This is the first artice in a two-part companion set by CMS Critic contributor and industry analyst Mark Demeny.
When a new analyst report comes out, it’s a bit like Oscar season among CMS/DXP vendors. Not only do employees at the “winning” vendors get a rare opportunity to crow on LinkedIn and thank everyone who made it possible – because bragging about revenue is gauche – but it also gives those of us in the pundit class something to chew on (how could "Shakespeare in Love” possibly have won Best Picture when “Saving Private Ryan” was also nominated???)
Now, full disclosure: I like Joe Cicman, the analyst who produced the latest Forrester DXP Wave report. I’ve done multiple webinars, briefings, and advisories with him and I do think he's a great analyst. He once called the MACH Alliance “cool kids,” and we all swooned because there is nothing a bunch of us enterprise software dorks want more than to be called cool by someone who is legitimately cool (and if you know his niche athletic hobby that he sometimes references in his work, you’ll know what I am talking about).
The vendor profiles in the report are quick and incisive, which is essential for a report with limited space. But around the report format and category itself, I have some thoughts – probably not unlike those of the analyst himself, who once wrote a fairly snarky (and accurate) blog post titled DXP: “You Keep Using That Term. I Don’t Think It Means What You Think It Means.”
With that history, it’s a bit amusing to see him release a full-blown DXP wave filled with quite a few of the vendors he was subtly calling out in many of his earlier outputs.
(On that note: Joe, blink twice if someone at HQ is forcing you to make a DXP Wave against your will…)
With all that out of the way, what follows is a bit of meta-commentary on why analyst reports are fairly important in our little corner of the technology space (they are some of the most downloaded by customers of both major analyst firms) but also some frank discussion about the significant limitations of the Wave format – and in particular, the main infographic.
So if you want to skip straight to my vendor commentary, feel free.
My main issue with the format is that the DXP and CMS spaces have become extremely complex. Not only is the distinction between CMS and DXP less clear with the inclusion of single use-case vendors such as Contentful, Contentstack, and Amplience in the DXP Wave, but even worse, customers are not well served by the two-axis format of the report when the key criteria are now far more complicated than that.
For those who don’t know, the Wave format basically conveys three sets of information in a single infographic:
On the surface, this is a fairly easy layout to understand. Even giving functional and non-functional criteria equal weighting makes a lot of sense – valuing the partner ecosystem, community, and pricing transparency is often just as important as the product offering itself.
However, there are also informational elements that are equally important but not shown in that graphic:
It’s these critical elements where evaluators are left to read between the lines.
The DXP landscape is littered with the corpses of larger vendors who were leading in a category – only to change focus and abandon DXP for larger pies elsewhere. This would include OpenText, Microsoft, IBM, and now Oracle and SAP.
While Oracle’s “market presence” dot is the same as that of Optimizely, I would argue that Oracle is in full retreat from the DXP market. Meanwhile, Optimizely is absolutely making it the focus of its entire business and product strategy. So, this simple revenue metric isn’t providing much value for actually indicating the vendors' “market presence.” Renaming it “revenue” may be a more accurate description, but even this reflects a historical, rather than forward-looking perspective.
Instead, a metric reflecting the overall revenue of the DXP business, what percentage of company GTM activities are related to DXP, and how much M&A contributing to that DXP focus would clearly distinguish the likes of Adobe, Optimizely, and Sitecore from that of Oracle and Salesforce.
Like the “anchor tenant” in shopping malls (remember those?), most DXP implementations have a priority around one part of the stack, with most elements being built around that. For the majority of vendors in the report, that is Content Management.
Of the 15 providers listed, I would submit that at least 10 consider CMS to be the heart of the DXP suite. In other cases, it may be commerce (i.e. with SAP Hybris or Salesforce) or customer data (Salesforce). This focus reflects the fact that for many years, DXP was basically considered an evolution of “Web Experience Management,” which was considered an evolution of Web Content Management – even if those vendors started adding commerce and customer data capabilities alongside.
At the time, these were tightly coupled with the CMS. But nearly every vendor now has them delivered with capabilities that have been acquired – and are more loosely coupled. Therefore, the “DXP Platform” has become a bit of an anachronistic concept.
Where the tricky part comes in is if you're looking to build a DXP and are evaluating Commerce or Customer Data as the “anchor” application. In this instance, you're going to be looking at a Commerce vendor or Customer Data Platform first – and in many cases, you would be evaluating vendors that aren’t appearing on this list (such as commercetools or Shopify).
This leads to an obvious question: why are non-CMS “anchor” vendors in the mix at all? Or at the very least, highlight the critical element that brings that vendor into the mix – so you might discount the DXP report if your focus is not CMS, and instead look to other analyst reports as you begin your evaluation.
Given the composable nature of more and more platforms (and even Joe’s blog on DXP which I mentioned earlier), this distinction between CMS and DXP becomes even harder to parse. Clearly identifying the “anchor” application – or noting an intentionally missing one (see my next point) – would be helpful.
I think this is one of the critical factors that isn’t immediately obvious: the ability to highlight what a vendor has chosen to specialize in, and importantly, what they are intentionally choosing not to do.
For example, back to the Commerce case. If you are choosing a standalone Commerce vendor such as commercetools, there are some DXP vendors that “play nice” (i.e., won’t compete and includes integrations with platforms such as Contentful and Contentstack). But there are others that have actually built their business around these types of deep integrations.
In particular, Bloomreach, Amplience, and Magnolia don’t just “play nice” alongside Commerce offerings, they have a clear company strategy around augmenting Commerce capabilities from other vendors with content, experience, analytics, personalization, rich-media, and other specialized differentiated functions.
So in reality, very few of these vendors truly compete head-to-head across the board. Some compete head-on (and I’ll discuss some of those pairings), but in reality, the report is the combination of various vendor types with some appearing in multiple categories:
Analyst reports are critical for DXP evaluation because they fall into a bit of a valley. Unlike larger efforts such as ERP projects, which tend to take multiple years of planning evaluation (and can justify significant planning times and costs), DXP requirements move very quickly as the demands of new internet technologies and channels similarly cascade those demands down to vendors.
At the opposite end: in the past, DXP vendors used to be more challenging to evaluate, directly due to the fact that software and documentation were often locked behind gates or salespeople. Of course, this is now changing rapidly as well – organizations that are digitally mature may undertake more rigorous vendor evaluations by themselves via SaaS delivery and free trials, but the analyst view is still useful to evaluate some intangibles.
Similarly, the idea of “winners and losers” in a single graphic is problematic. The Gartner Magic Quadrant does have what they call the Niche quadrant, but even that is often reduced in perception to “losers” – when, in fact, being a niche vendor is actually respectable. The ability to clearly identify what you are good at, where to partner, and what competitive swamps of undifferentiated features to avoid (and save those product development cycles) is a worthy virtue. In many cases, choosing that niche vendor – assuming their focus matches your need – is a great idea.
What it all underscores for me is that the devil is always, always, always in the details. Joe rightly noted that many DXP vendors are starting to build or acquire composable solutions, and composable vendors are starting to build out solutions to compete with existing DXP platforms.
The CMS and DXP market is going to get more and more crowded with vendors, capabilities, and differing corporate approaches – and the Wave report format should evolve to handle that reality. Joe’s nuanced perspective and Forrester customers deserve nothing less.
For a deeper dive, read Mark's companion article, Forrester DXP Wave 2023: Vendor Commentary.
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