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defining digital | 6 Minute Read

What is a Digital Experience Platform?

Written By
Bryan Cheung
Person Typing On Laptop Keyboard
A Digital Experience Platform (DXP) is an emerging category of enterprise software seeking to meet the needs of companies undergoing digital transformation. As an organisation streamlines operations using technology and starts to harness data more effectively, the ultimate goal of a DXP is to provide better customer and employee digital experiences.

DXPs can be a single product, but they are often a suite of products that work together to deliver optimised experiences. From a platform perspective, DXPs provide an architecture for companies to digitise business operations, deliver connected customer experiences, and gather actionable customer insight.

People working in this field often ask what's the difference between a DXP vs CMS (Content Management System)? While systems vary, a CMS is usually defined as a software platform that allows users within an organisation to easily build pages, as well as upload and edit written content and images into company websites witout specialised technical knowledge or coding skills.

This article explores the heritage and benefits of DXP systems and describes the fundamental differences between a DXP and a CMS.

DXPs Try to Solve a Big Problem: Customer Obsession

The drive to deliver positive digital experiences has never been greater, especially when you consider the competitive digital business landscape and the imperative to capture customer loyalty. DXPs can help facilitate this goal. Looking at the broader picture, a confluence of factors has led many companies to start radically reengineering their business practices to be extremely customer-oriented:
  • Digital channels (web, mobile, and social media) have become the dominant ways customers interact with companies.
  • Those customers expect great experiences like Google, Apple, and Facebook.
  • Social media in particular provides unstructured ways for customers to engage with and influence public sentiment for companies.
  • Mobile devices provide location and immediacy, giving companies more ways to keep in touch with customers.
  • Data insight is making it possible to target an audience segment of one person with a highly personalised experience.
  • Digital technology makes it possible for upstarts to disrupt traditional industries: WealthFront for wealth management, LendingClub for financial products, and the oft-cited Uber and Airbnb in transportation and lodging—and all deliver a much better customer experience.
As you can see, digital technologies contribute both to the risk (e.g. upstarts) and the opportunity (digital transformation) companies are facing.

Understand the Market: DXPs Come From Heritage Categories

In recent years, there has been something of an evolution towards today's notion of a digital experience patform. To help navigate the digital age and the modern DXP landscape, it's important to understand that most products being positioned as DXPs have their roots in one of three categories. These are: Content Management Systems, Portal Servers, and Commerce Servers. These roots give each set of offerings a particular orientation:
  • CMS-heritage DXPs focus on the needs of marketing departments and creative agencies. Customer data they collect tend to be anonymous and generalised into audience segments. Most business problems solved by these products are related to the acquisition of customers: generating awareness and interest, targeting offers, and accelerating purchases. They do particularly well in B2C (retail, fashion) scenarios where the sales cycle is short and transactional, and audiences are large.

    The leading CMS-heritage DXPs have strong offerings for web-based analytics, user segmentation, advertising campaigns, and email campaigns. These are often provided by products in the platform suite, but because they are separate (and likely acquired from other vendors) they may be less or more well integrated with each other.

    Some CMS-heritage DXPs have tried to add portal-like features like logged-in experiences, and some include commerce capabilities; the latter are often the result of an acquisition or partnership.
     
  • Portal-heritage DXPs, given their background in providing customer portals, are particularly suited for nurturing long-term customer relationships after the sale. Customer data is specific to each individual and is handled securely. These DXPs help companies understand the factors that lead to customer loyalty, retention, and renewal. They may help calculate well-known metrics like Net Promoter Score. They can often help you provide customer service, including both self-service and representative-assisted issue resolution.

    Portal-heritage DXPs also support digital workplace scenarios (traditionally intranets, though digital workplace solutions must be much more dynamic and engaging) and scenarios for engaging supporting audiences such as partners, suppliers, and franchisees. A full digital transformation strategy can potentially encompass all of these groups, which can all play important roles in supporting strong customer experiences. 

    Good portal-heritage DXPs should also have a strong story around integration, which is essential to deep digital transformation of business operations, according to Forrester. Management of reusable services and modules is helpful when strategy is evolving quickly.

    Some portal-heritage DXPs include a broad feature set, including content management, targeting, mobile support, workflow, and forms; others concentrate mainly on the presentation layer.
     
  • Commerce-heritage DXPs are used in online shopping or transactional scenarios by companies in retail, B2B, and related industries. In addition to product-related content delivery to ecommerce-style web interfaces, these products usually also provide capabilities around inventory management, shopping cart, payment integration, check-out, and fulfillment. Though these features aren’t strictly related to digital experience management, it’s clear that a great digital commerce experience requires seamless integration to these functions, which come naturally to commerce-heritage DXPs.

    Naturally, commerce-heritage DXPs are also adding adjacent capabilities, though in a commerce-centric way. For example, many commerce products have needed to add content management capability to support the promotion of products in the catalogue.
  CMS-heritage Portal-heritage Commerce-heritage

Sample Vendors

Adobe Experience Manager (formerly Day CQ5; part of Adobe Marketing Cloud)

Sitecore Experience Platform (formerly Sitecore CMS)

 

Backbase Customer Experience Platform

Liferay Digital Experience Platform (includes the former Liferay Portal product and additional supporting products)

Hybris (acquired by SAP)

Broadleaf Commerce

Demandware

Business type

B2C, especially transactional purchases

B2B, or B2C with complex sales cycles and repeat business

B2C, especially retail
Industries

Industries

Retail, fashion, advertising, media and broadcasting, entertainment, journalism

Insurance, government, retail banking, manufacturing

Retail, fashion, food, music/entertainment, electronics, travel, hospitality, telecommunications

Customer Relationship Stage

Pre-purchase

Lead nurturing and qualification, on-boarding, customer service

Pre-purchase, order fulfillment, returns

Strengths

Some of the leaders in this segment have mature email marketing, analytics, and ad spending tracking.

Deep systems integration for improved customer experience comes naturally to portal-heritage DXPs, which also store data for individuals, not just segment data.

Retail transactions in e-commerce scenarios are a natural fit for commerce-heritage DXPs.

Weaknesses

CMS-heritage DXPs are less likely to have individual customer data and profiles, and are less suited for customer service scenarios.

Some older portal-heritage DXPs may have the negative aspects of traditional portals, such as poor user experience and poor support for mobile.

Some vendors in the segment have difficult-to-use content management systems with poor targeting capabilities. These are also not designed for deeper integration per se. These vendors also tend to be most relevant (limited) to retail scenarios, with functionality lacking in supporting more of the customer life cycle.

Technology Evolves: How are DXPs different?

In our digital age of personalised experiences, it may seem that DXPs are more or less simply re-branded versions of either CMS, portal, or commerce products. However, today's DXP vendors do take a different approach to the traditional features of those products. This is to meet new customer expectations and take advantage of new technologies available for best practice digital platforms.

DXP vs CMS - What's Best For Your Business?

As one variety of DXP has evolved from a CMS heritage, it’s worth having a good understanding of the strengths of content management systems and how they have changed in order to decide what’s best for your business. 

As indicated, a CMS is often best suited for marketing and content purposes and, today, they have evolved to offer deeper customer analytics and insights. Traditionally, a CMS was built to manage the creation and modification of digital content, for example, platforms such as Wordpress. That heritage holds, and today a CMS is typically used for enterprise content management (ECM) and web content management (WCM). 

This approach to content management can support multiple users in a collaborative environment and also help build web-based experiences. However, as new digital channels have emerged, such as mobile apps and smart devices, content has needed to be accessible and consistent across every touchpoint. In this area in particular, CMSs struggle to deliver a flexible and responsive solution.

A DXP, on the other hand, is a platform which allows you to transition from legacy systems over to a new platform and more comprehensively redesign operational business processes to deliver more satisfying digital experiences for customers, partners, and employees. 

So, ultimately, what sets a DXP apart from a CMS - or even a customer portal for that matter - is its ability to integrate with multiple existing, legacy, and adjacent technologies to deliver a unified, continuous, and optimised experience. DXP vendors have taken CMS and portal functionalities, alongside features to meet modern user needs, to design an agile platform that is able to support businesses’ needs to create unified digital experiences.
 

Digital Transformation or Digital “Experience”?

When selecting a DXP, companies should decide whether they are ready for deep transformation of their business operations, or are focused primarily on the marketing and brand awareness aspects, as these priorities tend to reflect the different strengths among the DXP vendors.
Having an attractive website or mobile app is a positive, but more substantial gains in customer experience require end-to-end business processes to be re-optimised with the customer in mind.
In a Forrester presentation titled, “More Than Meets the Eye: Partnering Strategies for Real Digital Transformation”, analyst Liz Herbert notes that “Real digital transformation spans both the experience layer and the operations core.” Having an attractive website or mobile app is a positive, but more substantial gains in customer experience require end-to-end business processes to be re-optimised with the customer in mind. This responsiveness to customer needs can be achieved in a number of ways, from basic personalisation of experience, to more advanced configurable workflows, to full modularisation of business services that can be quickly re-assembled in new ways.

However, not all companies are prepared for that level of change, and may in the meantime want to start segmenting audiences in order to target personalised offers. Some vendors, particularly those that have had content management systems, can do this well.

Ideally, your platform will have both operational and marketing capabilities, so that even if you start with digital marketing, you won’t have to go through a second vendor selection process when you are ready for digital operational transformation.

It's also worth remembering there isn’t just one way to achieve these goals. Using any category heritage of DXP in combination with an overall architecture for integration and modular services can get you there.

Interested in a Liferay DXP demo? Click here if you're ready to take a tour of Liferay's DXP. You can also view all features of the Liferay Digital Experience Platform at a glance.

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