So, it is possible to consider a DXP as a CMS with a wide range of additional features and solutions.

Here's another confusing thing. The majority of CMSs aren’t just about managing content. There will also be some other elements such as analytics, forms and more. Arguably there are a range of platforms that arguably fall between being a CMS and being a DXP. Umbraco, for example, is usually considered a CMS, but it continues to add features and also has additional add-ons that arguably make it something approaching a DXP.

What websites need a DXP approach?

There are no hard and fast rules to say whether a CMS or DXP is best for your site and it will be dependent on your budget, the existing tools you already have and want to use, and what you want to achieve with your site. However, at a high level:

  • A CMS solution is likely to be better if your site is relatively simple or small, and only consists of content.
  • A DXP solution may be a better bet if your site is complex, consists of a number of different sites that are interconnected, includes e-commerce, and you want to develop new capabilities like personalization.

However, increasingly a more sophisticated CMS like Umbraco can deliver many of the things that a wider DXP can deliver too.

What is the current product landscape for DXPs?

Over the past few years, the DXP market has become more and more competitive as brands invest in ways to engage digitally with their customers. DXP vendors have invested in their own platforms and kept on adding additional features and functionality, sometimes by buying niche providers and integrating these into their overall platform. There’s always a rush to keep up with the latest trends too – for example some providers are now adding more AI into their feature set.

Leading market DXPs include Adobe, Sitecore, Optimizely and Liferay. These tend to aim at larger and medium-sized businesses with more complex needs. The CMS market also continues to evolve. The world’s most popular CMS is WordPress, but other platforms like Umbraco and Kentico have also improved and expanded, making it hard to judge whether a specific platform is actually a DXP or CMS.

Arguably, the question of DXP versus CMS is a bit of a red herring – there is only a solution that is the best fit for you. The good news is there a wide choice with solutions targeted to meet the needs of smaller businesses, the mid-market and enterprise clients.

Can a DXP be made up of more than one solution?

The answer is yes, a DXP can actually be made up of more than one solution that all work together in an integrated way – in the industry this is known as a “composable DXP” or a DXP made up from composable architecture.

Many marketing teams already use more than one solution to help deliver digital experiences for their customers. For example, a typical team might use one solution as their main CMS, a separate e-commerce platform for their online shop and then a third analytics package to measure success. All these three platforms work together to deliver and manage what might appear to be one focused experience for your visitors. Sometimes within this set-up information and data between each solution are exchanged through out-of-the-box connectors or through the use of APIs, where developers have helped connect your solutions together.

Realising that many customers prefer to use a selection of best-of-breed solutions that work together, and that there are certain advantages including advanced flexibility and agility, many vendors are actively increasing their support for composable architecture. This also means they are helping to support headless publishing where the CMS that stores your content and the technology that is used to deliver the actual front-end experience are separate or “decoupled”.

How is the market evolving?

The DXP and CMS market never keeps still and continues to advance to offer customers choice and value. There are a few major trends:

  • "No code low code” solutions continue to get more sophisticated, enabling marketers and business users to achieve more through configuration without the aid of developer and IT colleagues.
  • DXP vendors who have previously had highly integrated platforms are now “unbundling” them into a series of independent solutions offered on a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) basis, so someone can use a particular service as a standalone app such as personalization or ecommerce, but still enabling everything to be deployed as an integrated whole.
  • With more DXP services available independently, the continuing growth of connectors that can be easily deployed, and the development of robust APIs, there continues to be more support for headless publishing and composable architecture, with many vendors continuing to stress their credentials in this area.
  • With the growth of generative AI since the launch of ChatGPT, we’re going to see more and more AI features within DXPs as well as the emergence of brand-new AI-powered solutions.

DXP vs CMS: need help finding the right solution?

It’s not always straightforward finding the right solution for your website or digital project. Do you need a DXP or a CMS or something in between? The answer is not always clear cut and there’s not necessarily a right or wrong answer.

We regularly help our clients decide on the right platform. If you’d like to discuss finding your perfect DXP or CMS, then get in touch!

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