The scalability paradox in legacy digital experience platforms

Legacy digital experience platforms may come with a feature for everything, but are they really that useful? Sometimes those bells and whistles just hold you back—especially in the long term. Adopting a modern web stack answers six key challenges that arise as you deliver more complex experiences over every channel.

When I joined Contentful last year, one of the things I did was take an in-depth look at how our customers were using the platform and, in particular, what features provided the most value to them. With its API-first methodology, numerous SDKs and example code samples, it was unsurprising to me that Contentful was a favorite of developers — but what really stood out was the use of Contentful for far larger enterprise-wide platform efforts.

This also seemed somewhat counterintuitive to some of the prevailing wisdom about buying patterns in web content management. On the one hand, you see trends such as Gartner retiring the WCM wave and only focusing on Digital Experience Platforms (DXPs) as a larger market — seeming to indicate that their customer base of larger enterprises should be prioritizing these suite vendors over targeted solutions. 

On the other hand, you see analysts recognizing that most organizations seek far more from their DXP platform choices. Gartner noted that only 27% of integrated suite buyers would say their martech meets current business needs (compared to almost double this metric for best-of-class buyers). In their 2020 Magic Quadrant for Digital Experience Platforms, they noted “Organizations that are highly mature in their CX strategies are looking for DXPs that can serve as ‘connective tissue’ throughout their CX technology stack.”

Forrester also sees the evolution of Web Content Management into what they call Agile Content Management Systems, which focus on: “content hub, collaboration and planning, content-as-a-service/headless, development tools, and channel support” as key pillars to delivering digital experiences.

As I started to look at some of the clients using Contentful as an enterprise-wide platform to displace existing DXP solutions, some interesting paradoxes emerged. These paradoxes were associated with how the market and organizations addressed customer-experience needs.

When choosing platforms that scale quickly and sustainably, I’ve identified six key factors to consider:

  • Infrastructure

  • Software architecture

  • Content modeling

  • Channels and microsites

  • Usability 

  • Configuration and customization

DXPs are expensive because they are feature-rich but, as we see from the research, it can be argued as to whether most organizations actually use those features. Ironically, because they are so expensive, in order to justify that investment, organizations actually push even harder the notion they need to be used for all efforts. As a result, there is a situation where not only are customers dealing with software that is less capable compared to industry-leading tools, it is also forced into more inappropriate scenarios. 

It’s far more effective to have a platform that scales with your needs. Most of our largest enterprise customers at Contentful started small — in both team and ambitions. As they gained success and efficiency, they looked at larger digital experience tasks to solve, eventually scaling the platform to work across teams, channels and use cases. 

Want to take deeper dive into the paradoxes of scale? Check out my white paper, Sustaining the drive to digital: Six ways legacy platforms can slow you down as you scale.

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