Riding the Forrester WCM Wave 2017

The Forrester WCM Wave shifts its focus to mirror the revolution in customer expectations and digital experiences with rich media management, A/B testing and semantic enrichment.

When it comes to the WCM marketplace, what a difference a few years can make. The 2015 Forrester WCM Wave emphasized that, "web content management is the backbone of digital experiences." The 2017 Wave added some muscle by stressing that, "semantic content, APIs, cloud, and marketing features are key differentiators" among WCM products. Once budding trends are now blossoming, with consequences for how organizations capture, organize, distribute and profit from digitized information.

Consider the shifts in this year's vendor rankings. Acquia broke through to the leaders' circle, combining a range of enterprise-grade services with Drupal 8, a next-generation, open source content management platform. It is now matched against incumbent Adobe Experience Manager Sites, the Adobe-sourced enterprise offering. Both are slightly ahead of Episerver CMS, the third product in the circle, and a rising star appealing to Microsoft loyalists.

No longer in the leadership ranks, Sitecore fell back to a Strong Performer position. Web content management (WCM) products from IBM, OpenText (TeamSite) and Oracle dropped down a notch to Contender status.

Shifting goal posts

In fact, this year's Wave emphasized shifting goal posts. WCM products are serving two masters -- making it easy to manage content on the back end, while sparking innovation on the front end. As the revolution in digital experiences continues to accelerate, customer expectations and business requirements are rapidly changing.

Specifically, WCM products are no longer simply for publishing content on websites and assuming that audiences rely on full-screen browsers running on PCs or Macs to access and view information. Rapidly building and then managing content on individual sites, or even across collections of interrelated sites (sometimes termed microsites), are table stakes. With a modern WCM platform in place, line-of-business staffers rely on predefined templates and intuitive tagging capabilities to design and maintain their particular sites.

Rather, competitive products must produce content for omnichannel delivery and task-oriented activities. Today, content delivery includes mobile experiences running on smartphones and tablets -- adding new dimensions outside of tethered experiences on full-screen browsers.

With personalization, snackable content items are dynamically assembled to create targeted views. Search engine optimization (SEO) is essential for locating relevant content and sorting the wheat from the chaff.

In the future, going beyond mobile and rapidly coming to the forefront, will be speech-oriented/voice-based solutions (where people talk and listen), augmented reality (linking content displays to things within a field of vision) and even haptic (touch-sensitive) environments. Future digital experiences are going to blend many different types of rich media with familiar text and image-oriented displays.

What will be needed are extensible WCM platforms that have the flexibility to seamlessly accommodate multiple front-end solutions. Targeted and relevant content will become the currency for delivering task-oriented experiences.

Managed content as a back-end resource

When it comes to WCM products, look for seamless back-end integration to enhance productivity and reduce costs. Nontechnical users expect easy to use, yet powerful tools to do their jobs quickly and efficiently.

It's important to simplify the everyday tasks that line-of-business staffers perform. There are three areas with anticipated breakthroughs -- rich media management, A/B testing and semantic enrichment.

  • Rich media management. Website editors are frequently updating photos, images, video clips and other kinds of rich media for new marketing campaigns. Various methods are needed to easily integrate collections of branded and approved rich media -- typically maintained by a digital asset management system -- into a managed workflow for publishing content. A comprehensive WCM environment supports intuitive management for photos, images and other kinds of rich media.
  • A/B testing. With increasing frequency, site designers are going to refine content displays. What is expected is a seamless design environment, where designers test alternative designs, collect data, interpret the results and make updates on the fly. A designer's dashboard needs to include A/B testing capabilities, along with tools for quickly analyzing data.
  • Semantic enrichment. SEO, content syndication and pushing content into disparate social environments, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, are new chores for WCM. Site editors and community managers are going to be looking for new techniques to curate content, and will need ways to distribute published content across a web-wide ecosystem. Semantic tagging, including support for tag sets, is a step in the right direction. Pay attention to the semantic tagging tools provided for managing ad hoc terms, taxonomies and schemas.

Yet, even with these back-end breakthroughs, WCM products must contend with the growing importance of mobile environments, and deliver innovative experiences that add business value across multiple channels. At the same time, line-of-business staffers expect to remain in control of day-to-day operations for managing content that produces digital experiences.

Anticipating the Forrester WCM Wave in 2019

What will the Forrester WCM Wave highlight in two years? Let's consider the implications of semantic content, APIs and cloud for WCM.

Enterprise customers are going to expect ever more intuitive and intelligent applications to help them do their jobs. Website editors are going to look for ways to simplify and automate their ever more complex management tasks.

WCM platforms are going to support multiple mobile environments. Today's solution, mobile web apps delivered through responsive web design techniques, is only the beginning of a longer journey toward developing task-oriented apps that peripatetic customers, partners and employees will find useful.

Further separation is needed between back-end from front-end capabilities. Most WCM products are going to introduce headless CMS variants over the next couple of years, exposing their core APIs to mobile app developers in ever-greater detail. This is an important first step.

The real breakthrough is going to come when nontechnical staffers can launch native mobile apps that leverage managed content as easily as they build microsites today. An intuitive mobile app development platform that is as easy to use as a spreadsheet will provide the secret sauce.

Look for the next Forrester WCM Wave to describe how the goal posts for WCM are shifting toward in-depth support for omnichannel experiences.

It remains to be seen how WCM vendors are going to spark innovations for omnichannel delivery and provide capabilities beyond responsive web design. If the past is a harbinger of the future, some vendors will support best-of-breed partnerships with industry leading mobile application development tools. Other vendors will extend their own WCM platforms and engineer innovative capabilities that are tailored to their target markets.

Stay tuned. Whatever they are, the results promise to be interesting.

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