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DXP vs. CMS vs. WEM: Which platform is right for you?

DXPs are the next step in the evolution of content management technology. Learn about the differences between the DXP and its predecessors, CMS and WEM platforms.

Digital experiences depend on delivering content in context, with the content organized, stored and delivered to meet business needs. A digital experience platform, or DXP, includes the features to manage content across devices and digital environments.

DXPs fit into a hierarchy of functionality with content management systems (CMS) and web experience management (WEM) platforms. A modern CMS provides a foundation to maintain shared content collections. A WEM platform adds capabilities to that foundation to help produce web-based experiences, such as publishing content to web browsers and mobile applications. A DXP, in turn, extends these web-centric capabilities to different digital environments that control content flows for business results.

A DXP includes content management and WEM capabilities. Similarly, a WEM platform includes content management capabilities and uses a CMS within its core platform. Because of these similarities, development and business teams face multiple choices between adopting prepackaged, tailorable functionality in a platform or developing purpose-built applications.

Explore the differences among DXP vs. CMS vs. WEM platforms, and how each can benefit organizations.

What is a CMS?

A CMS collects and organizes the different types of content that enable digital work. It defines content as self-contained files and stores them within a network-accessible repository. A CMS's repository ranges from an on-premises physical storage device to a virtual location in cloud storage infrastructure. The repository controls how enterprise users can share and distribute content for different business purposes.

A CMS fulfills two distinct functions within a digital environment, which are the following:

  • managing security, as it handles the access rights and permissions that determine which people and processes can create, read, update and delete content within the repository; and
  • supporting the content lifecycle and providing capabilities that enable users to add, organize, use, remove, archive and potentially destroy content within the repository.

At a minimum, a CMS supports a file plan with a predefined folder structure and self-evident file names. These systems tag files with additional content categories or metadata -- which are labels that describe the information in the files. Different sets of metadata can help build content-centric applications. A CMS also requires an information architecture that groups similar items together, which enables people and processes to recognize the items' interrelationships.

Organizations can optimize a CMS to manage specific types of content, such as electronic documents in a document management system, digital assets in a digital asset management system and electronic records in a records management system.

When deployed on premises, a CMS functions as an enterprise application with predefined capabilities and will require an application development initiative to extend or enhance those capabilities. When deployed within a cloud environment, a CMS functions as a content hub and provides loosely coupled microservices to manage content-related tasks.

CMS products differ by scope, scale and functionality. Enterprise platforms, such as Box, Microsoft SharePoint and OpenText Experience Platform, support essential business activities. For example, these platforms enable organizations to maintain content lifecycles and share files through networked file-sharing systems.

These platforms also provide RESTful APIs to influence content flows between repositories and third-party machine learning engines to summarize text and recognize objects within images. CMS products rely on prebuilt data connectors, so they can integrate with other enterprise platforms, such as Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

What is a WEM platform?

A WEM platform combines text and rich media to publish webpages. The underlying software platform manages both text and images and can embed streaming video and audio clips within the interactive environment. A WEM platform isn't limited to self-contained files, and its content consists of discrete content components, or elemental chunks of information, with predefined tags and other metadata.

Like a CMS, a WEM platform maintains content within a shared repository that manages security and supports the content lifecycle. Yet, WEM platforms separate how the organization can arrange and manage content from how it can publish content on webpages. A WEM platform separates content management from content delivery, as it adds the following capabilities:

  • content presentation templates, which define where content components appear within webpages; and
  • capabilities for non-technical users to create and modify chunks of information within predefined templates.

These templates frequently support responsive designs, which adapt page layouts to the varied screen sizes of smartphones and tablets.

In a WEM platform, publishing content is a multistep process, which is as follows:

  • UX specialists design the templates, while IT specialists implement the back-end content repository.
  • Both UX and IT specialists work with business teams to define the information architecture.
  • Content creators and editors maintain sets of webpages on their own, with either predefined forms or WYSIWYG template editors to update content components within webpages.

WEM platforms focus on publishing processes and provide editorial workflow and content scheduling capabilities. Content teams can update, review and approve content before it publishes, as well as schedule preapproved changes or posts to publish at specific times. For content delivery, a WEM platform can tailor the information chunks in templates to criteria based on customer profiles and business rules. Also, to support enterprise search engines and search engine optimization web crawlers, a WEM platform publishes associated metadata as non-visible.

Popular WEM platforms, such as WordPress and Drupal, provide additional capabilities through SaaS offerings. Marketers and non-technical users can modify templates to launch their own websites or spawn microsites based on an initial design.

What is a DXP?

DXPs go beyond the basics of web publishing and add insights to generate engaging content experiences on digital devices -- including smart speakers and wearables. However, the DXP's ease of use masks the sophistication of back-end content management activities.

As a cloud platform, a DXP provides a content hub and loosely coupled services to control content flows. These platforms also enable non-technical users to configure content flows to generate purpose-built results and create digital experiences. A DXP organizes the interconnected content services within a cloud environment, which RESTful APIs enable.

Marketers can use DXPs to structure their campaigns' content flows by:

  • designing landing pages for different offers;
  • tailoring email messages;
  • scripting customer journeys; and
  • automatically configuring certain promotional messages to social media platforms.

However, marketers often require IT expertise to deploy the core platform and integrate content flows with other enterprise applications in the cloud environment.

A DXP seeks to break down the artificial barriers used to manage different content types. For instance, non-technical users might modify video clips and photos while they simultaneously add new text to a message. Without barriers, people would no longer need to switch between different editing applications with separate user interfaces.

A DXP provides capabilities to personalize content delivery and match content categories with customer profiles. It relies on content components tagged with consistently defined metadata. Comparable sets of terms can categorize text elements, image collections and video clips.

Also, a DXP frequently relies on a customer data platform (CDP) to maintain detailed customer profiles. A CDP captures both first- and third-party customer data and normalizes data elements from disparate sources into customer profiles. A DXP can recognize and act upon sensor-generated data that the CDP captures, such as location from smartphones or heart rates from fitness trackers.

DXP vendors offer a wide range of features and functions. Headless CMS platforms, such as Contentful and Contentstack, offer ways to configure content flows across disparate devices and ecosystems. Specialized platforms -- such as Cloudinary for streaming videos and Microsoft Cognitive Services for automatic content tagging -- offer capabilities to generate engaging experiences.

Key takeaways

Content management technologies follow a hierarchy of functionality. CMSes form the base, as they include the foundational content management features onto which the other two platforms built. Next, WEM platforms use similar features, yet separate content management from content delivery. Finally, DXPs prioritize a customer's experience with content on various types of devices.

Marketing terms for content technologies often change as platform capabilities evolve. Organizations continue to seek better ways to deliver content in context, transform business activities and enhance their competitive advantages through digital channels.

A DXP provides easier ways to connect with customers and streamline business processes. However, DXP adoption and deployment can create challenges for well-organized content collections. An organization requires time and effort to profit from a DXP.

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