The IT Leader's Guide to Building a Flexible Tech Stack
Learn how to be more strategic with your resources by leveraging technology that your teams will love.
If you’re an IT leader, you know that the digital experience you offer your customers will never be something you can “set and forget”: technology continues to advance and your organization has to as well. But making continual changes and improvements without breaking the bank is a challenge — especially in the face of vendor lock-in.
The solution is to start moving in the direction of building a more flexible tech stack. It needs to be one where you can easily plug-and-play different solutions depending on your evolving business needs — and one that can adapt to the changing expectations of your customers.
In other words, you need a DXP.
What is a DXP? And what’s ‘composable’?
Per Gartner’s definition: “A digital experience platform (DXP) is an integrated set of core technologies that support the composition, management, delivery and optimisation of contextualised digital experiences.”
You’re probably familiar with the concept of DXPs. But if the term has you thinking of monolithic suites and full stack solutions – high on cost and short on customisation – you might be surprised to hear that the landscape has shifted: today, composable DXPs (platforms assembled from a variety of best-of-breed solutions that work together via APIs) give businesses the flexibility to build their tech stack their way, and to adapt it over time.
Put simply, the composable approach helps you avoid vendor lock-in and still scale quickly: according to Gartner, customers who adopt a composable DXP approach deliver new features 80% faster than customers using suites.
Ready to learn more? Below, we’ll outline the five core requirements of a DXP so that you can make a more informed decision about architecting your own.
Your DXP should have…
1. A headless CMS
A headless content management system (CMS) is the foundation of any DXP. Every business or organisation needs one: it serves as a unified repository for managing your content and it’s what allows you to power multiple channels from one content store. (That’s a must for managing a growing number of digital endpoints and delivering a great digital experience across them.)
But what’s the difference between a traditional CMS and a headless CMS? Well, “headless” means that the frontend presentation layer (what someone sees and interacts with, i.e. the UI on your website) is decoupled from the backend experience (where the underlying data and data processes reside). This allows content and business logic to be automatically re-used across channels, given that the underlying content can be pushed to any presentation layer of choice.
Going “headless” also allows you to think beyond your website: the idea is to manage and structure all of your content in one place and then distribute it to all of the many digital channels where your customers see you and interact with you. Your website is important, but it’s time to start seeing it as just one of many channels where your content can be presented. (In today’s world, people turn to search engines, apps, voice assistants and many more digital services to find information – not just your site.)
Leveraging a headless CMS that allows you to manage and structure your content, and then populate it anywhere, is critical to delivering a better user experience across channels. Make sure it’s a foundational element of your DXP.
2. A composable and API-first platform
There’s the word “composable” again.
Once again: composability means that each component of an overall platform can function independently, while still having the ability to work with other systems seamlessly. It lets you build custom experiences your way, using a best-in-breed approach to selecting vendors. (That’s different from having to use whatever tools come with a monolithic platform., which may not be the best in their respective fields.)
In other words, look for a vendor that allows you to pick the best platform for each of your digital capabilities. For example, this means you may need to choose one vendor who specialises in knowledge management and applied AI, but another who is focused on developing their personalisation capabilities with an in-house DXP.
The goal is to have a platform that’s open enough that you can continue to use important software investments you’ve already made… while you continue to build your stack with best-of-breed new vendors.
That said, this approach won’t work if you don’t think about how all of these different components “talk” to each other, which is why making sure a platform is API-first is also critical.
Being both composable and API-first means that you can use as much or as little of a platform as you want. What matters is having the ability to pick and choose different capabilities, all while maintaining the flexibility to integrate with other vendors. This allows you to select best-fit solutions for each domain, instead of one large platform whose capabilities are merely adequate across domains, and get to market faster.
Finally: to stay competitive today, businesses need to be constantly re-evaluating the tools they use and embracing a model that supports rapid iteration. That’s why you want a composable platform that allows you to “land and expand” over time and gives you vendor choice. (This helps avoid vendor lock-in and also reduces reliance on IT/SIs.)
Three important considerations:
Software bloat is a real problem: the average office worker might have dozens of apps that they need to use in a given day, some of which are unnecessary. The rise of SaaS has only compounded the problem. This means that it’s more important than ever to strike a balance between investing in best-of-breed solutions while not clogging your tech stack.
MACH principles matter. Many DXP providers will claim to be aligned to MACH principles when they are, in fact, not. MACH (Microservices, API-first, cloud-native and headless) is a modern approach to digital experience management that breaks down complex tech stacks into independent parts that can be managed separately. An easy way to check if your vendor of choice actually adheres to these principles is if it is a member of the MACH Alliance.
Align early internally. When you embrace a composable approach, there is no standard RFP, because everything you choose is custom to your business needs, so you need alignment on core criteria early on in the process.
Ideally, you want one vendor who can handle a big chunk of your digital needs, but with smaller point solutions that can also be used independently.
3. The ability to power first- and third-party digital experiences
Dozens of solutions exist for building your first-party digital experience, like your website, first and foremost. On the other hand, you’ve probably tried a variety of strategies for managing your third-party experiences, like your business listings on Google, Apple, Yelp and more.
But the truly ideal DXP is one that allows you to do both without sacrificing quality, helping you to deliver a more consistent digital experience across all channels.
Combining first- and third-party management might sound foreign. But the reason to do so is that third-party experiences are incredibly important: over half of customer interactions with brands occur off of their website, and you can’t afford to ignore half of the customer journey.
Today, people can ask questions about your brand anywhere, which means that a database that simply stores your information isn’t enough. Instead, you need a platform to connect those facts about your brand to all the places that consumers are searching. (These places include search engines, apps, maps and other digital services.)
To connect the dots, look for a solution that:
- Offers integrations with many endpoints, including the many third-party sites, apps, platforms and voice assistants that people use to search every day.
- Manages photos, videos, hours, Q&A, reviews, action links, menus, attributes and more, which are all core parts of your business’s brand.
- Has a mechanism for verifying that your data appears as accurately as possible across third-party publishers like Google, Apple, Facebook, Yelp and more.
At minimum, your DXP should have tools to help you power your web pages, your on-site search experience and your third-party experiences.
4. Built to support your business needs
It sounds simple but your business is unique, both in how your teams operate and communicate with one another. Whether you're a business with 10 locations or a thousand, you need a platform that is able to support your business needs. But too many platforms today are too one-size-fits-all, or they aren’t built with your needs specifically in mind.
Here’s what you need to make sure that you can deliver a great digital experience to your end users not only locally but also globally.
In terms of your workflows, everything should be integrated under one interface for consistency and ease of use. This means that, when it comes to content, authoring, editing, approvals and publishing should be able to be done in one place.
In an enterprise setting, you need a way to control your data while empowering your users with access controls.
Look for a solution that allows you to give users full account approval, edit-only access, view-only access and asset-only permissions. That way, you’ll be able to confidently add the necessary users – even dozens or hundreds of them – without worrying about granting uncontrolled access that could lead to confusion or mistakes.
Look for a provider that offers out-of-the-box roles that include combinations of permissions that fit common personas.
Many brands, even those that operate within a single country, must store their data in a way that serves more than a single language. It's important to be able to reach your customers using their own language through web pages, responding to reviews and enabling search experiences.
Make sure that you take into account these language needs when building your DXP.
Want to make life easier for your developers and boost efficiency? Look for serverless functions.
Serverless functions allow developers to extend custom code that can accomplish virtually any programming task. Whether it is cleaning data, integrating with external APIs, spinning up new endpoints or building a custom integration/deployment system, serverless functions allow users to focus on business priorities rather than managing infrastructure.
Marketers and developers have different backgrounds and requirements when it comes to content editing. At a large-scale enterprise organisation, you need a low-code tool that allows editors or designers to collaborate and build experiences more efficiently.
Look for a functionality that allows editors or designers to visually modify component styling, layout and interactivity. Behind the scenes, the same tools need to be able to write code to a shared GitHub repository so that all collaborators have visibility into a project's progress.
Finally, cloud-native SaaS (software-as-a-service that is built using composable architecture, built and developed for speed and scale) is a great asset.
It provides a smoother and more intuitive user experience, and it makes it so that your business can auto-scale. As an organisation, you want to be agile regardless of how large you are. Cloud-native makes that possible.
5. Deep engagement insights: analytics and optimisation
Analytics are essential to DXP, as they allow you to understand customer behaviour and evolve business strategies accordingly. But as we’ve discussed, people ask questions about your business across numerous digital endpoints as part of a constantly changing customer journey, meaning that it can be challenging to track.
To make data-informed decisions, you need a unified view of consumer engagement, everywhere.
Make sure the solutions you’re evaluating offer high-level metrics that are easy to view and interpret. Customisable dashboards and flexible report building are critical to measuring your success, improving your strategy and demonstrating value internally, so make sure that these types of engagement insights are part of your DXP.
Embracing digital transformation holistically doesn’t mean adopting a few one-off tools; it means transitioning into a corporate mindset where you are constantly thinking about how to evolve all parts of the tech stack.
Assess your tech stack interoperability. How is it working today, and do you have the option to evolve your stack over time without needing to go through an (unwieldy) replatforming project? Can you select best-of-breed technology that makes sense for your business priorities and have it all play nicely together via API?
If not, it might be time to make a change.
*Internal Yext data, 2022