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    Analysts from the leading research firms—who examine the latest use cases for mission-critical customer journeys—are beginning to arrive at the same conclusion: Software products and platforms currently currently categorized in separate markets are on a collision course to compete for your future resources.

    Alphabet Soup

    Across various research firms and different industry segments, analysts of all kinds point to the same overarching themes and make similar recommendations including:
    • Move to the cloud
    • Favor microservice architectures
    • Focus on integration
    However, a bigger picture is emerging from the rise of these principal trends. In just the last two years, multiple technology categories have undergone seismic shifts. Business users, enterprise architects, and digital product owners find themselves afloat in an alphabet soup of acronyms that share the same broth—contextualized, content-driven customer engagement.

    For example, Craig Le Clair at Forrester has declared the future of customer communications management (CCM) to be cloud-hosted, application programming interface (API)-driven communications-as-a-service (CaaS).

    Cheryl McKinnon at Forrester and Michael Woodbridge at Gartner both agree that enterprise content management (ECM) has evolved into API-led platforms, applications, and modules composed of content services.

    Mark Grannan at Forrester and Irina Guseva at Gartner have expressed similar opinions of the digital experience platform (DXP) space. No single DXP has enough functionality to address all customer engagement use cases, and any DXP would need to be extended using APIs.

    The bottom line is that most analysts focused on customer experience management (CXM) have concluded that the customer journey needs to be seamless. To achieve this, the organization's systems of engagement (i.e., any software used to create and present contextualized, personalized content) will need to be integrated, no matter which department owns it. Simply put, while information technology (IT) silos have always hurt the business, a siloed approach to your customer's journey will put a serious dent in your ability to win new customers and retain existing ones.

    Platforms, Applications & Services

    In the computing industry, an integrated platform of technologies is defined as a solution stack, i.e., “a set of software subsystems or components needed to create a complete platform such that no additional support is needed to support applications.”

    Applications can be defined literally (e.g., a website/portal or browser-based web application) or conceptually (such as a digital experience). A single product cannot be considered to be a complete platform. Therefore, an integrated system of engagement (i.e., a digital experience stack) would, by definition, include all of the systems of record (data), insight (analytics), and engagement (content). When all these individual systems work together, it can present a comprehensive and contextualized digital experience to a prospect or customer. However, pundits and practitioners can all agree that such an integrated DX stack is as elusive as it is imperative. For organizations to deploy a true DX stack, they will need to integrate multiple products.

    Get a Map and a Sherpa

    Of course, the natural questions that come to mind next are which ones and how? The core capabilities of a DX architecture and the use cases they will address will ultimately define the components you select. For example, if your focus is on commerce, then integrators must choose solutions with that orientation, such as product information management systems, an e-commerce platform, etc. Additionally, the design must select (at least one) web content management system and specialized applications, like customer communication management (CCM) software. These components sit on top of (ideally federated) content management systems and a customer data platform that can integrate all sources of customer data.

    The challenge is to assemble that architecture as elegantly as possible, using the fewest applicable components to deliver the best conceivable experience at the lowest cost. Most of you are likely thinking by now that you'll probably need some seasoned professional experience to assemble your DX stack. You aren't wrong. In fact, Gartner believes that 90% of global organizations will rely on systems integrators, agencies, and channel partners to design, build, and implement their digital experience strategies and stacks.

    Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It

    The goal of assembling a DX stack is to create a seamless experience for employees, prospects, and customers to deliver the speed and convenience they want and deserve. How well you integrate your DX stack will determine how many seams the stack may have and how visible they may be.

    My best advice for potential buyers is to look beyond the claims of individual vendors. For example, only a handful of vendors have a 100% cloud solution, and fewer still are able to take cloud-based benefits one step further by exposing APIs. Go to DOCUMENT Strategy Forum (DSF) and similar events to augment your research. Make strong connections with reputable and trusted consultants and systems integrators. Talk to your peers and the users of these products.

    Do your research, and then get to work to build the best digital experience stack that money can’t buy from a single source.

    John Zimmerer is the Senior Director of Marketing at Topdown, where he leads market research and outreach efforts for the company's customer communications management (CCM) and digital customer experience products. He regularly writes about the future direction of the technologies that power customer experiences. Follow him on Twitter @johnzimmerer or visit www.topdownsystems.com.