Choosing a Digital Experience Platform: Don't Buy a Box of Rocks

Integrated DXPs are a great way to get all the benefits of a single, robust software package. They can be customized for whatever your needs are, and they come at an affordable price.

However, the “build vs. buy dilemma” is as old as software development. In the digital experience platform realm, this means that people sometimes prefer to build a DXP that gives them an edge over their competitors. Still, due to the costs, they end up buying pieces that don’t integrate well with one another or “a box of rocks,” as Forrester analysts said in a recent article.

In this article, we talk about how to select a DXP, so the one you buy or build plays well with others and gives you all the benefits you paid for.

What is a Digital Experience Platform?

The rise in demand for better customer experiences has paved the way for organizations to incorporate emerging technology and tools to deliver these experiences.

According to Gartner, “a digital experience platform (DXP) is an integrated set of core technologies that support the composition, management, delivery, and optimization of conceptualized digital experiences.”

Essentially, a digital experience platform combines multiple technologies and capabilities such as a CMS, eCommerce, personalization, and localization to effectively deliver consistent digital experiences across all channels.

Traditionally, you’ll find most of this functionality in a single monolithic software package. But these monolithic platforms fail to satisfy or keep up with the ever-increasing expectations of modern-day consumers and are often an “all-or-nothing” proposition, where you rarely have best-of-breed components across all areas.

Moreover, monolithic platforms tend to be feature-bloated and pricey, needing several add-ons that result in vendor lock-in. As a result, it becomes difficult for organizations to scale their applications or innovate.

For organizations to achieve true digital transformation and deliver enthralling digital experiences, modern DXPs should align with the MACH methodology to ensure a successful digital experience. What is MACH? MACH is an acronym that stands for four core concepts in delivering a modern software architecture: Microservices, API connectivity, Cloud-native, Headless infrastructure.

  • Microservices: Light, scalable, and customizable backend services that you can deploy, manage, and scale independently.
  • API connectivity: Technology that allows composability with services that you can connect with and restructure according to your needs.
  • Cloud-native: Delivers software as a service using commodity cloud infrastructure, which allows for unlimited scalability while remaining inexpensive.
  • Headless architecture: A decoupled architecture where the frontend is separate from the backend, allowing you to tailor user experience to each communication channel while using best-of-breed backend services.

Pros and Cons of Building vs. Buying a DXP

Let’s say you’ve decided to invest in a DXP. You’ll face the dilemma of either buying a ready-made digital experience platform or just building one by combining (hopefully) best-in-breed components and integrating them. In this section, we’ll consider why it's a good idea to compose your DXP in this manner and the reasons that make doing so an attractive proposition.

Pros of building

  • Best-in-Breed: Most pre-built DXPs on the market emerged from a central core system. A component systems vendor - perhaps of a CMS, eCommerce or analytics platform - decided to expand their offering by either building or, more commonly, acquiring one or more ancillary solutions and integrating them. More often than not, however, this came about serendipitously and often results in a strong CMS paired with sub-par commerce or analytics suites.
  • Value vs. Cost: High upfront cost and complexity are often cited as barriers to building your own custom solution. However, this can often be penny-smart and pound-foolish. Initially, most brands face relatively few, simple requirements: an effective CMS, some basic analytics, relatively straightforward personalization and UX optimization needs such as targeted landing pages and basic A/B split testing. Tackling these should be easy using available tools - often even open source offerings - and, as your needs - and the digital maturity of your organization grows in parallel - you can add to them or swap them out completely for more powerful options.
  • Scalability: One of the most significant advantages of developing your own DXP is that you'll have everything you need and operate exactly as you want. That way, you can customize it to suit your needs and have the flexibility to add and remove any services, technology, or capabilities as you like.
  • Ownership: As an owner of your DXP, you are at far less risk of vendor lock-in. To add to that, you also have control over security measures, maintenance, extensions, and removal of services.
  • Competitive advantage: While your competitors may face scalability issues and encounter vendor lock-in, you can flexibly scale your DXP to meet market needs, allowing for quicker innovation.
  • Seamless integration: Creating your platform allows you to integrate it seamlessly with any existing tools, software, or processes.
  • Cost-saving: In the long run, it’ll save you more than monolithic platforms, as you won’t need to pay for out of the box services you do not require.

Cons of building

  • Upfront costs: Initially, the cost and complexity to set up and build a custom DXP may seem expensive and daunting. However, as we detailed above, these hurdles are not as high as they may appear and the gains of digital transformation you get from it, along with the benefits of a solution custom-tailored to your needs will significantly offset whatever added cost you might have incurred.
  • Development time: Similar to the previous point, it may take a bit of time to develop a platform that can serve all your needs. While this investment in time is real and significant, the benefits from making it will far outweigh the delay incurred.
  • Need for Digital Maturity: It’s true that designing and building a custom solution suite by selecting and integrating best-in-breed components requires a certain degree of digital maturity. But, this can be obtained by partnering with the right consultant or software agency, and gradually built up in house by working closely with them during design and implementation.

Pros of buying

  • Low upfront costs: A DXP is often the most cost-effective option initially, especially if you buy a best-of-breed option.
  • Rapid deployment: You should be able to get started with these platforms quickly and meet basic needs. It may not make sense to develop a new version of something that already exists if an existing solution meets most of your requirements.
  • Maintenance and updates: The platform guarantees your upgrades and maintains configuration for better efficiency.

Cons of buying

  • Customization: While a modern DXP is flexible and customizable, a monolithic DXP may not be able to grow with your organization to meet future needs or support ongoing growth.
  • Ownership: The vendor is responsible for updates, volume capacity, and functionality of the solution. Likewise, you do not have control over any of the features provided on the platform.
  • Availability: A one size fits all DXP may not guarantee compatibility with other services. In this case, how can you integrate a better solution than what the platform provides?
  • Long-term costs: Despite traditional DXP being less expensive at first, its cost increases over time, due to ongoing license costs (often for features you never use), difficulty expanding or customizing it, or other workarounds that drive up costs.

How to Choose a Digital Experience Platform

Now that you have an idea of what a modern, composable DXP does, let’s consider things to look out for when choosing a digital experience platform.

Investigate How Quick Your Vendor’s Time to Value is

What’s the point of adding an integration if it doesn’t offer you any value? Often, organizations fail to look beyond their immediate needs and eventually complain when that platform becomes filled with features and services that you won’t use.

In this digital age, scalability remains a core challenge when choosing a platform. Be sure to select a DXP that doesn’t just announce features and integrations but instead provides an enabling architecture.

Research the MACH Alliance Products

Despite the drive for digital transformation, many vendors still fall short of embracing modern technology. The MACH Alliance facilitates the support and use of modern technologies. The underlying principle of the MACH Alliance is to guide and demonstrate the business advantages of utilizing open technologies and ecosystems.

For any company to be a member, they must satisfy the principles of the MACH Alliance. As a result, a MACH alliance product will often be a good option to consider for your DXP.

Look for Composable Solutions

You may ask, why composable solutions? The honest answer to this is that composability helps you bring the best technology stack together. The stack may include a CMS, analytics, eCommerce, automation, and personalization of your own choosing. According to Gartner, a composable business means creating an organization made from interchangeable building blocks.

At first glance, this means flexibility, no vendor lock-in, scalability, cost-saving, and personalization. Why would anyone jettison this solution for a platform that doesn’t offer the same? So, when you want to choose a DXP, be sure to pick one that facilitates composability.

Make Sure the DXP Offers Security Certifications

The rule of thumb before choosing any software is to select a product with standard security certifications. The last thing you would want is to deal with situations that might arise due to non-compliance or security flaws.

Another thing to factor in here is to thoroughly check that the security certifications are guaranteed rather than implied. For instance, companies that claim ISO 27001 compliance because they use AWS are not guaranteeing their security but rather relying on Amazon to do so.

How Well Does It Integrate with Other Software?

Before settling on a DXP, be sure to pick one that integrates seamlessly with other software. Ideally, you should avoid friction that will result from incompatibility or poor integration at all costs.

DXP buyers should also be wary of vendors that claim to integrate with software or services they do not provide.

Build Your Next DXP with Salsita Software Development Services

With the enduring limitations of modern architectures, there is no denying that digital experience platforms should offer composability and adhere to MACH principles. By choosing this path, you’re opening yourself up to more flexibility in development and innovation, higher productivity, and scalability.

To determine the best DXP stack or MACH approach for your organization, it’s always best to consult with an experienced partner like Salsita, who offers an agile development environment that will be crucial in ensuring those processes, products, and services run smoothly and efficiently.
If you want to learn more about the MACH Alliance, read more here: Commerce at MACH Speed: Taking Action.

About Salsita

Salsita Software is a web and mobile app agency specializing in compelling frontend experiences. We focus on eCommerce frontends including 3D product configurators.