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Staying ahead of the game: 5 areas for EPiServer to focus on

While EPiServer have long been at the forefront of the enterprise CMS game, the key to staying ahead is to constantly evolve while staying true to your roots.

Gartner has just upgraded EPiServer to the Leaders section in the 2015 Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management. However you feel about such rankings (I've had my say), I think everyone familiar with EPiServer will agree that this new status places EPiServer up where they belong.

They've long been a strong player in regards to technology, core features, ecosystem and community. After the merger with Ektron, they've also had a noticeable upswing in marketing muscle and reach. But more importantly, they've put their merger promises into action, and acted fast to bring out the beginnings of a consolidated platform. 

Obviously, playing in the "big leagues" in the crowded WCM/CMS space, this is certainly no time to be resting on laurels. EPiServer are forced to focus more on the bigger picture and keep a closer eye on competitors than before, but I think it's more important than ever not to stray from what has made it a great platform.

Being a developer foremost, but also following (and sometimes nagging) the general CMS space with enthusiasm, I have outlined some key areas I would like to see EPiServer focus on going forward.. These are broad strokes, but I think both developers and users will find something they feel strongly about. Opinions are my own.

Agree / disagree? Have your say in the comments below!


1. Make it sleek

The UI facelift introduced in EPiServer 7 was an improvement for its time, but UX design and expectations have evolved a lot since. Modern CMS interfaces need to find the delicate balance between advanced functionality and intuitive simplicity.

  • Improve the edititing flow. Reduce the number of clicks it takes to create content. Make adding blocks/media a more integral part of editing a page, so editors don't lose context. 
  • Modernize the default theme. Layout and navigation still feels made by engineers for engineers. The Admin section is ripe for a total makeover. Think simple, not flashy, and make accessibility a cornerstone in the UI design.
  • Remove the clutter. A tidy workarea helps users focus on their tasks, they don't need fingertip access to every feature of the CMS. If possible, make the visible tools and UI features adapt to different user roles.
  • Speed it up. Reduce the number of resource requests made by the UI. Optimize caching and performance at every turn. 


2. Make it slim

Most CMS features have been commoditized by now. Adding more and more stuff to reach the maximum spectrum of customers only bloats the end product. 

  • Prioritize core features.  Stop adding stuff to the core feature set. Identify the parts that EPiServer are great at, and polish the hell out of them. (Exception; Add basic SEO handling - as in proper URL management, not keyword stuffing.) Focus on providing a rock-solid and hyper-extensible API, and let your implementation partners handle any customization on top of that.
  • Let non-core features be optional. With Spellchecker, Projects, Collaboration, Self-Optimizing Block and Publish from Office it's done right. They're useful features that many customers want, but any such feature should remain optional (preferably as verified add-ons). 
  • Be tough on legacy components. Don't let outdated technology or legacy dependencies hold back the evolution of the platform. With semantic versioning, you can afford to introduce breaking changes and bump the major version more often. First order of business: Kill dynamic content, replace XForms, upgrade TinyMCE. 
  • Adopt improvements to avoid overlap. If the community produces a great improvement on a current feature, be willing to adopt the better version in place of the old one (assuming donation or proper compensation, of course). Darwinism rules, so there's no point having lots of overlapping modules floating around. (And yes, I'm aware some features might clash with commercial offerings from partners. You have to break a few eggs to make an omelette.)


3. Make it device-agnostic

While semi-responsive on desktop-like devices, the current UI is holding back editors who need to work on the go, or end-users who consume content on non-mainstream devices.

  • Design for "fat fingers". Make any UI feature an unmissable target. Redesign tiny checkboxes, buttons and dropdown options. My fat fingers can be hired for testing.
  • Create a seamless mobile editing experience. While the UI has improved on some pain points, mobile editing in EPiServer is still no picnic. Either fully adapt the UI to smaller screens (which includes narrowing down available tools/features), or consider a native HTML5 app that only focuses on core edit / admin tasks. 
  • Fully separate content from presentation. The disruption from IoT and wearables has reinforced the notion that the web is just one of many delivery channels our content needs to adapt to. While content creation in a CMS/WCM is currently predominantly HTML-based, it might be time to consider mechanisms for storing content in a more agnostic format, like Markdown.


4. Keep it accessible for mid-market

While everyone is understandably aiming for the highest end of the market (the enterprise segment), the mid-market is still a very viable customer base. 

  • Use sensible price models. Having become a big fish in a larger pond, I suspect it must be tempting to hike prices. I'm no economist. But doing so alienates large portions of a mid-market customer base that may be unable (or unwilling, by principle) to accept a price hike for what is now a bigger product package than they needed. Dare to be the "good guy" vendor.
  • Use true scaling models. For cloud hosting or any other hosted service, offer viable (generous, if possible) entry levels. Provide seamless scaling between levels whenever a customer's needs varies periodically. Charge for as close to real-time usage as possible, not for fixed intervals. 
  • Keep the try-before-you-buy option. With many other vendors (especially in the enterprise segment), customers have only carefully rigged demos and lofty whitepapers to evaluate a product on. The fact that anyone can download, install and try full versions of the EPiServer product family is a huge selling point. 


5. Keep it buzzing

Not a platform feature as such, but one that is incredibly important to the success of the ecosystem - the community. 

  • Keep World fluff-free. While marketing plays an ever bigger role in the EPiServer stratosphere, EPiServer World should be a place to get the hard facts, direct downloads and solid advice. There are other more suitable places to go if you're into "360 degree customer views" or "actionable insights".
  • Listen to feedback. Make sure EPiServer staff monitor and act on user feedback and feature suggestions for World itself. As any site, World needs to evolve to keep up. 
  • Keep us in the loop. Techies love betas, previews, early access and the chance to influence and shape the tools they work with daily. Continue to use that to your advantage to maximize constructive input.


What happens in Vegas, won't just stay in Vegas

So while the above is just one guy's wishlist, I'm hoping most of it is on someone's TODO-list already. In any case, there's an upcoming chance to hear it straight from the source:

At the Ascend '15 conference in Las Vegas on Nov 8-11, EPiServer will lift the lid on their short- and long term plans. Key EPiServer staff, customers, editors, partners, developers (and EMVPs, yay!) will all join the mix.

There will be sessions on how customers can maximize the platform they're currently on - whether that's Ektron or EPiServer - how they can leverage the new converged platform, as well as hands-on labs, demos and inspirational talks.Whether you're in strategy, development, marketing or commerce, there should be plenty of valuable takeaways.