What’s Your DXP Path: Composable or Monolith?

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PHOTO:
Gabriel Cassan

In January of 2021, Gartner cited the need for organizations to adopt a “composable Digital Experience Platform (DXP)” in order to deliver composable user experiences, front end as a service (FEaaS) and composable content. 

Buyers will be able to replace “heavyweight monolithic applications,” and vendors will have to increase the modularity of their offerings and the corresponding pricing based on consumption-based models, Gartner researchers reported in the Digital Experience Platforms Magic Quadrant for 2021.

Have we recognized that vision for the $10.1 billion DXP market landscape a year later? Not quite. The “monoliths” are still very much a part of the DXP market landscape, according to Gartner’s new DXP Magic Quadrant published in February.

“Currently, the proportion of organizations opting to assemble a DXP from multiple composable components is roughly equal to that choosing to purchase a monolithic solution from a single vendor,” Gartner analysts Irina Guseva, Mike Lowndes, Jim Murphy and Gene Phifer found in their new report.

“However, there are indications that the market is moving more toward composable DXPs, so this ratio will soon start to change.” Most DXPs remain monolithic software (not SaaS) solutions at their core, they also found.

What Is a Digital Experience Platform?

Before we get more into monolithic, composable and other DXP trends, time for a level-set:

What is a DXP? 

  • Gartner’s definition: A digital experience platform (DXP) is a well-integrated and cohesive set of technologies designed to enable the composition, management, delivery and optimization of contextualized digital experiences across multi-experience customer journeys.
  • CMSWire’s definition: DXP is defined as an integrated set of core technologies whose goal is to support the creation, management, delivery and optimization of customized digital customer experiences (DCXs). At the heart of every cohesive DXP is a web content management (WCM) system or content management system (CMS). In fact, many of today’s DXPs historically derive from portals and WCM systems.
  • Forrester’s definition: A three-layer architecture comprising experience management, platform services and infrastructure services.

Related Article: Why Cloud & Governance Matter When Scaling Digital Experience Platforms

What Is a Composable DXP?

A composable DXP is assembled from a series of best-of-breed solutions that work together via APIs. These platforms leverage microservices architecture, according to Brightspot.

“A composable DXP entails more than just product modularity and API-based, best-of-breed product integrations,” Guseva told CMSWire last year. “The composability should come at the packaged business capabilities level and ‘valuex’ consumption-based pricing models, as some of the examples of composability.”

In composable DXP, headless architectures power DXPs in that they support multi-experience delivery, composable strategies in which buyers assemble their own DXP, under a cloud-native architecture, according to Gartner.

Why Monoliths Still Lead the Way

Composable may be the talk of DXPs, but it’s not leading the way on the ground. Most DXPs remain monolithic software (owned by a single platform) and not Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) at their core, according to Gartner.

Why are the monoliths still winning? Moving from monolithic to composable is a journey, according to Guseva, senior director, analyst, WCM & DXP for Gartner. It starts with composable business and composable thinking before the industry can move on to composable DXP.

“We are still in early phases of this journey with incremental precursors like SaaS, headless architectures, composable user experiences, composable value-based pricing and packaging,’” Guseva told CMSWire. “There’s still a lot of confusion about what true composability means.

“For example, the vendors may say they’re composable simply because they can sell separate product modules. That’s not composability. The more pressure there is from the buyer side to decompose the monoliths, and the sooner the technology providers can respond to that pressure, the sooner we will progress on this journey.”

Related Article: What You Need to Know About Digital Experience Platforms

Is Monolith Even a Bad Thing?

Why even move away from monolithic? After all, it is not necessarily a bad systems setup, according to Johan Liljeros, general manager and senior commerce advisor, North America, at Avensia, a digital content and commerce consultancy. Many organizations find this type of platform works perfectly. “They’ll get what they need in one package, the business processes fit well enough and it matches that company roadmap ahead,” he added.

The companies that usually choose a headless and composable strategy often seek much more flexibility, Liljeros said. Their roadmap could contain expansion into new markets or offerings that will require the platform to be adapted without decreasing the lifespan.

“It is common that the initial investment is higher, but the cost of adaptations usually is lower, and the ability for experimentation increases,” Liljeros said. “Another driver could also come from an IT perspective. The IT strategy might be to go toward a microservices architecture. If this is the case, it opens interesting doors for a composable headless setup.”

Organizations that want a simplistic architecture, hope to avoid complexities and don’t have a large IT team should look for monolithic solutions for DXPs, according to Parag Arjunwadkar, digital strategic solution lead and customer data hub architect for Capgemini Americas, a consulting and technology company.

“Architecture simplification and product platform vendors are building all the digital capabilities within their product ecosystem,” Arjunwadka said, “and if a large part of the ecosystem already exists and skills to implement the same are readily available, then one must choose to implement the monolithic DXPs instead of a composable architecture.”

Related Article: Are You Ready to Ride the Composable Digital Experience Train?

Have DXPs Improved Managing Digital Onslaught?

Monoliths and composable platforms aside, all DXPs faced major challenges in early 2020 when the world raced into digital and infrastructure was pushed to maximum capacity.

In 2021, Gartner reported most DXP vendors as not ready for the COVID-19-related digital onslaught. DX vendors “found themselves struggling with the usability, scalability and uptime of their DXP systems, given the spikes in traffic and growing demand for the digital channel.” 

How have these vendors done since as many brands have shifted to strategies primarily rooted in mobile apps, online-initiated pickup and deliveries and digital experiences?

“I think by now, it, more or less, leveled out,” Guseva said. “More than two years into the pandemic, both the demand side and the supply side have started finding ways to overcome their digital challenges. The buyers are now much more educated, and the vendors have been accelerating their transition into more scalable solutions and transitioning to SaaS.”

Complexity Remains a Challenge for DXPs

That doesn’t mean challenges don’t exist otherwise. The pace of the market evolution has picked up, seen in both how fast the vendors are evolving their capabilities and product portfolios, as well as how the buyer side is accelerating their digital experience management initiatives and investments, according to Guseva.

However, complexity remains the number one challenge, she added. It’s a multifaceted complexity that includes:

  • How to select the right vendor
  • How to match the vendor’s product to organizational strategic objectives and requirements
  • Implementation, which requires reliance on a systems integrator (Organizations spend three to five times more on professional services to implement the DXP than they do to buy the products themselves, Digital Clarity Group officials wrote in their 2018 DXP report. And Gartner reported that through 2021, 85% of effort and cost in a DXP program would be spent on integrations with internal and external systems, including the DXP’s own built-in capabilities.)
  • Usage, which requires a solid strategy and a rather steep learning curve for end-users/non-technical marketers

Organizations have evolved, building their solutions as technology capabilities become available, according to Arjunwadkar. Consequently, most companies today have a heterogeneous mix of platforms with traditional capabilities, such as CMS and personalization platforms. 

“But replacing all of these with a single monolithic DXP becomes challenging as a lot of custom code has to be created or rewritten from legacy plumbing to achieve the desired transformation,” Arjunwadkar said.

“Such projects can easily cost millions of dollars, and as a result, it is difficult for companies to justify this expense as they typically lack business cases that can provide a cost/benefit analysis.”

Related Article: Investigating the Cost, Integration and Other Realities of Digital Experience Platforms

Can Low Code Save the DXP Day?

What’s the road ahead for DXPs look like? Gartner cites the rise of low-code tools as playing a role in DXP selections because buyers want innovation and quicker time to value.

Ideally, most organizations would prefer a DXP implementation to be largely no-code and for the business to be in control of the experience, but most platforms do not provide this, according to Arjunwadkar.

“Additionally,” he said, “organization-specific customizations often limit no-code functionality. The DXP vendors who can merge customizations and configuration changes will lead the race for implementation.”

Where Customer Data Platforms Enter Mix

Customer Data Platforms — a $1.16 billion industry — continue to grow and make their way into the marketing technology suite alongside DXPs. Gartner cited CDP capabilities in five vendors in its 2022 Magic Quadrant for DXPs.

“Many platforms are either creating stronger integrations to third-party CDP platforms or adding it to their offering all together,” Liljeros said. “The need for collecting and analyzing data is growing. What specifically is growing and is challenging is to include all touchpoints in all channels and combine the data to get a full view of the entire customer journey — regardless of channel.”

However, a major concern most organizations are facing while implementing CDPs is the lack of adequate data that could identify unique profiles. 

“Heterogeneous systems and channels are making the task complex as a customer could exist across multiple platforms and therefore it has become more of a data problem than a CDP implementation issue,” Arjunwadkar said. “Dynamic segmentation and real-time activations are also becoming a big challenge for most of the organizations.”

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