Key takeaways from the latest Forrester Wave for WCM, Q3 2023

Trends shaping the CMS market, the importance of composability, and the future role of AI

I thought I would share my key takeaways and additional vendor insights regarding the latest Forrester Wave for Web Content Management Systems released yesterday. When diving into this report it is essential to understand that vendors in this report serve two distinct approaches to delivering digital experience solutions.  On the one hand, Digital Experience Platform (DXP) suites provide an all-in-one approach to managing and delivering digital experiences while also offering some level of integration into third-party competing DX applications.  On the other hand, pure headless vendors that employ a MACH architecture (Microservice architecture, API-first, Cloud, Headless) are best suited to building Composable DX solutions, adopting a best-of-breed approach that employs DX applications from various vendors.  Both these approaches come with distinct advantages and disadvantages and may be suitable for different organizational needs.  The choice between them may hinge on specific project requirements and the long-term vision of the organization’s digital experience strategy.

With the growing demand for composable Digital Experience (DX), one area I believe Forrester does not sufficiently address is the vendor’s technology partnerships and integrations into third-party solutions.  This is a domain where pure headless vendors, such as Contentful and Contentstack, demonstrate their strength.

Another aspect that warrants a more detailed examination in the Forrester Wave report concerns the innovations pertaining to AI capabilities that are redefining various tasks within digital experience management.  These include content creation, personalization, insights analysis, and the utilization of low-code/no-code solutions.  While most vendors have begun incorporating some level of ChatGPT integration, looking beyond this initial implementation is essential.  AI is poised to play an increasingly influential role in the industry, leading us toward a new era of Digital Experience solutions known as Generative DX.  The transformative impact of AI, especially in areas like customer engagement, can be further explored in the article, How AI is redefining customer engagement | CMS Connected (cms-connected.com)

Now, let’s dive into the key takeaways of this report.

The Leaders

While customers are increasingly pivoting towards composable DX solutions, it is the DXP suite vendors that make up the leaders in the Forrester Wave.  The leaders include Adobe, Acquia, and Optimizely.  All three of these solutions provide extensive suites that encompass CMS, DAM, CDP, marketing automation, and e-commerce.  They all offer robust personalization features and A/B testing capabilities.  Furthermore, all three have well-established implementation partner ecosystems, reinforcing their position as leaders in the field.  However, while all three offer headless capabilities, they fall short when it comes to fully supporting composable DX solutions, a nuanced aspect that may influence considerations in selecting the right platform.

 Adobe

Suited best for large enterprise customers, Adobe maintains its position as the leading DXP Suite with the most comprehensive solution.  Its strong content creation capabilities set Adobe apart, which integrate seamlessly into their Creative Cloud and include unique Generative AI features.  Adobe’s personalization capabilities also stand out, a feature often absent in other solutions.  In my opinion, Adobe, while lacking when it comes to supporting Composable DX, is leading in AI innovations and is currently in the best position to lead the next generation of digital experience, focusing on Generative DX capabilities

Acquia

Acquia distinguishes itself with its low-code/no-code experience delivery capabilities, backed by a robust community of open-source contributors.  Offering a comprehensive DXP suite, Acquia’s strengths extend to an array of low-code/no-code solutions, a vast selection of open-source integrations, a strong partner channel, and a vibrant developer community.  It is also notably well-suited to government organizations needing more sophisticated, enterprise-level capabilities.  Acquia’s FedRAMP certification attests to its commitment to security and compliance, reinforcing its position as a versatile and trusted choice in the digital experience landscape.  Regarding generative AI, Acquia released AI assistant this year, which is essentially an OpenAI plug-in that supports content development and editing, similar to what we see a number of CMS vendors offering.

Optimizely

Optimizely has demonstrated smart acquisitions when building out its DXP suite and continues to gain market share amongst the DXP suite vendors.  Optimizely stands out for its strengths, with content orchestration well suited to organizations focused on digital marketing and experience delivery.  When it comes to AI innovation, Optimizely has launched an AI Content Generator.  The Optimizer feature in the Editor also scans text for readability and offers SEO recommendations.  While providing a headless capability, Optimizely is a DXP Suite and not well aligned to composable DX solutions.

The strong performers

When it comes to pure headless CMS solutions, Contentful and Contentstack have been and remain the leading offerings.

Contentful

Contentful is the most established of the pure headless vendors and boasts a strong partner ecosystem.  The platform excels in back-end extensibility due to its numerous APIs and underlying architecture that power experiences.  However, it lags in content modeling and content findability, with a reliance on users tagging content rather than enabling a more prevalent approach of filtering and viewing across digital properties.  Contentful also offers integrations and SDKs, making connecting the platform to other systems and applications easy.  These strong integration capabilities further solidify Contentful’s position in the market.

Contentstack

Contentstack has been a rising star within the composable DX vendors, quickly gaining market share in an increasingly competitive field.  As a founding member of the MACH Alliance, Contentstack’s growth and success within the composable DX vendor space can be attributed to its well-structured architecture, thoughtful strategic partnerships, keen emphasis on enterprise support, and unwavering commitment to innovation.  This architecture is particularly suited to serving enterprise clients, showcasing a dedication to scalability, flexibility, and robust performance.  Furthermore, Contentstack’s strong focus on support for enterprises ensures that they provide tailored solutions that align with large organizations’ specific needs and requirements.  Collectively, these attributes position Contentstack as a formidable player in the dynamic and ever-evolving landscape of digital experience technologies.

Sitecore

Sitecore is in the midst of a transition from its legacy DXP suite to a Composable DX Suite, built through the acquisition of four key software solutions: Digital Assets Management (DAM), Marketing Automation, a headless e-commerce solution, and a Customer Data Platform (CDP).

Sitecore’s notable strengths are content orchestration, a robust partner ecosystem, a thriving developer community, AI-supported personalization, and solid DAM capabilities.  This year, Sitecore unveiled full-scale integration of OpenAI’s ChatGPT across its suite of composable software solutions, enabling enhanced content generation and translation.  However, as Forrester has pointed out, Sitecore’s XM cloud still lacks feature parity with its legacy DXP.

Regarding the claim of being “composable,” Sitecore has room to evolve.  True composability is about enabling freedom of choice when choosing the components to build a DX solution.  To genuinely embody this principle, Sitecore must establish technology partnerships with leading composable DX technology vendors and provide more 3rd party integrations that will support best-of-breed DX applications from other vendors.  The journey towards full composability presents both opportunities and challenges that will shape Sitecore’s future in the digital experience landscape.

WordPress VIP

The surprise for me was to see WordPress so highly positioned.  WordPress is highly effective for media-oriented sites that focus on articles and is also well-suited to information-oriented government websites.  Its ease of use in content authoring and publishing, coupled with strong support for low-code and no-code plug-ins, and bolstered by FedRAMP certification, makes it a robust choice for public sector deployment.

However, there are important caveats to consider.  Security remains a concern with WordPress, as the heavy reliance on third-party plug-ins can open doors to vulnerabilities.  Furthermore, WordPress lacks the flexibility and enterprise-level capabilities found in most of the other WCM (Web Content Management) solutions evaluated in this report.

While offering headless capabilities, this is not WordPress’s strength; hence, it is not an ideal choice for organizations deploying composable DX solutions.

The Contenders

Opentext, Bloomreach, and Crownpeak complete the list of contenders in this report.  Each of these CMS solutions is niche-focused, with distinct areas that set them apart, yet they are not keeping pace with the innovations observed in other platforms.  Specifically, Bloomreach emphasizes commerce experiences, Opentext primarily serves its legacy large enterprise customers, and Crownpeak is well-suited to cater to highly regulated industry sectors.

Final thoughts

Forrester provides a good overall assessment of the leading CMS vendors; there are however a few good CMS solutions not included in the report particularly when you look at the pure headless vendors. Uniform has an article that provides a great assessment of the leading headless vendors.  Looking ahead, the vendors that can differentiate around low-code/ no-code solution accelerators, build a solid composable technology partner ecosystem, and develop innovations that support Generative DX will be the leaders in the years to come.

Access the full report from Forrester

You can access the full report here: Forrester Wave™: Content Management Systems, Q2 2023 report

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