Digital experience platforms (DXP) are at a bit of a crossroads. The shift from monolithic to distributed architectures is continuing, thanks to the spread of distributed content management. But a corresponding shift in the ease of use of integrations has yet to emerge.
One of the most common complaints I hear from DXP developers and business users alike is the lack of rhyme or reason in how integrations are configured and extended over time. Part of this is attributable to the paradigm shift needed in how DXP vendors think about integrations. They need to view them not merely as extensions to a digital experience, but rather as the foundation.
Today, most digital experiences require integrations not only with the ultimate source of truth that binds together data and content from disparate sources — typically a content management system (CMS) or commerce platform — but also with an expanding array of service providers in areas as diverse as search, commerce checkout, form handling and personalization.
Why Modern DXP Integrations Are Challenging
Ask any chief marketing officer or editorial team to implement a search tool or a cart and checkout system, and the looks you’ll get will be quizzical at best. The monolithic tools previously in place largely permitted anyone to install, configure, implement and ultimately manage the integrations they needed to support rich digital experiences. This ended with the move to a distributed architecture, which severed the ties between presentation layers and their back-end systems.
The reliance on developers to set up and manage integrations has long been a thorn in the side of marketing teams who rightfully feel that they’re in a losing battle to exert control over how they approve, review and manage data across the digital experiences they ostensibly own. This friction isn’t just limited to key integrations like customer segmentation and form handling. It’s also clearly visible in the deployment of digital experiences themselves.
At present, digital experiences require a complex array of deployment services to handle both the underlying platform delivering content or data to the presentation layer and the front ends themselves that display this data, which can run the gamut from supercharged websites to native mobile applications to augmented and virtual reality interfaces. But it still isn’t easy for business users to set up the integrations that allow them to approve, preview and publish data on their own, unaided.
From my perspective, this impasse has led to widespread dissatisfaction with digital experience platforms today. These vendors claim in their breathless acronym-filled marketing to deliver integrations, while obscuring the fact that these capabilities are largely up to developers who understand the application programming interfaces (APIs) underlying them.
It’s one thing for a digital experience platform to have complex webhook capabilities that allow for arbitrary previews and workflows to occur when it comes to content and commerce management across a range of user experiences on discrete devices. But it’s another entirely to permit a business user or a marketer to leverage a user interface built atop those webhooks that for the first time makes it straightforward and understandable for them to manage the interactions between systems themselves.
Related Article: Why We Need a New Grand Compromise in Content Management Systems
Managing Integration Sets Leads to Ease of Use for DXP Customers
The chief reason much of the discussion about integrations and their ease of use falls flat is that we have long engaged in conversations about individual integrations and their brittleness. So, the argument goes, developer teams need to step in as only they have the expertise to both comprehend and advance the marketing agenda in ways that fulfill organizational promises to the end customer. But in my view, this is a reductive perspective.
Integrations can no longer stand alone. Organizations playing in the sandbox of multi-device digital experiences can no longer treat integrations as independent atoms of functionality with no sense of cohesion between them. Instead of thinking about integrations, the DXP market must begin to think about integration sets that handle the needs of business users and developers up and down the stack. In other words, DXP vendors must come to terms with the fact that integrations influence one another, whether they entail deployment events in response to actions conducted in a CMS or customer segments and search indexes synced with a commerce platform.
How we think about integrations in the digital experience world warrants attention. Vendor success rests on their credibility in offering solutions that work not just for developers, but also for marketing functions that want to exert fine-grained control over how digital experiences interact with the business data they ultimately are responsible for. When we understand, for instance, that deploying a digital experience for the web may require deployment of infrastructure and configuration of webhooks that interact with a variety of services, we can begin to orchestrate those integrations as a single set rather than as distinct, brittle tools. To set up a headless Jamstack site with webhooks that facilitate communication with deployment services and that allow staged previews of both new developer-built features and new user-generated data, the DXP must begin by understanding how GitHub, Netlify and its CMS or commerce platform fit together.
This may seem like an unhinged fantasy, but only by allowing business users to set up and manage these digital experiences themselves, with integration sets as the focus rather than individual integrations, can vendors begin to regain some of the lost capabilities many DXP customers have mourned for years now. First and foremost, this means permitting a marketing user or a content editor to set up a digital experience themselves with all the bells and whistles already connected — the webhooks preconfigured, the deployment workflows prefabricated, and the integration sets pre-populated.
Preston So is a product architect and strategist, digital experience futurist, innovation lead, developer advocate, three-time SXSW speaker, and author of Decoupled Drupal in Practice (Apress, 2018). He is senior director, product strategy at Oracle, where he oversees developer experience, developer relations, headless CMS strategy, and open-source engineering strategy for Oracle Content and Experience (OCE).