Why customer experience isn’t warmed over ERP

Forrester recently released a new “Wave” analysis of what it is calling Digital Experience Platforms (DXP). The whole concept is interesting in and of itself because nothing that fits Forrester’s definition of a DXP actually exists.

As detailed in separate blog posts by the report’s authors Ted Schadler and Mark Grannan, a DXP consists of six major building blocks: content, customers, analytics, marketing, commerce and customer service. Unfortunately, as Grannan writes, “no one vendor has both full functionality to own the entire digital experience and solid integration/extensibility.”

Yes, this is a bit of a problem, and I would venture that there’s not much evidence to suggest that DXPs are likely to be available anytime soon. Nonetheless, this little detail isn’t stopping Schadler from predicting that DXPs will become as commonplace as ERP in the 90s. A claim like this is hard to fathom in light of the fact that one of the vendors included in the report, Salesforce, doesn’t offer either commerce or content, and has no announced plan to enter those segments.

Let’s take Salesforce as an example of why DXP will never achieve ERP-like status. Salesforce knows customers and customer relationships. This involves lots of rows and columns in databases – structured data. Websites, on the other hand, require systems that can manage massive volumes of free-form content and distribute it to thousands of visitors simultaneously. While these systems may both fall under the same umbrella of customer experience, the problems being solved and the technologies involved are like oil and water – they are completely different and do not mix well if at all.

Schadler is making the unreasonable assumption that software companies can suddenly flip a switch and become something they are not, that they can become a horse of different color. In the real world what happens is that big enterprise software players make an acquisition of a second-tier player, primarily for the license revenue. To please shareholders, they re-assign most of the employees of the acquired company to maximize profits while product development grinds to a halt. This now virtually dead product is bolted onto a few other wayward parts and voila, a DXP is born. This is – and always has been – the reality of suites. It’s a unicorn. Suites are nothing more than one best-of-breed element (the big company was once good at something) poorly integrated with a bunch of aging pieces that lag well-behind competing technologies, and of course ends up being sold as a premium product.

This is but one problem with DXPs. There are many others. One that is particularly compelling to me is the pace of innovation. It’s fast. As Scott Brinker details in his now-famous “Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic,” the number of companies offering marketing technologies is exploding. The supergraphic now features 1,876 vendors in 43 categories. It’s notable that Brinker doesn’t see the landscape getting smaller anytime soon, in part due to the rapid pace of innovation.

So how do lumbering software giants keep up with crafty, highly motivated entrepreneurs with ample funding and a vision to change the world? Short answer, they don’t. Locking yourself into a DXP comprised of last year’s castoffs isn’t the way most enterprises are going to deliver the sort of transformational experience customers expect.

All this isn’t to say that companies don’t need a digital experience platform.They definitely do need all the pieces that Schadler and Grannan have identified to work together smoothly. And the way they are going to get there is by turning to best-of-breed platforms designed for integration. This does exist today and more importantly leads to an agile and open enterprise able to embrace innovation and stay ahead of the technology curve.