CMS Architecture Options: With Kentico Regional Head Wayne Jasek

Revium sat down with Kentico Regional Head, Wayne Jasek, to discuss Content-as-a-Service, and why more and more organisations are turning to headless CMS (Content Management Systems) technologies like Kentico Kontent over traditional CMS platforms – Kentico’s Xperience included.

An interview with Kentico’s Wayne Jasek by Revium

The team at Kentico, a regular in Gartner’s magic quadrant for CMS platforms, has grand ambitions for Kontent. And if their previous developments are a sign of the future, Mr Jasek may just well be right when he says they will meet their ambition of being “the best headless solution in the market”.

Before we start talking Headless CMS technology, it’s important to understand the difference between a Traditional CMS and a Headless CMS. In short, traditional CMS platforms have been on the market for over 20 years – beginning with bespoke built applications, then soon after followed by the release of ‘Out of the Box’ (OOTB) solutions. In the past 5-10 years the technology has evolved rapidly, now extending beyond simple content management. This evolution we have witnessed has moved the technology far beyond its core, original purpose – that being to empower business users to manage, create and publish their own content without the need to engage developers. This base functionality has expanded dramatically through the integration of once separate applications; providing functionality which some vendors have achieved through acquisition and simply bolting-on to the existing platform, while others have taken the opportunity to redevelop the codebase itself and seamlessly bring new features to life harnessing existing UX and learned heuristics among existing users for ease-of-use into the future.  Along with these enhancements has come numerous attempts at changing how we describe the technology – the name we give it. After many marketing dollars have been expended playing word spaghetti within the industry, and generally seeing who can shout the loudest, it seems to have settled on Digital Experience Platform (or DXP) to describe any CMS with advanced functionality. 

“By and large this most recent evolution, the rise of the DXP”, according to Mr Jasek, “has been driven by fierce competition from the likes of Sitecore, Adobe Experience Manager, Episerver and others, Kentico included. It’s been a logical progression, you could argue. Many clients have found themselves in a position where they need to rationalise complex digital ecosytems and legacy platforms that aren’t sustainable yet maintain and enhance the benefits and features they offer their business. This has led to the consolidation of functionality from multiple products into the one DXP solution – offering savings from multiple licensing costs, lower implementation costs and time and minimised maintenance and support needs – not to mention of course the benefits of training users on one system, and not several”.

Mr Jasek went on to explain that a DXP is commonly accepted to be any system with the functionality to self-manage and facilitate a much broader and improved customer experience through the delivery of content across devices and browsers, when and where a potential customer wants it. The ability to do so has arisen from the baked-in sophistication to deliver utility and relevance to consumers that in turn has the power to nudge customers throughout each stage of the decision making journey. To achieve this, common features most DXPs offer include persona creation, personalisation, automation, multivariate testing, lead-scoring, automated eDM, analytics, community management and more – right OOTB. While licencing models still vary at an enterprise level, both free and licensed open source solutions have become serious contenders in the middle-market. However, when it boils down to it, propriety or open-source, most DXP vendors now offer by and large very similar applications, functionality and integration options – the difference lay predominately in the level of polish, stability, security (compliance with GDPR laws and similar) and developer support available.  

Mr Jasek said “Rather than emergence of brand-new trends, there’s currently a big demand for increasing efficiencies in several areas. First, more and more organisations invest into Customer Data (Platforms) and ways how to automate business processes. With increasing number of technologies out there it doesn’t come as a surprise that integrations are a hot topic for practically every customer. These areas will be addressed in Xperience 13. From customer data tracking (of course with GDPR and CCPA on mind), all the way to redesigned Marketing automation - now built for both novice and expert Marketers. New integration capabilities are currently in the works as well.”

While CMS Platforms have been focussed on adding OOTB features and transforming their products into DXP solutions to meet the ever more sophisticated needs of marketing and business intelligence professionals (while at the same time keeping the IT practitioners satisfied with improved native integrations and robust data and platform security measures), you wouldn’t be alone for missing the rise of the Headless solution. Behind all the marketing DXP hype and noise, quietly the Headless CMS has made itself known to the developer community and is now infiltrating SMEs and Multinationals alike. One example being of course Kentico Kontent. Which begs the question, why so quiet? And what’s the difference

Mr Jasek said, “We often get asked headless or DXP? Or both? The right fit can vary based on the use case for the business or even given project. That’s why Kentico is quite unique – rather than having to steer the wheel in a certain direction, we let the customer choose what approach or platform works best for them.”

The key difference is the platform is literally headless – no longer an architecture designed to tightly couple back-end functionality with a presentation layer (in most cases that being desktop, mobile and tablet User Interfaces). A headless CMS does not rely on this dance between front and back-end in the manner we typically think about when we consider how these technologies actually work. That is, typically, as an end-user I log into the back end of my shiny new DXP, I select a page (perhaps even a new template and page layout if I’m feeling confident), I might choose a new campaign banner to update, add an alt-tag, preview the front-end, then hit approve and send my update to the next content approver in the workflow - who will review and either reject or publish my changes. Then, voila - my changes are displayed in all their creative glory presented on the front-end of whatever device my implementation is designed accommodate. 

As opposed to a DXP, Headless CMS platforms are exactly that. They are headless, not bound to templates designed for desktop, mobile and tablet. Rather, you can think of Headless technology as a content repository that you use to store content, yet configured and connected to display via just about any front-end or user interface you can think of. Be it a watch, a fridge, a billboard, a pump at the service station, cash register, Alexa, point of sale. And of course, desktop, mobile and tablet. Content delivery is no longer determined by the CMS platform, it is open to any technology that can consume data via API.

“We’ve seen tremendous growth in adoption of Kentico Kontent for this reason,” Mr Jasek said. “Globally, an ever-increasing number of companies are interested in headless and API-first approach with all its benefits. It’s fair to say when we started our journey towards what is now Kentico Kontent back in 2015, there were many who doubted this move – in both the development community, and the business & IT communities. Today, it’s undeniable that our vision has been right, and we’re now recognised as one of the market leaders in the headless CMS segment.”

Mr Jasek continued, “And yes, some of our Xperience customers transition to (or add) our Kontent product as their digital strategy shifts from use of centralised solutions (DXPs) to microservices, for example.”

The beauty is in its execution. Let’s say you want to communicate a retail offer for $1 Cokes. Headless technology allows you to set the message variants in copy, video, photos, voice etc to suit each front-end, and publish across all simultaneously. What’s more, the creative you upload is automatically resized to suit the presentation layer, is SEO optimised and the relevant copy variant is called by the front-end it was crafted for. Meaning, you could easily find yourself re-fuelling your car, glance over at the bowser to see it display a can of ice cold coke with $1 only screaming at you in 50pt Bold Helvetica replete with starburst, right before Siri reminds you it’s time for lunch and just how much you love coke on a hot day…meanwhile your watch, leveraging personalisation smarts, notifies you it’s 28 degrees then splashes a coke logo and $1 if you use Apple pay. You replace your fuel cap, head to the store and now the billboard you pass on the way to the register, positioned right next to a fridge full of coke, presents you a group Instagram selfie of several pretty young things enjoying coke with a strapline reminding you ‘don’t forget to grab your $1 coke with Apple Pay. Naturally, you pick up a can (sugar-free of course), pay for your petrol, and drive home – the podcast brought to you by you guessed it, Coke. Once home, you place your half empty can in the fridge shut the door, and before you know it you’re greeted with a reminder from your fridge to re-stock your favourite beverage – what’s more, do it today, and you’ll only pay $1 per can. 

“In contrast to a DXP, Mr Jasek said, “Kontent on the other hand focuses on complete content lifecycle and enablement of a methodology called Content-as-a-Service. This allows businesses to work in a lot more agile way with modern technologies, solve their complex content needs with a centralised collaboration and enable seamless content reusability across various use cases be it for web, apps, voice or virtually any other project.”

One of the key benefits of Headless is that content is thus presented in accordance with the relevant channel. The CMS content editor need not worry about how an advertisement will look on mobile - the mobile website developers consume that content and present it in accordance with their technology stack, with no limitations. The same advertisement can be displayed on a billboard, driven by a Raspberry Pi, and again, in accordance with that technology stack and with no limitations. We hope you are starting to get the picture. As our world becomes more connected, and the manner in which we interact with the internet continues to offer up new interfaces and user experiences, it’s not hard to see how headless technology can quickly solve one ever-complicating problem…the need to build bespoke front-ends for every device and create multiple versions of the creative or message you’re trying to communicate. Adding cost, time to implement, and creating an inefficient self-content managed process. Defeating the purpose of a CMS in and of itself. Some might even go as far as argue that headless is an answer to the IoT (Internet of Things) revolution. Another way to think of headless CMS platforms and understand their use is to consider their value and utility to act as a DAM, or Digital Asset Management platform. Albeit, it’s not just a repository for assets, it’s a DAM that serves content too – with all the standard workflows and automation features you’ve likely come to value with a traditional platform.

So, when you go Headless, you open the door to simplifying the effort to develop and execute cross-device, cross-media and cross-interface - ensuring you deliver the most appropriate message, at the right point, via the right medium, at the right time, to the right person in order to nudge them through the decision making process and closer to conversion. All the while analysing their behaviour, responses and optimising the messaging they see next. Now you have a general understanding of the differences, let’s hear what Wayne Jasek has to say. Specifically about the future of Headless and Xperience, and Kentico’s experience and reflections on how the market has responded to Kentico Kontent since its release in 2018.

“We will continue to work on what’s always been our main driver – provide the best way to work with content. The ideal way to best execute a content strategy may look quite different based on each company’s position, maturity and needs. That’s why we believe that our strategy of providing two disparate solutions is perfectly aligned with that, Mr Jasek said.

“Xperience is your answer for customers who require a powerful integrated platform for content management, digital marketing and commerce. Our customers appreciate the high value for money, shorter time-to-market with their web projects and achieving fast return on investment due to our focus on immediate usability.”

“Kontent on the other hand focuses on complete content lifecycle and enablement of a methodology called Content-as-a-Service. This allows businesses to work in a lot more agile way with modern technologies, solve their complex content needs with a centralised collaboration and enable seamless content reusability across various use cases be it for web, apps, voice or virtually any other project.”

Finally, what can the business community expect to see as Kontent evolves over the next 1-2 years? The developer community has seen Kontent evolve into a powerhouse when it comes to pure content management, task-oriented collaboration tools and the likes. Is there a view for Xperience 13 (and beyond) to provide tools to empower content authors in the same way?

“Although there are many enhancements planned to the content authoring part of Kentico Xperience, and some of these will benefit from what we learned in Kentico Kontent, the focus is on providing our customers with a solution that goes beyond content management. As marketers often tell us, their goals are to deliver complete digital experiences and they need them done yesterday so our goal is to give them an actionable platform for digital marketing; NOT an overcomplicated monster. One point I’d like to mention is our almost fanatical focus on providing the best User experience possible so you can expect more news in that direction. After all, it’s in our brand name!”.