What are modular digital experience platforms?
BusinessMarch 17, 2021

What are modular digital experience platforms?

Digital experience platforms (DXP) come in two flavors: integrated DXPs and modular DXPs. The latter became a lot more attractive by recent developments, such as the API economy and the Jamstack. This article aims to give you a clear view of the difference between integrated- and modular DXPs and why modular DXPs are on the rise.

Digital experience platforms

According to Gartner a digital experience platform is an integrated set of technologies, based on a common platform, that provides a broad range of audiences with consistent, secure and personalized access to information and applications across many digital touchpoints.

A digital experience platform (DXP) is an integrated set of technologies, based on a common platform, that provides a broad range of audiences with consistent, secure and personalized access to information and applications across many digital touchpoints Gartner

DXPs are an evolution of the content management system (CMS). With a CMS content editors were able to write content for websites, without having to write HTML or code. Over time, more and more features got added to the original CMS. The customer journey and digital experience became important, which resulted in the addition of personalization features. Content needed to be reused across multiple channels and the term multi-channel was born. The last step in the evolution to the DXP was the ability to provide an integrated and connected digital experience to the customer. This meant not only sharing content across channels, but to have a holistic view of the customer and to personalize across channels (Omnichannel).

Integrated digital experience platforms

Integrated or traditional digital experience platforms offer all the DXP functionality as a single, integrated solution. This has some benefits. You only have to buy a single tool that offers a lot of features out of the box. Integrated DXPs also have the opportunity to offer seamless integration between the features and show a consistent UI to content editors and marketeers. The downside of having all these features in a single solution is that it's impossible for a DXP to specialize in all of these features.

From a technical perspective, integrated DXPs usually have a head. This means that the DXP is not only responsible for the data, but also takes care of presenting the HTML to the visitor. As a result, you are dependent on the DXPs choice of technology. The upside of this is that there is usually guidance on how to implement common scenarios and a lot of architectural and design decisions have already been made by the DXP vendor.

Modular digital experience platforms

Modular digital experience platforms are a best-of-breed approach to DXPs. Instead of having an all-in-one platform, you pick different services and integrate them yourself. Many companies are already using certain tools and services and would like to keep using them instead of the Out-of-the-box (OOTB) services offered by the DXP. We have seen customers using an integrated DXP and running into limitations of OOTB services, slowly swapping them out and end up using the DXP as a really expensive CMS. In these cases it might be better to go for best-of-breed approach from the start.

The best-of-breed approach allows you to pick the services that best fit your needs and to only pay for the services you use. You are no longer dependent on the DXP vendor for new features and innovation. This results in a more agile solution, where its easier to apply new trends and innovation by adding or replacing individual services.

Because of the monolithic nature of many integrated DXPs, we have seen the integrated DXP approach lead to scalability issues. Often there is a limit to the scalability of these integrated platforms and scaling requires a lot of resources, making it very costly. A modular approach using Software as a Service (SaaS) services greatly reduces the required infrastructure. Combining this with Jamstack technology can make this solution even more scalable.

API economy and Jamstack: Best of breed V2

Although best-of-breed has always been an option, we've found that this approach became a lot more appealing with the rise of the API economy and Jamstack technology. With the API economy and modern API technology such as REST & GraphQL, it became a lot easier to consume and integrate services. Choosing a headless CMS that only serves the content through an API gives you freedom in choice of technology. This allows you to use Jamstack technology, which stands for JavaScript, APIs & Markup. Adding Jamstack to your modular DXP allows you to get the best performance and ultimate scalability. It also greatly reduces the required infrastructure because pages can be prebuilt and be statically served from a Content Delivery Network (CDN).

Services

With a modular DXP approach you will have to pick the services yourself, think of services such as a Content Management System (CMS), a Customer Data Platform (CDP), Marketing Automation, etc. The image below gives an example of a service selection that could be used for an e-commerce shop.

An example of services in a modular digital experience platform

As you can see, there can be quite some services involved. The service landscape can be daunting and we advice you to find an experienced partner that can help you find the services that best fit your case.

GraphCMS has a nice community-curated service catalog: https://buildyourdxp.com

Modular DXP all the things?

There is a lot of appeal to a modular DXP, especially from a technical and cost perspective. It gives you a lot of flexibility and freedom, cost efficient scaling and best of class performance. So why not use it for every project that requires a DXP? We think convenience is the key here. With the modular approach you will need to investigate and make a lot of functional and technical decisions yourself. If scalability and performance are not your top priority and if you are fine with following the DXP vendor when it comes to marketing trends and features, an integrated DXP is still the easy bet.

Another thing to keep in mind is the ability to visually modify the layout of the site. Being able to change the website layout using a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) editor is a standard feature in integrated DXPs. Most headless CMSs allow for in-context editing, but we are yet to come across one that offers the same rich experience. If content editors and marketeers need to be able to visually change entire page layouts and components without involving front-end development, an integrated DXP still makes more sense.

Deciding between an integrated and modular DXP is not an easy choice. That's why we have created a free wizard, that should get you on your way. Also feel free to schedule an introductory call.

Written by Jonne Kats
On March 17, 2021