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Top 5 takeaways for the future of CMS

While differing somewhat in approach, there are common characteristics and values held by CMS vendors and users today - on how to create the CMS of tomorrow.

Future of CMS debate panel at Webdagene

The CMS debate at Webdagene 2015 didn't quite turn out to be the catfight suggested beforehand - instead we got some very enlightened views on both the shortcomings and the possibilities in current CMS technology.

With representatives from the vendor side, the customer side, and the independent developer/designer side, the panel participants looked at how technology may succeed - or fail - in solving business needs.

Kicking off the debate were lightning talks from EPiServer CMO James Norwood, representing enterprise CMS software, and Wilhelm Joys Andersen as the main antagonist, from an independent perspective.


Andersen vs Enterprise CMS vendors
Wilhelm Joys Andersen vs Enterprise CMS vendors

The premise of the debate

"Many customers feel disappointed - they were promised a piece of magic machinery that could transform their data into these amazing user experiences, upward-pointing graphs and impressive conversion rates. Now they feel imprisoned - the solution of the past is the problem of the present."

So, cherry-picking from answers and aligning that with trends and experience, these are my top 5 takeaways for the future of CMS:

1. Content must be at the center

  • Content will serve as the hub for all connected systems
  • The CMS must learn how to deliver personalized, context-aware content
  • The right content to the right person, on any device or channel

"Using structured and unstructured data, and context, we're going to accurately predict intent, and push the right message to the right person in the right channel at all times. You won't have to do it yourself - the machine will learn how."

2. Content must be stored in a reusable format

  • Truly separate content from presentation
  • Avoid proprietary formats, avoid vendor lock-in
  • You must be able to get your raw data ("ingredients") out again later

"Managing channel-neutral content, that can be re-used across APIs - if you don't have that in a CMS today, you're not relevant."

 3. The CMS must be customizable

  • No more "walrus wrestling" and shoehorning
  • Present users with only the tools they actually need for the task
  • Flexible system for configuring taxonomies, templates and metadata
  • Interfaces should be highly customizable and plugin-friendly

"Software engineering is not really a creative endeavour, it's more like, 'I've got this big THING here, and I need to find some way to wrestle it into doing what I need it to do - a bit like mud wrestling a walrus".

4. Content must be available through APIs

  • Standards-based APIs, not proprietary APIs
  • APIs enable channel-agnostic delivery, and easier integration with other systems
  • APIs allow decoupling the backend from the frontend, and building custom UIs for different platforms

"The CMS must speak a language that other systems can understand."

5. Business needs dictate technology

  • Technology is useless without a pre-defined strategy
  • Choose technologies that solves your specific needs and makes you productive fast
  • Seek advice from similar organisations or expert implementers - not sales people

"If you haven't worked out your customer journeys, or how you want to engage with people, no technology is going to fix that. You've got to do that work upfront."

Are we there yet?

Are there any systems available today that do everything right? Frankly, no. 

Some may provide very precise control over data structure, but lack higher-level features like personalisation or optimization. 
Some may offer such a massive feature set that users are overwhelmed and productivity suffers. 
Some may provide a flexible and user-friendly suite of tools, but create a vendor lock-in situation with proprietary formats. 
Others are great at storing channel-agnostic content, but force customers to build their own heavily customized interfaces.

I've previously covered how proprietary and open source vendors are adopting each other's traits, which is a very interesting development. Many of the aspects discussed in the debate at webdagene were also on my wishlist for EPiServer going forward.

Are existing CMS vendors going to make changes to make sure they stay relevant - or will new players take over? 

"In the meanwhile, I suggest you become friends with your local walrus."

Become friends with your local walrus