There may be no tool more important to the daily life of web users, but more overlooked, than the WCM system. Ask the average web surfer what powers the content he or she consumes, and he or she would likely just look at you dumbfounded. But businesses and publishers know how important WCM systems are to getting their messages out to the masses. While WCM systems may be the foundation much of the web is built on, the industry is changing shape all the time.


The WCM Year in Review

In 2017, outside trends helped shape the WCM landscape, while a customer desire for simplicity has been driving the way vendors think about their products. Artificial intelligence (AI) was on the tip of everyone’s tongue in 2017, and that was no different in the WCM realm. Tony Byrne, founder of Real Story Group, says, “Experimentation with AI-ish services to do content optimization at the edge” was big last year. Considering how AI has infiltrated the marketplace, it’s no surprise that WCM vendors have been experimenting with its application in multi-variate testing and personalization.

Irina Guseva, senior director of product marketing at BloomReach, pointed to more subtle trends impacting the way WCM developed during the past year. “CTOs and CIOs are driving change alongside the CMOs,” she says.  “Technology buyers in general have become more sophisticated, IT in particular is being seen more often in the driver seat for technology selections in WCM and even in the larger DX [digital experience] space.”

What’s driving this renewed interest in software? “Marketing and business want to innovate faster, want to reach their customers across all existing and emerging touchpoints, and they need IT to be on the same team with them,” says Guseva. “They are looking for a WCM technology built for developers, but to propel marketing innovation. Dissonance between these two groups is not possible—they’re working hand-in-hand towards a common goal.”

So what are these teams looking for, and ultimately purchasing, when it’s time for a new WCM system? A return to the basics, it seems. Byrne says, “Replacement of more complex WCM platforms with simpler alternatives” was the norm in 2017.

Marianne Kay, web CMS officer at the University of Leeds, concurs that the industry is trending toward simplicity: “For some years, WCM software vendors focused their sales and product development efforts on the features that directly impacted the end-user experience, leaving content editors and CMS developers to muddle through clunky interfaces and inflexible, hard-to-extend database structures. 2017 saw a clear shift from this previous focus on personalization, responsive layouts, and slick design themes to developer-friendly and content-editor-friendly systems that focus on fast and seamless content delivery.”

Guseva has a slightly different take on what WCM customers need these days. She sees a “need for flexibility, versatility in WCM deployments.” And that seems to have culminated in a drive toward headless CMS solutions.”

“We can safely call 2017 the year of the headless CMS,” says Guseva. “The year quickly turned from headless buzzword into the headless reality. As IT began driving technology projects to enable marketing and business innovation, they wanted to be able to accomplish two things. One, get to value a lot quicker. Two, have the flexibility and choice in technologies they use to get there. This is where the idea of experience-as-a-service (XaaS) trumped the old monolithic approaches to WCM and digital experiences.”

Byrne isn’t quite ready to accept headless CMSs as the solution to all of our content dilemmas. “Headless topologies are essential to enterprises that need to engage through applications and services rather than traditional websites, but it doesn’t always resolve the problem of content contributors managing experiences across diverse endpoints. WCM vendors have a lot of work to do here.”


A Look Ahead at WCM

We won’t see headless CMSs or any of these trends simply disappear as we turn the page on the calendar to a new year, but they will be changed by the expectations of 2018. Here, our experts turn back to familiar territory. “The urgency for brands to get ahead in the digital game will drive them to explore more rapid ways to innovate,” says Guseva. “Marketing innovators are already thinking in terms of amplifying the power of humans and machines via machine learning and AI. Intelligence is an absolute imperative in the digital game. Data-driven personalization that leads to 1:1 individualization of digital experiences is the modern reality.”

Personalized digital experience isn’t new in 2018, but it’s still a challenge for many companies. Add individualization to the lineup of expectations, and the task could seem even more daunting. Guseva says, “The new generation of individualization also puts pressure on delivering the right experience to the ever-growing number of channels and touchpoints: from physical spaces to virtual assistants and smart things. You cannot do that well without the human plus machine connective tissue. You cannot do that well without an open, versatile, and intelligent WCM system, which remains a mission-critical technology today, next year, and beyond.”

Technology is as big a piece of the content puzzle as strategy. Kay thinks that the technology driving these experiences will be less proprietary. She says, “Open source will become a default option. Whichever web CMS platform you choose, implementation and running costs dwarf license fees. … The product codebase is no longer the top secret asset—it’s what companies do with it that counts. Keeping the codebase open widens the developer’s community and helps to spread the word about the quality of the product. Being open makes good business sense.”

In fact, opening up your code to developers in 2018 can help you keep up with the eternal challenge of all content creators: the proliferating number of devices. Kay says, “Voice content is an emerging type of content that CMS vendors need to pay attention to, going forward. The demand for voice content management will continue to increase as adoption of echo devices like Alexa, and the popularity of voice search increase. It’s simply a matter of time.”